New Car/Review

1997 NISSAN MAXIMA SE

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Nissan

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 24,299
Price As Tested                                    $ 26,417
Engine Type                           3.0 Liter V6 w/SMPFI*
Engine Size                                  182cid/2988 cc
Horsepower                                   190 @ 5600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               205 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.3"/69.7"/187.7"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3100 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      215/55R16
Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/disc
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                  5 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            21/28/24
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 84.5 mph
Top-speed                                           115 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

(There's been several Nissans in the Hagin family motor pool over the years starting with the awkward Datsun 410 sedan of '62. Bob Hagin has seen the line grow to luxurious heights since those days but son Matt wishes that Nissan would bring back its hairy sports cars.)

MATT - This new Nissan Maxima is a really good sports sedan, Dad, but the company kind of put me off since it dropped its big 300 series sports car line. Nissan has always been in the forefront of the contemporary sports car market and I hated to see it go.

BOB - Nothing lasts forever, Matt, and sports cars seem to be a minor part of the market. The modern taste in a sporting vehicle is a four-door sedan that looks good, has dynamite performance and handles well enough to provide a thrill on twisting roads. And in that respect, this new Nissan Maxima fills the bill very well. Its engine is a 3.0 liter all-aluminum V6 that sports twin overhead cams and is about as state-of-the-art as you can get. I suspect that a lot of it's engineering features can be found in the Infiniti Indy car V8 engine. It puts out 190 horses, is very smooth and propels this Maxima along at 0 to 60 in a bit over 7 seconds - and that from an automatic transmission.

MATT - Our sportster came equipped with the four-speed automatic which is an option but I wish that the folks at Nissan had dropped off an SE with a manual five-speed. The SE is the hot rod version of the Maxima and while all Maxima engines are the same, the 16 inch wheels on our SE are a half-inch wider than the others and the suspension has been tuned for better handling. The GLE is the luxo model while the GXE is the "basic black" version. This automatic is a bit harsh on the upshift and isn't conducive to assertive driving. The ride is firm but not stiff and to my amazement, the heavy understeer that I felt when I was driving it alone went away when I had a couple of other people in the back seat. Even at that, I think that a set of aftermarket high-performance tires would help.

BOB - The Maxima is a little nose heavy with a 63/37 weight bias towards the front, Matt, so having a couple of adults in the back seat or some luggage in the trunk neutralizes the handling. The steering had been made a little more crisp for '97 and as a former mechanic, I was intrigued by the rear suspension. It's a variation on the now-common twist-axle with some linkage that keeps the rear wheel geometry lined up better. Since I'm not much into annual updating of the sheet metal, Nissan could have kept the nosework from last year as far as I'm concerned but I guess that the lower hood and redesigned grille make the car more attractive to some people. I'm more impressed with the disc brakes on all four wheels but I lament the fact that our test car wasn't equipped with anti-skid braking. ABS has been getting a bad rap lately but my personal opinion is that it makes a better driver out of everyone who gets behind the wheel as long as they're used to the pedal "feel."

MATT - That new nose dropped the drag coefficient down to 0.32 and probably added a mile or so per gallon to the car's fuel economy. Big as it is, this Maxima still got 28 MPG on the highway. It's pretty tall compared to its competition but I have to admit that you sit up high enough to get a good view of the road. As a matter of fact, it's not very small all around. The interior gives more shoulder room than the other cars in its class and the wheel base is up around 106 inches. The car feels big when you drive it and I know it doesn't mean much but I like the throaty rasp that the exhaust makes under hard acceleration. Even though there's a poke-through hole in the rear to slip skis through, I would like it better if the rear seat back could be folded flat for long packages. The extra luggage space would be handy.

BOB - The same was true of those 300 ZX Nissan sports coupes that you were so enthralled with, Matt, but you didn't complain about luggage space when we had the Turbo model.

MATT - That's true but there's been a couple of changes in my life since then. A few of years ago, I didn't have to plan for the baby's stroller when I went places.

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