Car reviews - Nissan - Maxima - Ti sedan
Superb 3.0-litre engine, quality, dynamics
Room for improvement
14 Feb 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
NISSAN has done a commendable job of refining its Maxima range, yet it is a pity the company did not manage to cast aside its conservative approach, just for once.
The latest Maxima, like its impressive forebear, is a standout car in its segment but is so restrained to look at that outsiders are barely going to notice it.
The previous car was a dramatic leap in quality and design competence over the original Maxima launched here in 1990. It brought poise, comfort and performance to Nissan's entry level prestige model - especially performance.
In 1995, when the last series was introduced, it came with the now highly regarded VQ series 3.0-litre, all-alloy V6 that beautifully showcased Nissan's expertise in engine technology.
Helped by the light weight of the new series Maxima (it tipped the scales at around 1400kg in top of the range 30GV form), the smooth V6 combined the urge of a bigger engine with the economy of one much smaller.
And the chassis, previously the Maxima's Achilles heel, was refined, capable and free of the ride and handling shortcomings of the first car.
The only real niggle was the styling was really pretty conservative - and the interior even more so.
So Nissan had the chance to fix this with the latest car and, to be fair, it has given us a Maxima with more obvious class while retaining most of the previous virtues.
Perhaps the only real sticking point is a weight increase that has robbed some of the sprightly nature of the last car.
But this is easily justified by the improvements in safety and refinement, especially in the range topping Ti version that comes with side airbags and anti-whiplash front seats in addition to the usual line-up of active and passive safety equipment.
The weight increase averages out, according to Nissan, to around 100kg, which is reasonably significant.
Counteracting this is a tweak of the engine, lifting power by 10 per cent to 157kW and raising the torque from 278Nm to 291Nm - at lower engine speed.
Nissan engineers changed the camshaft profiles and added a variable flow inlet manifold to help the spread of power.
The suspension also benefited from a rework, mainly at the back end where the innovative torsion beam multi-link design was refined to improve stability. The previous car was seen by Nissan to be a little over-reactive to steering input, so the lateral link controlling the "jacking" effect under cornering experienced by many rear-end designs was relocated behind, rather than ahead of the axle.
The Maxima also got a new body, larger and more commodious than the previous car (which was not too bad anyway) and with a re-think of the ergonomics that gave the driver a higher, more commanding position behind the wheel. Front and rear passengers also benefited from increased headroom and legroom and the boot, accessed via a split-fold rear seat, was also made bigger.
The restyle was aimed at giving the Nissan better street recognition - and it succeeds - but the effect is still very restrained.
Maxima design cues can be seen in the window line and, to a degree, in the toothy chromed grille, although the latter is becoming pretty generic these days, from Hyundai Grandeur to Kia Carnival, and is not really a Nissan exclusive.
The effect, although not breaking any new ground, is generally pleasing.
Inside, the Maxima has been given a more enthusiastic redesign.
Promoting a feeling of warmth and luxury missing in the previous car, the new version's mixture of fabric tones, swooping dash and a host of detail touches (like the multitude of storage areas including a container for sunglasses above the rear view mirror), the new car feels quite warm and inviting. It does not yet have a quality European ambience but is certainly up there among the best Japanese prestige cars.
The Ti for example (less confusing in nomenclature than before, the range now comprises S, ST and Ti models) is trimmed generously in leather - along with woodgrain on the centre console and doors - but where is that familiar tang when you open the doors? The hide has been treated to the point where it might just as well have been vinyl.
The instruments and controls all work smoothly and with precision, enhancing the quality feel. In the Ti especially there is no shortage of standard equipment, from heated, power-adjusted front seats to power sunroof, cruise control and six-disc CD player. And that anti-whiplash design for the front seats, similar to the system employed by Swedish manufacturer Saab, also finds its way into the top of the line Maxima.
On the road, the Ti Maxima feels its extra weight and not necessarily in a negative way because there is a strong suggestion of structural integrity.
But it seems the engine needs to work a bit harder than before to give the same accelerative results. It remains almost unbelievably smooth and silent, particularly at idle where drivers and passengers can be fooled into believing it is not running at all.
Under way, the new Maxima shows much of the authority of the previous car, quite swift off the mark and smooth and assured on the open road. The auto gearbox is not favoured with fuzzy logic or tiptronic shifting, but it works very well with the alloy V6, never prone to nervous up and down shifts when the road turns slightly hilly and usually able to anticipate what the driver would really like it to do.
The suspension, like the previous car, feels a little tight on low speed bumps, even showing a peculiar pitching motion from the rear end on small, medium-speed irregularities (something to do with the relocated lateral suspension member?), but when pushed it shows welcome reserves of travel and absorbency. And all the while it is very quiet and unfussed with little impact noise coming through to the interior.
The redesigned rear end seems to accentuate a tendency to understeer slightly on highway bends but at least the car feels firmly planted and stable. The steering, slightly heavy, plays a significant role in the car's strong, silent feel.
With a surprising commitment to maintaining value, Nissan priced the new car below outgoing models, from entry level to the top of the line Ti (previously 30GV), while generally offering a better deal on standard equipment.
So the new Maxima is more than ever a refined, impressive contender in the entry level prestige class. The quality is outstanding, the V6 engine still arguably the best powerplant in its class and the general ambience much improved on the previous model. But it is still almost apologetically restrained in its styling.
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