1998 Nissan Maxima

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2000 Nissan Maxima

This 2000 review is representative of model years 1995 to 2003.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.5
Pros:
  • More horsepower and torque
  • Noticeable structural improvement
  • Improved rear-seat legroom
Cons:
  • Ho-hum front styling
  • A bit of torque steer
  • Background color of SE gauges

Nissan updates its long-running Maxima sedan for its fifth generation, making the car slightly larger, improving interior and trunk space and, best of all, boosting power. In SE trim, the Maxima is a surprisingly satisfying driver's sedan.

When was the last time you turned around to take a long look at a Nissan Maxima? Think about it. This is a sedan that's been here in the States since 1981.

Has the styling on this four door, especially in recent years, stirred your soul or even piqued your interest? For most of us, the answer is no, which is unfortunate, since the Maxima is such a good car, with strong reliability ratings from independent organizations and a strong performance record.

Styling doesn't set it apart
I, too, find that the Maxima sort of blends into the mass of cars out there on the road. So I was hopeful the redesign for model year 2000, when Nissan debuts a fifth-generation Maxima, would rectify the situation. I was a bit over-optimistic.

Yes, the new Maxima is bigger than its predecessor—longer, overall, by 1.1 inches, with two more inches in wheelbase. It's about a half inch wider and three-quarters of an inch taller, too. But the styling remains rather ho-hum. Basically, the front is freshened, with a windshield rake that's steeper than before because the base of the windshield is pushed forward by about two inches.

At the back of the new Maxima, there are rather odd, round taillights that remind me of a camouflaged new car caught on film by a spy photographer.

The optional 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and performance tires add a nice, sporting touch. They're available on the SE. It's the first time Nissan has offered such large wheels and tires on the Maxima.

A lot under the skin
But, as with all Maximas, you need to look farther than just the sheet metal to appreciate this car.

When it first arrived in the States, the Maxima basically created the category of midsize import sedan, according to Nissan. In 1984, the first Maxima V6 debuted—several years before Toyota added a V6 to the Camry and a decade before Honda added a V6 to its Accord.

The new Maxima continues setting marks, notably with a 3.0-liter double overhead cam V6 that offers a class-leading 222 horsepower. That performance is up 32 horses from the 1999 Maxima V6, and is the same as the horsepower of the last generation Nissan 300ZX sports car in 1996.

This engine is in every Maxima model—GXE, SE and GLE—and has more torque than before, moving up from 205 lb-ft at 4000 revolutions per minute to 217 at 4000 rpm.

The new Maxima rushes forward eagerly, especially when the engine is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. You have it right: The Maxima is one of the few midsize four doors on the market that offers a five speed. Go through the gears, and the Maxima is eager to give more at each shift.

A highway drive in this car feels like an easy sprint. And tooling through the neighborhood, keep a close eye on the speedometer, or you'll be over the speed limit for sure.

The performance compares with peak 200 horsepower at 5500 rpm in the 2000 Honda Accord V6 sedan. The Accord V6's top torque is 195 lb-ft at 4700 rpm. Meantime, the Volkswagen Passat with V6 produces a maximum 190 horses at 6000 rpm and torque tops out at 206 lb-ft at 3200 rpm.

All this improvement in the Maxima comes with virtually no loss in fuel economy from last year, and the engine now is in the low-emission category. But do watch for a tug of torque steer now and then in this front-wheel-drive car.

Re-engineering an engine
The new Maxima doesn't have a new engine, mind you. It simply has a redesigned version of the award-winning power plant in the previous generation car. The engine breathes easier now, thanks to intake changes, and has a new engine control module.

A variable capacity muffler from Nissan's sporty Skyline GT-R—which isn't sold in the States—reduces engine back pressure by as much as 40 percent. It works niftily, too. A special muffler flap valve opens at 2000 rpm and above, basically giving the car a dual exhaust system to better relieve backpressure on the engine. But when the driver's not pressing pedal to the metal, the valve stays closed and helps keep the Maxima's ride quiet.

Improved ride, too
Even with the power gains, the Maxima has a more refined ride now, thanks to body rigidity that's improved 30 percent from the 1999 car. Stabilizer bars in the Maxima's suspension are thicker, and brakes are larger. You feel the road through the steering wheel—not abruptly, but with measured inputs that tell you what the tires are doing.

The SE, which is the most popular Maxima with 40 percent of the sales, adds sport-tuned suspension with firmer springs, struts and shock absorbers. All this produces more updated, stable and satisfying handling than the previous generation and helps make the new Maxima a very pleasing driver's car.

In fact, Mark Perry, corporate manager, category marketing for cars at Nissan North America, said that's a key attribute for all Maximas.

Bonding with the Maxima Maxima owners "have a special bond with their car," Perry said. "Seventy-five percent have no kids at home. It gives them the freedom to relive their youth.

"Camry owners buy their car for the family first; Maxima owners buy their car `for me,'" he continued. "They look at the luxury marques and ask, `Is it worth the extra $4,000 or $5,000? No, I don't need that luxury badge.'"

Perry said the majority of Maxima buyers are men, averaging between 40 and 44 years of age, with some $80,000 in annual household income.

Roomier inside
The increased size of the new sedan translates into more room inside—and it's exactly where you'd want it. There's more than an inch of additional rear-seat legroom in the new Maxima, and trunk space is expanded to 15.1 cubic feet. In addition, last year's small pass-through from the trunk to the back seat is gone. The rear seatback now splits 60/40 and folds down for better usability when you have to carry large items.

I didn't feel at all hemmed in sitting in the rear seat of the test Maxima SE. Rear-seat legroom of 35.4 inches about equals that in the Toyota Camry and Passat but is less than the 37.9 inches in the Accord sedan. The Accord, Camry and Passat also have more rear-seat headroom.

Still, the Maxima provides decent room to carry three adults in the back seat. Built-in head restraints for the two outer passengers back there are well positioned.

In the front seat, the new Maxima beats the Accord, Camry and Passat in legroom and headroom. The Maxima's dashboard controls are well arranged and understandable, and even the base Maxima—the GXE—comes with a good number of standard features, including air conditioning, cruise control and remote keyless entry.

But I could do without the SE's sport-inspired gauges with the white/gray background. At dusk, when I'd turn on the Maxima's headlights, the black numbers on the speedometer seemed to turn an off-white color, nearly fading into the background. They stood out much better as darkness set in, but until then, there can be some eyestrain.

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BB02 - 9/15/2014 8:05:14 PM