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First drive: All-new Maxima large on luxury

Maxi-sedan: Nissan’s new luxury flagship finally dresses for the occasion.

Nissan’s all-new, more luxurious Maxima has arrived Down Under

4 Dec 2003

NISSAN’S all-new Maxima has finally lobbed on our shores, hitting Aussie showrooms in December – six months after the Teana sedan upon which it is based went on sale in Japan.

As Nissan’s luxury flagship, the redesigned Maxima throws its predecessor’s cardigan-wearing image out the window with a fresh and stylish new bodyshell design, under the bonnet of which lurks a powerful new 3.5-litre V6.

But many of Nissan’s traditional hallmarks remain such as a high level of standard equipment and sharp pricing. Three models are again being offered in the Maxima range, which still starts at $39,990 for the ST-L and ends with the slightly more expensive Ti-L range-topper, at $48,990.

Designed around a “luxury living” theme – hence the L variant tags – the Maxima rides on a 25mm longer, 2775mm wheelbase and measures 4890mm long (40mm shorter), 1765mm wide (15mm narrower) and 1470mm high (35mm higher). The cabin is 15mm taller and 15mm longer.

Front and rear wheel tracks measure 1520/1530mm respectively, while ground clearance is 110mm and luggage volume is 476 litres. In base guise, Maxima still weighs a paltry 1470kg, with Ti and Ti-L models adding 10kg. Towing capacity is 500kg, or 1200kg with brakes.

A number of advances in safety and refinement have been made with the new model, but perhaps the biggest improvement is in the area of performance with the previous 157kW 3.0-litre V6 replaced by a version of the 350Z’s 3.5-litre V6.

The new VQ35DE unit – from the VQ engine family that has been voted among the Ten Best engines by Ward’s AutoWorld for nine consecutive years – features continuously variable timing and produces 170kW at 5600rpm, along with 333Nm of torque from 2800rpm (up from 291Nm).

Requiring a premium unleaded diet and with a fuel capacity of 70 litres, Maxima’s official combined fuel consumption figure is 11.2 litres/100km.

Available only with a toothed-gate electronic four-speed auto, the 2004 Maxima features other new technology like speed-sensitive power-assisted rack and pinion steering, plus different MacPherson strut front and a new multi-link rear suspension to replace the current Maxima’s torsion beam set-up.

All Maximas now wear larger 17 x 7.0-inch eight-spoke alloy wheels with 215/55-section tyres and the turning circle now stands at 11.4 metres – up from 10.6 metres.

Safety has also been well tended to with anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and Vehicle Dynamic Control all part of Maxima’s standard Control Safety System.

Active front head restraints, dual front seatbelt pretensioners, five three-point seatbelts and twin front and front side airbags are now standard across the range, while side curtain airbags are standard in Ti and Ti-L models, and optional in the entry level ST-L at $1500.

The new Maxima will be available in six standard metallic paint colours

Opening the new Maxima range, the ST-L features as standard dual-zone climate control air-conditioning with rear outlets, power windows/mirrors, remote central locking, eight-way adjustable power driver’s seat, trip computer, fabric seat upholstery, woodgrain interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter and a four-speaker CD audio system to replace the previous model’s superior six-speaker/six-CD item.

Externally the ST-L (which replaces the outgoing ST, but still carries a $39,990 sticker) features body-coloured mirrors, front foglights, chromed grille and door handles, dual exhaust outlets and standard metallic paint.

Priced at $45,990 (up $3000 on the ST-R it replaces), the mid-spec Ti adds an electric glass sunroof, full leather trim, six-CD/six-speaker audio, four-way adjustable power front passenger seat, overhead console, adjustable rear head restraints and side curtain airbags.

The Maxima Ti-L flagship adds rear parking sensors and a luxurious new rear entertainment system including a DVD, VCD, CD and MP3 player with seven-inch screen.

The top-spec Ti-L is up $1000 on the previous Ti Maxima flagship.

The new Maxima will be available in six standard metallic paint colours, including Platinum, Sapphire Black, Harvest Gold, White Diamond, Burgundy and Fountain Blue.

Nissan expects to sell 300 examples per month – double that of its predecessor sold here since December 1999.


MAXIMA has always offered enough luxury, refinement and performance to justify its position as Nissan’s range-topper, and as a logical Japanese alternative to the likes of Calais and Fairmont Ghia.

A careful evolution of its predecessor, the new model offers more of the above – but finally Maxima appears to have dressed for the occasion as well.

Presenting an all-new corporate design philosophy, the new Maxima comes with the kind of distinctive, non-derivative styling its forebear always lacked, giving it unprecedented road presence as well as showroom shine.

