New Car/Review

1999 Nissan Maxima SE

by Carey Russ

Nissan Full Line factory footage (16:43) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

The current generation of Nissan's Maxima sedan dates to 1995, so but it's not exactly the new kid on the block. If that makes the 1999 version of Nissan's flagship sound like an old vehicle marking time until it is put out to pasture, wrong, very wrong. A compliment to Nissan's designers and engineers, the Maxima is still very competitive with anything in its class in all ways. And it has some features that none of its competitors have.

The Maxima is positioned more upscale than the other popular Japanese mid-sized sedans. No four-cylinder version is available, all models have a 3.0-liter, 190-horsepower V6 engine. Three well- equipped trim levels -- value-oriented GXE, sporty SE, and luxury- oriented GLE -- are offered to cover a wide range of customer desires. Differing from any competitors, Japanese or American, GXE and SE models are offered with a 5-speed manual gearbox. Particularly in the SE, with its sport-tuned suspension, this makes a Maxima a very reasonable machine for an enthusiast driver with a need for a four-door sedan. Want a sports car, need a sedan? There aren't many other places to look in the Maxima's class.

Nissan used the slogan "four-door sports car" to describe the Maxima in an advertising campaign many years ago. It still holds true for the SE, as I discovered during a recent week. Its torquey, willing engine and nimble handling characteristics make it fun to drive in any circumstance. A roomy, well-designed interior and spacious trunk add practicality and convenience.

APPEARANCE: The Maxima has the same shape for 1999 as it has had since 1995. Only minor details like the grille, trim, and wheels have changed over the years. If somewhat more rounded than is current fashion, it is still as distinctive as it was when new. A low beltline emphasizes the large amount of glass in the passenger cabin. The Maxima has a relatively long hood and short rear deck for a front- wheel drive sedan. A minor facelift a couple of years ago gave the Maxima an aggressive front bumper fascia. The SE has a body-colored bar across its grille, alloy wheels, and a wing-type spoiler on its trunk.

COMFORT: The Maxima is a pleasant, comfortable car with a well- designed interior that is still contemporary in style and function. In the SE, supportive front sports seats, a leather-wrapped, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, and good shift level placement are standard, and meant for serious driving. The SE's classic-styled black-on-white instruments enhance the experience. Simple, straightforward controls and useful storage spaces make the Maxima an easy car to use. The rear seat is very roomy, and has a lockable ski-passthrough. Fully-equipped in the manner of my test car, the Maxima has near-luxury levels of comfort and convenience features, including leather upholstery, power seat controls, an excellent Bose AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, and more.

SAFETY: All seating positions in the 1999 Nissan Maxima have 3- point safety harnesses. The chassis features safety-cage construction with front and rear crumple zones and door beams. Standard dual front airbags can be supplemented by available front-seat side air bags in SE and GLE models.

ROADABILITY: Conventional wisdom says that a solid axle suspension is inferior to an independent suspension. Conventional wisdom hasn't experienced Nissan's patented "Multi-Link Beam" rear suspension as introduced in the Maxima. It controls rear-wheel motion very well, with less camber change than an independent system. The front suspension is a conventional independent MacPherson strut design. The SE has stiffer springs and shocks than other Maximas, for sportier handling. The ride quality doesn't suffer. It is comfortably compliant although firmer than that of other Maximas. The Maxima SE is great fun on a twisty mountain road, and seems to get smaller when carving through commute traffic. Four-wheel disc brakes stop it quickly when necessary.

PERFORMANCE: One of the Maxima's best features is its 3.0-liter, 190-horsepower twincam V6 engine. This lightweight, compact high- tech jewel has variable intake cam timing for a broad range of power. It revs quickly and makes soulful music when driven hard, giving the car a great sporty character. The five-speed manual gearbox shifts smoothly and has well-chosen gear ratios that make the most of the engine's considerable abilities. A light clutch and good low-rpm torque mean that even stop-and-go traffic is not tiring.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1999 Nissan Maxima SE stays true to its four- door sports car roots, combining near-luxury comfort with spirited performance.

                SPECIFICATIONS
             1999 Nissan Maxima SE 

Base Price               $ 23,499
Price As Tested          $ 28,006
Engine Type              double overhead cam, 24-valve,
                         aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size              3.0 liters / 182 cu. in.
Horsepower               190 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           205 @ 4,000
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       106.3 in. / 189.4 in.
Curb Weight              3,014 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    15.9
Fuel Capacity            18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium (92 octane)
Tires                    P215/55 HR16 Toyo Proxes

Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc, antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                         multi-link beam with coil springs
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

                   PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
   city / highway / observed      22 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph                       7.1 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                   15.5 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)          0.32

               OPTIONS AND CHARGES

200 Watt, 6-speaker Bose AM/FM/cassette/CD
  audio  system                         $   899
SE security and convenience package - includes:
  power tilt and slide sunroof, 8-way power
  driver's seat, integrated Homelink transmitter,
  remote keyless entry system, vehicle security
  system, power trunk release, illuminated
  visor vanity mirrors, variable intermittent
  wipers                                $ 1,690
Leather Package - includes:
  leather seating surfaces, 4-way power 
  passenger seat, automatic temperature control,
  simulated leather door trim, passenger-side
  seatback pocket                       $ 1,349
Floormats                               $    79
Destination Charge                      $   490

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