2006 Nissan Maxima

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2004 Nissan Maxima

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2008.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Sixth-generation Maxima is a big improvement over predecessor.
Pros:
  • Roomy
  • Fast
  • Luxurious
Cons:
  • Soft brake pedal
  • Narrow rear doorways
  • Torque steer

Just about everything seems different about the sixth-generation Nissan Maxima, which has arrived as an early 2004 model.

The new Maxima has a larger body with racier styling, more power and more luxury. It retains a front-wheel-drive layout and is based on Nissan's Altima, which has been a big hit since being thoroughly revamped for 2002.

In fact, the Maxima even resembles the lower-line Altima, although it's longer, wider, higher and heavier. The Maxima also is more powerful and has a more solid feel.

Loyal Owners
Nobody should be happier about the new Maxima than previous Maxima owners. They're quite loyal to it, with some having owned four or five. The Maxima was introduced in 1981 and has been a solid seller—even when sales of other Nissan models were almost in the dumpster.

However, you can't count entirely on owner loyalty to keep a model going, and Nissan hopes to pick up new Maxima customers with the 2004 model. Whereas the Altima dukes it out with such cars as the strong-selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the Maxima is designed to compete with higher-line cars such as the Acura TL and V6 versions of the Audi A4.

Four-Door Sports Car
Older versions of the Maxima were called a "4-door sports car," and that's never been truer than with the new version. It has stiffer construction and is 2 inches longer and 1.3 inches wider than its more conservative looking predecessor. The wheelbase has been stretched nearly 3 inches for more room and to enhance the ride.

This is the first Maxima built in America. It's sold as the sporty $26,950 3.5 SE and the more luxurious $28,900 3.5 SL. However, even the SE is definitely upscale.

Features of the 3.5 SE include a sport suspension and 18-inch wheels with wide 45-series tires to provide the most agility. The 3.5 SL has a slightly smoother ride, with its softer suspension and higher 55-series tires on 17-inch wheels.

Unique Skyview Roof
Both versions are offered with an unusual fixed "Skyview Roof," with a tinted glass panel and two interior shades. Other sunroofs move sideways across the roof, but this panel is placed longitudinally down the middle of the car over front and rear seats. It appears to be taken from an auto show concept car—and looks like two sunroofs from inside because of a center interior roof support.

Sound too radical? Nevermind, because a conventional power sunroof—put sideways across the front of the roof—is available as a $900 option.

Unique Seating
Another unique feature is the optional Elite Package, which also provides a custom-car interior look. Instead of a rear bench seat, the package features two heated rear bucket seats, a rear console and a power rear sunshade.

However, the Elite Package rear-seat setup only allows a narrow pass-through area from the trunk; the standard rear bench has folding seatbacks to enlarge the cargo area.

The Elite Package also contains a number of major items, including a navigation system and a premium audio system. It's pricey for the 3.5 SE, at $6,400, but it only costs $3,550 for the 3.5 SL because that version is better equipped—and consequently has standard items such as leather upholstery that are in the Elite package for the 3.5 SE.

World-Class Engine
Powering the Maxima is a smooth 3.5-liter V6, which is rated one of the world's top auto engines. It generates 265 horsepower—compared to 240 for the Altima version—and provides rapid acceleration.

The 3.5 SE comes with either a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox or no-extra-cost 5-speed automatic transmission, which has a manual-shift feature. The 3.5 SL only comes with a 4-speed automatic.

The new Maxima has five more horsepower than the previous version, but delivers about the same acceleration because it's about 200 pounds heavier. Still, it does 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds with the manual gearbox, and is nearly as quick with the crisp-shifting 5-speed automatic transmission.

Annoying Torque Steer
However, common front-wheel-drive torque steer during hard acceleration causes the front end to jerk a bit to the right or left. You get used to it, but it's still annoying.

Fuel economy is an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 27-29 mpg on the highway.

Ride and handling are considerably improved, particularly over rough roads, because a new multi-link independent rear suspension replaces an old-style non-independent rear design.

A $900 Vehicle Dynamic Control with traction control helps handling and stability for automatic-transmission versions. That system isn't offered with the manual gearbox, which gets a front limited-slip differential to improve traction.

Fun to Drive
Steering is precise with nice feel, and sharp handling makes the Maxima—especially the 3.5 SE—nearly as much fun during regular motoring as a rear-drive sports sedan, although the latter has inherently better balance with less weight up front.

Braking is good, and a standard brake-assist feature helps provide surer stops in emergency situations.

Safety Features
The Maxima essentially is a family sedan, so its standard safety items include side airbags up front, and both front and rear side-curtain airbags for head protection of outboard occupants in a crash.

My test car had the four-seat arrangement, which provides good room for four 6-footers. Rear windows go down all the way, but back door openings are too narrow at the bottom.

The front bucket seats provide good support during spirited driving, and motorcycle-inspired gauges can be read quickly.

Another Dashboard Screen
The majority of controls are where you'd expect them to be. But sound system controls are small and use a central dashboard display screen for readouts—an increasingly common feature in upscale cars.

The screen also displays climate settings and trip information—along with information from the optional navigation system. Some might like the screen, although others may just consider it gimmicky.

The trunk has a moderately high opening, but is long and deep. Its lid swings up smoothly on hydraulic struts instead of space-eating manual hinges.

Nissan is enjoying a major comeback, and the new Maxima promises to further improve its fortunes.

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BB01 - 9/16/2014 1:12:19 AM