2006 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Nissan

The Maxima has topped Nissan's sedan lineup since its debut in 1981. Since those days, it has always been sportier than the average mid-size sedan, and a touch more upscale, and has often borrowed its engine and a bit of character from Nissan's series of Z sports cars. Nissan even called the Maxima ``the 4-Door Sports Car'' at one time.

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That was a while ago. The current, sixth-generation Maxima, introduced in mid-2003 is more sporty than sports, but that suits its loyal owner group perfectly well. With a mix of comfort, newly-available high-tech and luxury features, distinctive styling, and more attitude than your typical family transportation appliance, the two Maxima models, the comfort-oriented SL and sportier SE, can please not only the Maxima faithful, but just about anyone looking for an upscale family sedan.

Changes to the latest Maxima since its debut are minimal, but do make it very much a 21st Century automobile. Electronics lead, with either XM or Sirius satellite radio now available. A Bluetooth¨ hands-free phone system is also offered. As in other Nissans, the optional navigation system has been revised for faster operation and has an improved interface.

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This is all frosting on the cake, so to speak. The Maxima, in its current iteration, wraps a roomy interior with a solid structure, and powers it with Nissan's lovely 3.5-liter VQ35 V6 engine. I've been driving a well-equipped SE for the past week, and have been impressed by its comfort and fine highway manners.

APPEARANCE: Dare to be different. Nissan's styling team certainly did. There is little chance that a Maxima will be mistaken for anything else. Like other contemporary Nissans, its blend of rounded forms, surfaces, and corners is offset by sharp edges. But the effect is more pronounced than in the company's smaller cars. The relatively simple shape and near-fastback roofline make the Maxima look larger than it actually is, and give it a vaguely European appearance. The grille is the now-standard Nissan keypad, while the twin character lined cut into the hood and and well-defined wheel arches establish links to the latest 350Z.

COMFORT:

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Need space and comfort? Look no further than the interior of the 2006 Maxima. Despite what looks from the outside to be a high beltline, there is ample glass area to bring light into the interior, especially from the ceiling. The ``SkyView'' narrow, full-length, non-opening moonroof is standard, with a conventional tilt-and-slide glass sunroof optional. The instrument panel fits under the windshield in an unusual fashion, and the main instruments are in a Z-like three-element cluster atop the steering column. The instrument cluster and, in the SE, the center stack and door trim are ``metallic-tone'' silvery plastic for the contemporary high-tech sports look. Instrumentation is complete, and the optional navigation system, placed at the top of the center stack, is among the better ones for ease of use and accuracy. Software upgrades have improved its speed and user interface.

Front seats are well-designed buckets, with the driver's power-adjustable. A 60/40 split rear bench is standard, and it offers excellent room for two, with space for a child or small adult in the center. The trunk is usefully large, although the opening is small. A number of option packages are available to tailor Maximas to a wide range of customer desires. My test car had the comprehensive ``Driver Preferred Package,'' which adds power to the tilt-and-telescope adjustable steering wheel and outside mirrors and memory to the wheel, mirrors, and driver's seat, automatic entry and exit driver's seat positioning, xenon headlights, and a rear spoiler - and the ``Sensory Package'' of leather upholstery, heated front seats and mirrors, and a power-adjustable front passenger seat. The eight-speaker AM/FM/6CD/cassette Bose¨ ``Premium Audio Package'' is also included. Its $3,650 bumps the Maxima up toward near-luxury territory in price, and also in appointment. For another $1,000, the ``Elite Package'' converts the rear seat to two-place specification, with twin fixed (and heated) bucket seats, a full-length console, and other amenities usually expected only in a premium luxury car.

SAFETY: Nissan's ``Zone Body'' construction provides strong protection around the passenger compartment and front and rear crush zones. The Advanced Air Bag System includes dual-stage front airbags, seat belt sensors and a front-seat passenger classification sensor, front-seat dual-stage side airbags, and head curtain airbags. All seating positions have three-point safety belts, and active front head restraints also improve safety.

RIDE AND HANDLING: If it's not really a sports sedan, with an emphasis on handling and speed over all, the Maxima SE is sportier than any other mainstream mid-size sedan. Compared to its immediate predecessor, it as a more rigid unibody structure and fully-independent suspension, with struts at the front and the old multilink beam axle replaced by an independent multi-link setup at the rear that was adapted from the legendary Japanese-market Skyline. But the Maxima has gained a couple of hundred pounds with its increased size, and the SE's suspension, while firmer than the SL's, is tuned more for comfort than corner-carving. Still, it's pleasant at a sport-touring pace, and an excellent highway cruiser. The 18-inch, 45-profile tires give a sports look and good, sharp turning characteristics, but as can be expected from short, stiff sidewalls, they also make for a thumpy ride on poorer pavement.

PERFORMANCE: Nissan's VQ-series V6 has won quite a few accolades over the years, and deservedly so. It's powerful, light in weight, and very refined thanks to its advanced mechanical design, continuously-variable valve timing, variable induction system, and electronically-controlled throttle. Its specs - 265 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 255 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm - don't tell all of its virtues, as power comes on strong almost immediately off idle. But with all that power and front-wheel drive, care should be taken no to overpower the suspension and steering under hard acceleration. Given the engine's fine torque characteristics and wide power band, the five-speed automatic transmission is a fine choice. It can be put into manual-shift mode when desired, but the engine's fine wide torque curve makes that strictly optional. Unlike most competitors, the Maxima offers an available six-speed manual transmission, at no extra cost.

CONCLUSIONS:Nissan's Maxima is a comfortable, quick, and sporty antidote to the bland family sedan.

SPECIFICATIONS

2006 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE Base Price $ 27,750 Price As Tested $ 35,815 Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with continuously variable valve timing Engine Size 3.5 liters / 213 cu. in. Horsepower 265 @ 5800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 255 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 111.2 in. / 193.5 in. Curb Weight 3,485 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.2 Fuel Capacity 20 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires 205/45 VR18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multi-link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 28 / 22 0 to 60 mph 6.5 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES XM satellite radio $ 350 Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and full-size spare tire with alloy wheel $ 600 Power glass sunroof $ 900 Five-piece floor and trunk mat set $ 160 Driver Preferred Package - includes: Bluetooth¨ hands-free phone system, power outside folding mirrors with memory, driver's seat with 2-position memory and power lumbar, heated power tilt & telescope steering wheel with memory, auto entry and exit system, rear spoiler, xenon headlights PLUS Sensory Package - includes: leather-appointed seats, 4-way front passenger seat, heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors PLUS Premium Audio Package - includes: Bose¨ 8-speaker audio with AM/FM/cassette/6CD $3,650 Navigation system $1,800 Destination charge $ 605

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