2004 Nissan Maxima Review
2004 Nissan Maxima
Base price: $27,490
Price as tested: $31,040
EPA mileage: 20 city/ 28 highway
By Des Toups
The new Nissan Maxima doesn't just want your attention; it's begging for
it. Big wheels. Skylights. Dramatically arched profile. A nose that’s …
avant-garde, to put it kindly.
No one will mistake the flagship Nissan, aggressively styled from stem to
stern, for a garden-variety Altima. Despite five generations of forbears,
there is no trace of kinship with any previous Maxima. No, like the Quest
minivan and Murano crossover unveiled in the past year, the Maxima makes
good use of Altima underpinnings while swinging for the fences, design-wise.
Whether the trendy lines appeal to you or not (count me a not), Nissan
deserves kudos for the lengths to which it has gone to ensure that the
Maxima feels like something other than a warmed-over Altima. The world’s
silkiest V-6 receives a unique intake and exhaust, producing an extra 20
horsepower to tow its additional poundage around. The sportier SE model
gets an optional 6-speed manual, stiffer suspension, limited-slip
differential and giant, wheelwell-filling 18-inch rims with low-profile,
The standard luxury content is high: power folding mirrors, auto-dimming
rearview, power driver’s seat, steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio
controls, automatic climate control, garage-door opener, trip computer and
honkin’ eight-speaker stereo, just to start.
And then there’s the interior itself, with a look and feel far removed from
the Altima’s shiny, cheap-feeling cockpit.
The dashboard, as is customary in Maximas, is recessed far from the driver
but now is surrounded by an inch of air on all sides, appearing to float.
Visual support comes from a slab of brushed aluminum that bisects the dash
and houses the stereo, display screens and other controls. A minimalist,
titanium-framed set of instruments -- illuminated in orange -- rests above
the steering wheel. It's all very cool and high-tech-looking, though a
driver coming from an Acura or Toyota might notice that the materials still
aren’t quite up to par.
The price of that cool look, though, is that buttons are numerous, largely
identical and hard to distinguish. Worse is the joystick-type button used
to browse through menus for trip computers, ventilation and the like on the
center display screen (even on Maximas without navigation systems). It's
difficult to use on the road, unintuitive and generally a pain. Luckily,
ventilation can be set once and forgotten, and redundant radio controls on
the steering wheel keep your eyes on the road rather than the console.
By any dynamic measurement, the new Maxima is easily the equal of the old,
as lively as any front-drive sedan on the market. The 265-horsepower V-6,
voted among the world’s best engines year in and year out, revs eagerly
right up to redline, though torque, the muscle that actually moves the car,
peaks at a civilized 4,400 rpm. That much torque, though, means torque
steer the tendency to veer right or left under hard acceleration is
severe, more so than in other, equally powerful front-drivers such as the
Acura 3.2TL. We clocked a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds.
With the 18-inch wheels and more aggressive suspension tuning, ride in the
SE is quiet but on the firm side. The payoff comes in corners, where
there’s little plow or roll and no surprises until you hit the gas again
and are yanked to the right like a dog on a leash. Roads with a pronounced
crown seemed to exacerbate the problem.
A five-speed automatic is a no-cost option on the SE, and while it adds the
kind of flexibility an enthusiastic driver might appreciate (especially
with the manual-shift feature), it shifts busily and somewhat abruptly.
Actually, it feels as if the extra gear has been shoved between first gear
and second, resulting in a lurching feel as you crawl through parking lots.
The SL model gets a more sedate four-speed automatic.
Though the Maxima makes its rivals from Acura, Toyota and Chrysler feel
sedate, its size and behavior inherent to front-wheel-drive cripple its
claim to be a true sports sedan (remember Nissan’s “Four-door sports car”
campaign?). As a sporty-feeling tourer especially with the four-seat Elite
package it’s unique and ballsy and well worth the $5,000-$8,000 premium
over the Altima. All but the hardcore might be more comfortable in the SL.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't crash-tested a new
Maxima, but the Altima upon which it is based merits a "Good," its top
rating. The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency gives the Altima
four of five stars in frontal crashes, but only three for driver's-side
impacts. The EPA recorded mileage of 20 city/28 highway for an automatic
Maxima. The Maxima is a Low Emissions Vehicle (the third dirtiest of the
EPA's six emissions classifications) and rates a 6 on the EPA's 10-is-worst
pollution scale, about average for medium-sized sedans.
Des Toups is a Seattle free-lance writer who has written for the Seattle
Times, AutoWorld and Driving Sports magazine and newspapers nationwide.