SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide
History can be a wonderful thing. We can look back to see how far we have come. But the phrase "how can it get any better than this?" is made for the new 2000 Maxima. No other new car reincarnation can blow that phrase in the weeds better than the new fifth generation Maxima.
The last Maxima set the automotive world on its ear with a performance/sports/luxury sedan that could do 0-60 in under seven seconds with the emergency brake on. It was faster than Nissan's flagship Q45 and it returned dividends in great fuel economy. How could it get any better?
It has and in most every way. The new 2000 Maxima has an entirely new body and interior. That along with a revised rear suspension and drive train makes for changes not for change sake, but for the better.
The new body at first did not sit well with me. The front end was ok, but the rear caused some consternation. But after spending some time with the car, I began to appreciate the subtle nuances that make the Maxima such a looker. First it is an inch longer at 190.5 inches with a two inch longer wheelbase at a very long 108.3 inches. Most of that stretch went into rear seat leg room. The new front end is very aggressive with a blacked out grille sitting in between two gorgeous wraparound jeweled headlights. In the lower outboard facia are two fogs lights. The wheel flares are distinct, obvious and well executed.
The most controversial part of the design in the cutoff rear end. At first it just didn't seem to fit. But a couple of days of study made me realize how good looking and clever it is. From the side
it adds a forward motion to the car and from the rear it has a clean appearance. In black or white paint, especially in the SE model I had, it is a tremendous look.
The new body looks longer than the previous model. Part of this look was the lengthening of the rear door and top window line before its downward turn. There are three terrific styling nuances that need mentioning. First in the crease on the top of the rear trunk which goes up the C pillar over the top of the cabin, down the A pillar and follows a line made into the headlight glass. The second is the way the rear door integrates into the rear roof. The third trick styling cue in the way the hood fits over and around the headlights. These are little things that add up to the best looking sedan Nissan has ever built and quite possibly in its class. I am in love with this car, but other things may be prejudicing that feeling. I am only just beginning.
The inside is better than the outside. It's all new and all better. The dash is one of the best I've seen. The air vent louvers are the trickest around. When closed they form a flush fitting surface like expensive venetian blinds. They operate as if they were on ball bearings. The dash binnacle contains a large tach and speedo flanked by a fuel and temp gauges. In the SE the gauges have a black on white titanium finish with a gray outer ring that at night changes to a white on black look with a blue outer ring. Very cool.
The dash has a forward sweep giving a more spacious feel in the front chairs. The center part of the vertical console contains the trick sound system with an in dash single play CD and cassette and beneath is the AC controls which can be had as electronic or manual. The electronic system is lifted right out of the Infiniti and has a useful outside temp indicator. There are two covered cupholders aft of the shifter and the armrest has a lift up feature that opens to a deep storage area. This is one of the most well executed dashes in the business. The entire dash is covered in a dense, thick soft touch material.
The new seats are a significant improvement over the old Maxima. The shape and seat padding are all but perfect. They are infinitely adjustable by power and have a manual lumbar system which actually works. I had two Maximas, a leather and cloth. Both were equally comfortable. The leather has its durability advantage, but the cloth materials used are of a particularly nice quality. I suggest sampling both, although its hard to beat the feel and smell of leather
The rear seats offer nearly two inches of newfound leg room. It's got to be the biggest and most comfortable back seat in its class. The June Taylor dancers would love this Maxima. Overall cabin size is 102.5 cubic feet which when added to the large 15 cubic foot truck nearly puts the Maxima into the large car category as classified by EPA. It falls 2.5 cubic feet short of large car status by interior volume.
The new body has increased rigidity both in bending and torsionally by as much as 30%. The door shuts like a bank vault. Up front are MacPherson struts and in the rear is a redesigned multi-link beam suspension. It is not fully independent, but the redesign relocated the lateral link behind the torsion beam which improves ride quality and driving stability while reducing road noise. Stabilizer bars are at both ends.
Steering is accurate rack and pinion power. Feel is spot on. The bottom line is that this new Maxima feels better balanced. Shock damping rebound feels more controlled and it is much easier to control during a throttle lift off in a tight corner.
In several laps at Laguna Seca, I found myself braking later and getting on the throttle earlier in eight/tenths driving. I say eight/tenths because I did a few laps with a Skip Barber professional at the wheel and saw what the Maxima could do at nine tenths and beyond.
In the hairpins and the corkscrews, you could dive into the corners lift off the throttle to get the rear end out and the front would tuck perfectly to get the car back on line while getting around the corner at speeds that would create severe pucker power. This Maxima is very impressive.
The SE and GLE came standard with 16 inch alloys shod with 215/55 H rated (130 mph continuous for 24 hours) tires. By the time you read this the SE will have as an option some gorgeous 17 inch alloys with 225/50 series V rated (149 mph continuous). That option should improve the cornering margins significantly.
On the street it inspires confidence. On Ponderosa Road's washboard, the suspension defied the washboard surface while controlling the biggest of potholes. In the bumpy corners, even with the non-independent torsion beam suspension, the rear end stayed firmly planted in the bumps. Green Valley Road, Apple Hill, Airport Road were effortless. It straightens out the twisties like a stretching machine.
On Latrobe Road, the Maxima was rock stable, handling the twisties like Disneyland's Space Mountain or the Matterhorn. It was so good I just started laughing. How are they going to top this one? Even with front wheel drive, I began wondering whether this Maxima is made in Tennessee or Bavaria.
But put the Maxima on the freeway and it becomes serene and composed. Tar strips and expansion joints don't exist for this car. The engine turns 2,700 at 70 mph with the manual and 2,400 in the automatic. Both are equally quiet. Use of the cruise control is a must. In testing both the top of the line GLE and the sport oriented SE with slightly stiffer spring rates and shock valving, I found very little difference in handling and ride quality. Both were excellent.
