Nissan Maxima SE Test Drive.

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The new Maxima is one of my favorite sedan.
I think it is one of the best looking and modern car out there, with an interior that makes almost anything else look old fashioned.

But how does it drive???

The very first impression I had in the car was about the seat. I guess, that’s just because it’s the 1st thing you encounter
You sit pretty high. Even at the lowest setting, the seat was much higher than what I’m used to in most cars. That and the fact that the dashboard is very, very low. I made me feel like a giant. And the seat has, to me, a weird kind of over padding in the back, that makes you feel like it’s pushing you forward.
That made it very hard to find a good position. Especially for a car labeled as a sport sedan, where you want to feel more “integrated” into the seat.

Inside, it is modern. But kind of cold. Maybe the light gray color didn’t help. And maybe the LE’s wood trim here and there does. Or the leather option. About that. Even it you order leather, the door panels are still covered in the same material as the cloth interior. Usually they use a matching vinyl on doors in cars with leather.
Overall, the interior quality isn’t better than the “redesigned for 2005” new Altima interior. So there is no step up really, from a cheaper and almost as roomy, lesser model.
For not that much more, the Acura TL interior is much more upscale. And still very modern.

I had heard complains about the SE “sport” suspension being too harsh. I didn’t experience that at all. It seems to be always smooth. Firm but pretty smooth. The LE’s smaller 17 inch wheels should be even more comfortable.

The steering felt much nicer than the Altima’s. The Altima has a weird “video game steering” feel. I see that more and more in modern cars. The Maxima still has it a bit, but it is much less pronounced. But it is very, very light. Almost like an old fashion American cars from years ago. Except more precise. But it doesn’t “turn on a dime” that’s for sure…It’s quite a large car with 18inch wheels, and you do realize it everytime you try to maneuver in small spaces…

I could feel quite a bit of vibrations through the steering wheels when driving over bad roads. (or getting out of driveways). Even some disturbing shakes when the road gets worse. Nothing like a European sport sedan. And frankly, a bit disappointing in any modern car.
In fact, the car doesn’t feel as solid as most other new cars I’ve driven. Including Nissan’s own Altima. I’m not sure why but I guess the structure isn’t that strong. That’s how the whole thing feels. As a matter of fact, the latest side impact crash test have been pretty bad news for the Maxima. I think there might be a connection there…

The engine has to be one of the best at any price. This is where Japanese cars shine. If it’s good enough for a $45 000 Infinity, it is great in the sub $30 000 Maxima. It is a real treat.
You almost never hear it. But feel it’s power all the time. The transmission is also pretty invisible. But still a bit slow to react when you really want to push it. Like most automatics these days…

Gas mileage is nothing to write home about. In a very relaxed driving, I could only average around 18 to 19 mpg. With a bout 40% freeway dring.Strictly around town I could never get over 16 mpg. At $3 a gallon for gas, it does get pretty scary.
(although it should get better. My car was brand new).

Another thing.. Car magazines always complain about “torque steer” on this car. They claim that when you really push it, you have to fight the steering because too much power goes to the front wheels.
Well… I’ve driven the car for a week, on back roads, streets, freeways etc…
And I never encountered that problem.
But maybe that’s because I drive like a normal human being, not an F1 race car driver.
Car magazines always test these cars on the track. I don’t care about the track. All I care about is how the car perform in normal conditions. Where people actually drive when they go to work, take their kids to school etc…

What I like:

-The great engine and transmission combo.
-The comfortable, yet firm, suspension.
-The almost futuristic interior.
-The very modern design

What I don’t like:

-The seating position.
-The armrest which is to short in the low position, and rattles in the up position.
-The less than upscale ambiance. (That might change in the LE model)
-The almost useless double glass roof . The glass part is way too small to provide any real “glass roof” feel.
A nice idea, but it needs to be much larger.
-The “dead” steering feel.
-The shaky, sometimes rattly feeling of the body when driving on anything but super smooth roads.
-The radio/climate control buttons. All the same size, right next to each others. And LOTS of them!

I must say I was a bit disappointed by the Maxima.
The shaky feel of it being my main concern. I just drove a bunch of cars including the Mazda6, and even the Dodge Dakota. And both of these felt like a solid peace of rock next to the Nissan.
Maybe they just stretched the platform out too much from the Altima? Who knows…

It is still a pretty well made, roomy, quiet, comfortable, easy to drive and very powerful car for most people. But I would advise to keep the price well under $30 000. If you get past that, you might consider the Acura TL. Which is almost as roomy, but feels much more upscale than the Nissan. And it has a 4 year warranty.

In a lower price range, I would check out the Ford 500 and the 2006 Chevrolet Impala. Both seem well made and at least as roomy as the Maxima.

The whole car isn’t really that much of a step up from the Altima. Like the Avalon is from the Camry.
The next one needs to be “something else” to survive.

It’s time to rethink the whole thing.

Conversation 7 comments

  1. In the last paragraph where you said:
    “The whole car isn’t really that much of a step up from the Maxima.”
    I assume you mean Altima, or I just don’t get it??
    But good review overall, by a real person and not by a F1 driver like you said.

  2. I bought a 2005 Maxima SE for my wife in March of 2005. It is the bronze shown in your review, with black leather interior, which is a nice combination.

    I have not noticed the shake problem that you describe. In my experience it is a solid feel.

    I like the seat height. Though it’s not as comfortable on long trips as some other cars, like my Jag XK, which believe it or not is the most comfortable touring car I’ve ever owned.

    The console is cool to look at, but very cluttered and intimidating. It takes a while to get used to, if you ever do.

    The steering radius is one of the biggest drawbacks.

    I would double check your gas mileage. The on-board computer was telling me 18 or 20 mpg. When I tested manually, I found I was getting 3 or 4 mpg more than what the computer was telling me.

    I think the car starts too fast when you step on the gas. It’s hard for me to accellerate smoothly with it. My wife practically gets whiplash when I take off. Maybe that has to do with the front wheel drive, and all that power that goes through.

    Bottom line: For the kind of car we wanted, a modern, not-too snobby psuedo sports sedan with power and room for a family of four and under $30k, this was the only one.

    The Ford 500 is just not very stylish. The new Avalon is pretty nice, but my wife thought it was ugly. Plus it drives like a Buick. Not a sports sedan.

    The Audis and Volvos that we considered would costs upwards of $40k if we got the options that matched the Maxima.

    As far as the comparo to the Altima, the Maxima looks a lot more substantial and mature. Maybe it’s superficial to consider this, but I think the Max’s body style is worth $10k more than the Altima.

    I enjoyed your review.

  3. I forgot to mention the upcoming Ford Fusion.

    It appears to be a car that might have suited our needs. I think Ford blew an opportunity, taking so long to come out with a good alternative for folks who were leaving their Taurus.

    Our 1999 Taurus was wrecked this spring, so we had to replace it. We went with the Maxima, because the Ford 500 was too boring and the Freestyle too much like an SUV, which is not an attractive platform to us.

    I suspect the Fusion will cost a lot less than the Maxima, maybe $10 less. But then again, I doubt it will have as much room as the Max.

    I like the looks of the upcoming Ford Edge/Lincoln Aviator, which seems to be a modern crossover than the SUVish Freestyle.

  4. I will double check the mileage.
    But the gas pedal on my car was very smooth, I never had a problem with acceleration. That is always very smooth.

    And mine minght have something loose in the steering or front axle. But the overall feel is never really solid. Unlike many other cars…

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