It also shares more than a few similarities with accepted luxury sedan style leaders like Volkswagen’s Passat, which has a boldly chromed grille and elegantly arcing roofline echoed by the newest Nissan. Chromed window frames and (proper) door handles further the luxury look, without crossing the line into glitzy territory like previous Maximas designed primarily for Japan.

The fresh new look continues to the redesigned interior, which will also be pushed by Nissan as one of Maxima’s unique selling points. Unique it is, sharing just a hint of resemblance with BMW’s 7 and now 5 Series in its use of a full-width woodgrain dash feature (matched to the lower centre console and all four doorhandles), but also offering a classy-looking, tactile central cluster that presents all controls in a logical format.

Nissan marketers describe the new design, both inside and out, as modern luxury - not traditional luxury that’s often seen as conservative, boring or snobby. And we concur.

A longer wheelbase with shorter overhangs – plus the significantly higher roof – make Maxima’s interior noticeably larger, especially in the rear where scalloped headlining and front seatbacks add to the already generous legroom to deliver exceptionally good rear occupant accommodation.

The rear seat itself is also commodious – and particularly inviting in leather-lined Ti and Ti-L guise – and offers a folding centre armrest with cupholders and through-loading system. Throw in rear seat venting for the first time and clever front seatback cut-outs for rear seat passengers to tuck their feet into, and Maxima’s cabin offers outstanding rear seat comfort.

Likewise, the massive boot is also a stand-out - fully lined, housing a full-size spare wheel and featuring both a conveniently sized loading aperture and multi-link hinges that reside outside the load space. But a major oversight is the lack of a split-folding rear seat, reducing Maxima’s cargo carrying ability – especially for longer objects. Nissan says a split-folding rear seat – offered by Falcon but not Commodore – is simply not a priority for the Japanese.

All Maximas come loaded with even more standard fare than before

Otherwise, internal storage space is good, Maxima now offering Audi-style flip-out door pockets of good size, a useful dual compartment under the driver’s armrest and more than enough cupholders. The illuminated, lockable glovebox is, unfortunately, mostly used up by the CD stacker – perhaps the only item to be axed from the base variants standard equipment list.

Speaking of which, all Maximas come loaded with even more standard fare than before, including Maxima firsts like folding wing mirrors, stability control, auto locking, dual-zone climate control and stylish 17-inch alloys – something buyers of the more expensive variants may rue. (The previous entry level Maxima had smaller, 16-inch wheels.)Safety is well attended to also with the base car getting the four important airbags and the others adding another pair, while the driver’s seatbelt features a still rare double pretensioning system. Five lap-sash seatbelts and four adjustable headrests are a given.

Perhaps the only complaint in terms of equipment is the lack of audio controls on the steering wheel, which already houses cruise controls – although the highly tactile central control unit features an audio dial on the correct side.

The lack of telescopic steering wheel adjustment is another important negative in a market where most small cars offer reach adjustment for shorter drivers. But so adjustable is the standard power driver’s seat that the omission should not cause too many concerns.

On the road, Maxima hits the target for large luxury cars, delivering velvety ride comfort, a whisper-quiet cabin and driving refinement in spades. Almost Lexus-like in execution, Maxima goes, turns and stops with a relaxed fluidity only the Japanese can offer. But there’s also a hint of German solidity in the way Maxima remains composed over even the roughest of pot-holed roads.

Handling, of course, is biased toward safe but mild understeer without excessive bodyroll and while the steering is reasonably responsive and communicative, it’s not what you would describe as sharp. Which is what it should be. A new multi-link rear suspension gives Maxima greater body control and more sophisticated and consistent ride and handling characteristics.

Performance, on the other hand, is at least spirited. With 170kW (eight per cent more than before) and a sizeable 333Nm of torque at a reasonably relaxed 2800rpm (up 14 per cent), the new Maxima simply out-performs its predecessor in every area.

So it should, weighing just 1470kg and featuring the same engine as the 350Z, which offers 206kW and 363Nm of torque - but at a more stratospheric 4800rpm. The new 3.5-litre V6 is without doubt well suited to Maxima, however, and the only downsides here are its premium unleaded diet and a little raucousness at high revs.

Maxima continues with a four-speed auto and there is no sequential-shift manual mode like that offered even in Falcons these days, but Nissan’s new Lexus-style toothed gate works intuitively and effectively enough.

In all, the new Maxima is a solid evolution of its predecessor, offering big advances in performance, refinement, comfort, equipment, safety and, most of all, style – for ostensibly the same price. Finally, Maxima looks as good as it performs.

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