The heart of the Maxima is found under the hood. It is a revised version of their high performance DOHC, 24 valve 3.0L V-6 engine that once powered the famed 300ZX. It develops coincidentally the exact same horsepower at 222 at 6,400 rpm (up 32 over last year) and 217 lbs-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm (up 12 over last year. Nissan did it by a larger intake chamber combined with the Nissans Variable Induction System (NVIS) and a new variable capacity muffler that reduces back pressure as rpm's climb above two grand. For the higher horsepower rating, Nissan has to spin 800 rpm more than the previous 190 horse engine.
As before, shift points are right at the redline in first and second gear. The 5 speed is definitely faster than the four speed auto. Both transmissions are silky smooth to use, but I thought the clutch on the 5 speed engaged a little to quickly and had too much dead pedal.
Full throttle acceleration turns the sedate sedan into a rocket sled without rails (unless your in a corner and then it feels as if it is on rails). The engine acts like its on full AB (afterburner or "reheat" if your English). The SE manual just plain scats from 0-60 in less than seven seconds with an average of 6.84 with two runs at 6.63 and 6.68 seconds and all but one of the eight runs were over seven seconds (7.11). The Millennium Falcon beware. This is an improvement of .66 seconds over the previous generation with a 5 speed manual. There is no substitute for horsepower.
Even the automatic, top of the line, GLE with a standard automatic averaged 7.54 seconds with two runs at 7.15 and 7.17 seconds. Were not done yet. In passing tests from 50-70 mph, the SE 5 speed averaged 3.97 seconds using second and third gears. Using third gear only lengthened that time to only 4.6 seconds. Up hill will slow that time to 5.15 seconds using gears two and three and 7.3 seconds using third gear only. Both these times are an improvement of about one second over the previous model test (a 1999 5 speed SE).
Even the automatic was slightly quicker passing that the previous 5 speed. 50-70 averaged 4.5 seconds and up hill slowed that time to an average of 6.26. Both times were marginally quicker than the previous generation.
The piece d'resistance is that speed and quickness doesn't necessarily require an investment in Standard Oil. The new Maxima is rated at 22/28 mpg city/highway by the EPA which is one mpg better than last year's model highway mileage, the city number is the same. The auto is rated at 20/28 mpg, which is a slight improvement over last year. My test results were 21 mpg with the automatic and 23 mpg with the manual. But most of my time was spent near the rev limiter with my right foot buried in the carpet at every opportunity. With just a little restraint 23-25 should be the norm in El Dorado County. With an 18.5 gallon fuel tank, highway cruising until a near empty tank would require a motorman's friend.
Stopping power is provided by four wheel disc brakes with antilock as standard equipment. They are more powerful than the engine and their feel and modulation are excellent.
The price of admission is actually down for the 2000 when you consider the extra standard equipment. Competition is a wonderful thing. A base GXE with a 5 speed stickers at just $21,049. Standard equipment includes the sweet 222 hp engine, AC, power steering, windows, power 4 wheel discs with full antilock, mirrors, locks, remote entry, am/fm cassette and a host of other features. Don't forget the $520 for the train and trucker getting the car to the dealer. It always amazes me that destination charges are the same whether the dealer is across the state or across the country from the factory.
My test Maxima SE five speed lists for $23,649. My car had the comfort and convenience package which includes power moon roof, special alloys (and they are trick), homelink transmitter, the superb Bose sound system and power drivers seat for $1,599 which totaled $25,847 with destination of $520 and $79 for carpeted floor mats. The only package I would add would be the seating package for a bargain of $539. It includes side impact airbags, heated front seats and mirrors. If you want leather add $1,349 which also includes power passenger seat and automatic electronic AC (with outside temp). That's a personal preference as the standard cloth in the SE is incredibly nice. So a loaded leather SE comes in at under $28,000. Go compare that to a BMW or better yet maybe the BMW should be compared to the Maxima. It's a lot of extra money for the white and blue badge and rear wheel drive.
The GLE, the luxury Maxima, checks in at $26,249. The only packages are the seating package (a must at $539), moon roof for $899, traction control, a good idea at $299 (only available with automatic transmission) and a couple of other items like floor mats ($79) etc. A fully loaded GLE with almost every conceivable option lists for right at $28,000 plus destination. By the way, I would pass on the gold badging option ($389). This car is much too sporty looking.
Shingle Springs Nissan, Subaru and Kia selection of this great car is growing daily. Treat yourself to a for one of the best ways to get to the 21st century and give the 2000 Maxima a real test drive. It will take a minimum of effort to conduct the drive, but a maximum effort to leave Shingle Springs Nissan without taking one home.
SPECIFICATIONS Price $21,579 to about $28,500 Engine DOHC, 24 valve 3.0L V-6 222 hp @ 6,400 rpm 217 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm Redline 6,550 rpm Transmissions 5 speed manual 4 speed electronically controlled automatic Configuration transverse front engine, front wheel drive Dimensions Wheelbase 108.3 inches Length 190.5 inches Width 70.3 inches Height 56.5 inches Weight 3,199 pounds/3,294 (SE 5 speed/GLE) Track (front/rear) 60.2 inches/59.4 inches Fuel capacity 18.5 gallons Trunk capacity 15.1 cubic feet Turning Circle 35.4 feet (16 inch wheels) Coefficient of drag 0.31 PERFORMANCE 0-60 6.84 seconds 50-70 3.97 seconds 50-70 uphill 5.15 seconds Top Speed Don't even think about it because being caught trying unless on a track will give you at least 30 days to contemplate it. Fuel Economy EPA 22/28 city/highway. My estimate is 23-25 mpg in El Dorado County and 28-30 mpg on the highway.