The Toyota Camry may be America’s best selling sedan, but there are a lot of drivers who wouldn’t own any sedan but a Nissan Maxima. That’s because the Maxima is as quick, capable and stylish as any four-door on the road, and it practically invented the entry-level, performance- luxury sedan class. And for 2004, the Maxima gets a complete makeover. So, let’s see if Nissan fans are likely to stay loyal to this maximum effort.
Bear in mind that Nissan Maxima owners have stood by their favorite 4-door from its U.S. introduction in 1981, through five evolutions of designs that have had their ups and their downs. But for 2004, all that loyalty is rewarded with a totally new sixth-generation car. It’s also the first Maxima built in America, designed to deliver the style and performance expected from any model known as the ‘‘four-door sports car’‘!
Maxima is built on Nissan’s front-drive FF-L sedan platform, shared with the slightly smaller family Altima. To go along with a 40-percent stiffer chassis, the new 2004 Maxima has an aggressive and muscular look. Bold lamps and a egg-crate grille with oversized dark-chrome Nissan logo also help to move it away from Altima. The plunging waterfall styling, wide C-pillar, and short rear deck, are more coupe than sedan, and set the Maxima apart from its entry-level, performance-luxury competitors. But, with a long 111.2-inch wheelbase, the new Maxima gives up nothing in utility. The short deck lid conceals a cavernous 15.5-cubic-foot trunk. Unexpected features include standard, fixed, twin glass Skyview roof panels, which run lengthwise. A normal power sunroof is also available. And the top 3.5 SE has tall 18-inch alloy wheels. 17-inch wheels are standard on the 3.5 SL.
Both Maxima SL and SE are powered by Nissan’s well regarded 3.5-liter V6. This version delivers 265 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, more than the Altima but less than the 350Z. Transmissions are a 4-speed automatic for the softer SL model, with a 5-speed automatic, or 6-speed manual, for the sportier SE.
The FF-L platform is supported by MacPherson struts on a subframe up front, and in place of last year’s beam setup, a multi-link independent suspension at the rear. Stability Control is optional. As always, the SE is the firmer of the two, with a ride that’s solid, but never harsh. The SL transmits a more fluid feel, but gives up little in handling. Which, despite the rather large size of the new Maxima, is tight and precise, like a proper sport sedan, if not a 4-door sports car.
As expected, the proven 3.5-liter V6 engine distributes plenty of power across a wide rev band. O to 60 takes only 6.4 seconds. Results are smooth and quiet when cruising, but the V-6’s rapid torque delivery through an electronic throttle tends to overwhelm the front tires when powering hard out of corners, resulting in unwanted front wheel hop. The automatic transmission feels clean and refined. The 6-speed manual has short, precise throws, and is mated to a smooth, progressive clutch.
Overall, the new Maxima has a refined Euro-sporting character, that long-time Maxima fans will recognize and appreciate. Though anyone will appreciate the 2004 Maxima’s well- equipped interior, with plenty of room and comfort. The dash is clean, but the SE’s metallic trim and dull plastics leave it cold and mechanical looking. The SL gets a woody look. We can’t complain about the layout or fit and finish, however. And controls are clearly marked and well organized. Audio choices include a 320-watt Bose dual-media system with 8 speakers, an in-dash 6- disc CD changer, and satellite radio capability. The racy analog gauges are large and clear, but lack an oil pressure gauge and a volt- meter. Unfortunate omissions for a sport sedan.
Rear seating is either a 60/40 split bench, or if you choose the optional Elite package, a pair of heated buckets with a center console and pass-through to the trunk. Either way, it’s a roomy, comfortable space.
One that will cost you $27,490 to get into. That’s the base price of the 3.5 SE with your choice of either manual or automatic transmissions. That’s a price jump of about $1,000 over last year. The 3.5 SL luxury model starts at $29,440. But pile on the options, and the price of either model can easily top $35,000! That’s Audi and BMW pricing, albeit for Audis and BMWs that are smaller and less powerful than Nissan’s 4-door sports car.
The 2004 Nissan Maxima remains one of the best combinations of luxury, style, performance and price that you can hope for in a mid-size sedan. It’s a maximum effort by Nissan that we think will easily keep Maxima fans loyal for yet another generation of driving pleasure.
Engine: 3.5-Liter V6
Torque: 255 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.4 Seconds