Nissan made some bold choices when it redesigned the Maxima in 2004. The Maxima sits at the top of the Nissan lineup as the largest and most fully equipped sedan. It shares a platform with the lower-priced Altima, but several exterior cues easily distinguish the Maxima from its lesser stable mate.
The Maxima sports a gracefully arched roof that terminates abruptly at a rectangular trunk. It's an architectural look that reminds me of Rem Kohlhaas' intersecting shapes. Pronounced fender flares and quad chromed rear exhaust pipes reinforce the Maxima's muscular performance.
Big 18" wheels with wide, low profile tires give the Maxima an athletic stance. Optional ($1,540) chrome wheels added flash to my test car.
The interesting thing about the Maxima's design is that it looks different from every angle. Unlike some cars which look like they were designed by compromise and committee, the Maxima's look feels intentional. It can look sleek in profile, elegant from an angle, and downright aggressive from head on. It's always interesting to look at, and the quality of manufacturing supports close study. Quality paint, tasteful accents and trim, and great metal work contribute to the luxury feel of the Maxima.
In the Driver's Seat
Inside the car, the feeling of luxury continues. I drove a Maxima with a $3,650 "Driver Preferred Package" of options, which added a healthy dose of excess to the already loaded package of standard options. While I reveled in the electric folding outside mirrors and the heated power tilt/telescope steering wheel with memory, amongst other cool features, I would be tempted to save some money and reduce the options list. I would definitely spring for the $2,000 navigation system, though, as Nissan really has done a great job with their interface - it's one of the easiest to use on the market. I also appreciated the great-sounding AM/FM/Cassette/6-CD Changer designed by Bose. It's a genuine high end system for adults, rather than a subwoofer and light show.
The seats in the Maxima are very comfortable and supportive, and I can't say enough about the ergonomics in the cabin. Everything is right where it should be. And it looks good, too. Brushed metal looking accents brighten up the dash, and a cool ultra-suede fabric runs from the doors all the way around the front edge of the dash, under the windshield. The dash looks like a separate pod in the car, unique from the body and floating free. It's very space age, subtle and cool.
On the Road
The more I drove the Maxima, the more I liked it. At 3500 lbs, the Maxima is no lightweight, but the 3.5 liter V6 propels the car with satisfying punch. When it's time to stop, the 4-wheel power assisted discs with ABS do the job in a hurry. Body roll through the corners is controlled and predictable, aided by standard front and rear stabilizer bars. Minimal yet noticeable torque steer from the front engine/front wheel drive setup is my only performance complaint. The Maxima moves like a shark, with power and confidence. On the highway, it's a missile, with power to spare and a quiet, composed ride that eats up the miles. I drove a 5-speed automatic with manual shift mode, a silky smooth transmission that works well.
My rear seat passengers raved about the seats, and loved the unique "SkyView" glass-paneled roof. Unlike a traditional lateral sunroof, which opens over the front seats, the SkyView is a narrow (12" wide) longitudinal fixed window that runs the length of the passenger compartment, with a short section of manually opening sunshade over the front seats and a longer one over the rear. Opening the SkyView gives the Maxima's cabin a tremendous feeling of space, and makes the back seat an even better place to sit.
When you step into the arena against other sedans in this price range, the competition is formidable. The Toyota Avalon is hard to beat. I think the Maxima wins on style points, but it's a matter of taste. VW's Passat, Chevrolet's Impala, Honda's Accord and Chrysler's 300 are all competitive models that have to be measured if you're looking at the Maxima. Take a look at the more expensive German offerings, like the BMW 5 series and the Mercedes E Class sedans, to see what kind of compromises have been made with the Maxima to keep prices at a more reachable level. You also owe it to yourself to look at Nissan's own Altima, which offers a slightly less loaded, slightly less expensive take on the platform.
If you do choose a Maxima, you'll join a cult of car lovers who have devoted themselves to this marque since the first Maxima rolled off the line in 1982. There are tons of Maxima clubs and sites on the internet.
As the ruler of your own financial empire, you get to determine the victor of the sedan competition in your arena. The battle between luxury, affordability and sport is at hand. If you choose to give the Nissan Maxima the thumbs up, you'll have a worthy chariot for years to come. All Hail Maximus - I mean, Maxima!