Nissan Maxima 2004 Review
It's a genuine head-turner that breaks the mould for the Japanese mid-sized prestige contender. And it surely stands out in traffic.
In the past, the Maxima has been the Nissan equivalent of the Toyota Avalon. You know, nice car, but . . .
That's probably unfair on the Maxima, which has always had one of the world's greatest V6 engines and has also driven surprisingly well for a big, front-drive sedan. But it's been let down by the box-box-box school of styling which puts people and golf clubs first.
In 2004, with Nissan badly in need of extra heroes to back the Pulsar and Patrol, which do the hard work in Australian showrooms, we have the new-age Maxima.
Nissan says the theme for the car is 'luxury living', and that's obvious in a cabin that could have been furnished from an Ikea catalogue. It is crisp and clean, well integrated and with top-class finishing.
The new Maxima could sit comfortably alongside the 350Z sports car in a two-slot garage, but it should also convince people that Nissan is doing everything it can to get away from its vanilla reputation.
A single look at the bold new nose – some say there is a hint of BMW in the sharp creases – does the job.
It comes with a roomy cabin for five adults, a large boot, all the luxury gear and a full set of airbags, including headbags on the upper models.
The design is backed by a classy mechanical package – including the V6 it now shares with the Zed – and a sub-$40,000 starting price which makes it great value against rivals such as the Avalon, Ford Fairmont, Holden Calais and imports.
Nissan put a lot of work into the styling as design takes on a bigger role in the company headed by former Renault boss Carlos Ghosn.
On the road
Our friend Wayne, who drives his bright red EK Holden ute every day because he loves it, got the Maxima in one.
"I reckon that's a lounge chair car," he says, as he walks around the new Nissan. "It looks nice, a bit too modern for me, but I bet it drives like a lounge chair."
He is right about the relaxed driving, but has underestimated the impact of the styling.
For the rest of the morning, spent sitting outside our favourite coffee bar, the Maxima turns heads and gets people talking. Plenty of people want a car that keeps them comfortable and happy, but they also want something that's more than vanilla in a world of neapolitan and cassata.
It moves briskly, it's light on the pumps, very well equipped, quiet and easy.
What's not to like?
We found the Maxima tough to park. It is high in the tail, and both ends drop away sharply, which is the worst combination for tight parallel parking.
We also didn't like the slightly soft suspension, which gives the car a floaty feel, or the way the front end runs wide in corners. The Maxima responds well to the steering, and turns into corners well, but when you crack the throttle it has a tendency to run wide which makes it frustrating on twisty roads and roundabouts.
Still, there is a lot to like.
The Cars Guide test team is taken by the styling, and the elegant dashboard – our Maxima Ti came with plenty of gear, but the basic shape and wood trim makes the statement – is one of the nicest we've seen in any Japanese car.
The car is light and easy to drive, very quiet at freeway pace, has big, comfy seats, and returned 9.3 litres/100km during out trials, although it takes premium unleaded. It also stops well, with a nice light feel through the brake pedal, and it's good to know that the Maxima Ti has front, side and head airbags.
The specification sheet for the Ti also runs to electric leather seats, all the usual electric assistance bits, automatic airconditioning with separate driver and passenger settings, a six-stack CD sound system, (a rear DVD player is fitted to the Ti-L), cruise control and more.
But, there are some quibbles. The Maxima doesn't have sound-system controls on the wheel or column, which is basically compulsory these days.
It makes us think that there is more to the component sharing with the sporty Zed car – which also only has cruise control buttons on the wheel – than you can see.
The 3.5-litre quad-cam V6 punches out 170kW of power and 333Nm of torque and that means it's always up for some action.
Pick a place to overtake, and the Maxima will do it.
There is some tugging on the wheel when you're using full throttle, but that's to be expected in a front-drive car with so much gristle. We would have preferred a five-speed automatic, and the Maxima's four-speeder doesn't even have a touch-change manual model, but the engine wipes over most of the cracks.
The V6 also gives it an edge over its direct Australian rivals, at least until Holden gets its Global V6 into the VZ Commodore later this year.
Some people will prefer the size-style-punch package of the Maxima, while others will like the badge-quality-comfort combination in the Accord V6, but we'd be happier putting our friends into either one than a Ford, Holden or the old-fashioned Avalon.
There is a lot to like about the new Maxima, for driving and lounging, but it has the one thing that's always been missing in the past. When you pull into the driveway for the first time, you can guarantee the neighbours will be over to ask about your new car.
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