New Car Review

1998 NISSAN MAXIMA SE

by Tom Hagin

nissan

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 23,499
Price As Tested                                    $ 28,505
Engine Type               DOHC 4-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 182 cid/2988 cc
Horsepower                                   190 @ 5600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               205 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.3"/69.7"/189.4"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3037 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/55R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            22/27/25
0-60 MPH                                          8 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16 seconds @ 90.5 mph
Top speed                                           112 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

Nissan has been out of the sports car business for several years now, but that hasn't kept the company from producing one last relatively high-performance vehicle. The Maxima is the only fast Nissan available today, and the latest version was introduced in 1995. And it is still offered in three trim and performance levels. The GLE is the most luxurious of the trio, while the GXE model is the value-leader. This week we test the most performance-oriented version, the SE.

OUTSIDE - The current Maxima design is the result of the close cooperation between Nissan Design International in Southern California and the Nissan Technical Center in Japan. Its low, sloping hood, rounded rear trunk and smooth sides and underbelly all contribute to a low 0.32 coefficient of drag. Since its inception in 1981, the Maxima has increased in size and it now sits on a 106-inch wheelbase. Its width was increased a bit last year to make room for its then-new side impact beams. The trunk lid on the SE carries an aerodynamic spoiler which, for all intents and purposes, is cosmetic, but along with its 16-inch alloy wheels, adds a sporting flair to this four-door sedan.

INSIDE - Inside the Maxima there is plenty of headroom, both up front and in the back seat. The front bucket seats are tailored to fit many bodies well, but could use more bolstering on the sides. The seating positions, both front and rear, are rather upright but not unpleasantly so. Maxima SE models have sporty white-on-black gauges that shine with a ghost-like glow when the headlights are activated. This also adds to the sporting nature of the car, and the other two Maxima models are not similarly equipped. And while the SE model is the hot-rod Maxima version, its practical side is obvious with its large, easy-to-use switches and knobs, and a simple, unobtrusive interior layout. Maxima SE standard equipment includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering, rear window defogger, and a 100-watt AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo system. Our test car was loaded with too much optional equipment to list.

ON THE ROAD - All Maxima models are power by an outstanding 3.0 liter all-aluminum V6 engine. It produces 190 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque, but it seems like much more. It uses all the latest in technology - dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, electronic fuel injection and a computerized engine management system. Maxima's engine is deceptively powerful and could surprise its driver when the throttle pedal is pushed hard to the floor. Its acceleration is excellent, and it purrs effortlessly at highway speeds, all the while being quiet and super-smooth. But the item that changed our test car into a hot-performing sports sedan was its five-speed manual transmission. This item alone makes even the most mundane driver a racing wanna-be, but takes some familiarization to comfortably slip it into the right gear. It adds much to the car's overall driving pleasure, but it might take a dedicated performance driver to enjoy it over the long haul. Other Maxima buyers can choose a four-speed automatic.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Although the SE version is geared toward sporty driving, Nissan didn't giving it a harsh ride. Underneath is a relatively standard setup with struts up front and a beam axle in back. Coil springs are used, as are front and rear sway bars. The ride is tuned on the soft side, and there's bit of body roll and tire scrub during heavy cornering. It soaks up bumps easily, however, only bottoming out over excessively large jolts with a full load aboard. Like many cars today, all Maxima models use speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering. It is precise and communicative, and progressively becomes tighter at highway speeds, yet is easy to turn at slow speeds. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, but adding anti-lock brakes (ABS) is optional.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags and side-impact door beams are standard; ABS and front-seat side airbags are optional.

OPTIONS - SE Security and Convenience Package: $1,600; Leather Package: $1,300; 200-watt stereo: $899; ABS: $499.

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