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