SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide
It's no secret that Nissan has had some tough times in recent years. Sales dropped through the floor, and the company was in dire financial condition. Fortunately, Nissan seems to be on the rebound. A recent major investment in Nissan by the French automaker Renault has helped Nissan's financial situation, and its product lineup is getting a major makeover.
The Maxima continues as Nissan's flagship, but has been changed enough for Nissan to consider it a new generation. The passenger cabin is familiar, as it the general shape. But the previous generation's jellybean-like styling has gotten a contemporary, edgy update. The interior has also been redesigned. The previous Maxima's engine and suspension were already at the top of their class. Given that, some automakers would leave well enough alone. Not Nissan. The 2000 Maxima's 3.0-liter V6 has more power -- 222 hp--, with no penalty in fuel economy. And, its suspension has been refined for improved ride and handling. The old Maxima was smooth and quiet, but Nissan engineers have found improvements there as well. Noise, vibration, and harshness have been lessened with a more rigid body structure, more insulation, and suspension enhancements. Little in the old Maxima really needed improvement; little in the new Maxima has been untouched.
Three trim levels are offered, with the V6 the only engine. The GXE is the basic model, but is hardly basic in equipment, with all normal comfort and convenience features standard. The SE is the sporty model, with minor cosmetic differences and a firmer suspension tuning. The luxury-oriented LE adds leather seating surfaces, power seats, woodgrain trim, a premium stereo system, and other upscale features.
I've just finished a week with a 2000 Nissan Maxima SE. I has plenty of seat time in it, much during a 300-mile day in a mixture of hideous commute traffic, city driving, and the all-too-rare open road. It was a remarkably unstressful day, thanks to the quiet comfort and smooth performance of the Maxima. The previous version of the car was a hard one to beat, but Nissan has done it. They've maximized the Maxima.
APPEARANCE: The 2000 Maxima is discernably a Nissan Maxima, as we've been used to since 1995. The center of the car is apparently unchanged. But the front and rear ends are very different. A larger grille, complexly-shaped headlamps, and a squarish bumper with an aggressive lower air intake and foglamps highlight the front. The rear panel is a prominently-undercut oval, with large taillights filling the outside edges. Incised character lines on the hood and around the wheels add interest. Fit and finish is excellent. The doors curve into the roof. This makes access easier, but any minor imperfections in alignment show glaringly. I've seen luxury cars that cost twice as much as the Maxima that were not as precisely assembled.
COMFORT: YAs outside, most of the Maxima's interior has been redesigned. A two-inch longer wheelbase helps add space, and almost all interior dimensions have increased. Interior fit and finish is very good. The new low-fatigue front seats are very supportive and comfortable -- even after three hours in stop-and-go traffic my body was not hurting. The standard cloth is grippy and cooler than leather in hot weather. As part of an option package, the driver's seat is power- adjustable in 8 ways; the manually-adjusted passenger seat works as well. The rear seat is spacious and comfortable, with a higher cushion for increased visibility. As on all 2000 Maximas, the windows, mirrors, and door locks are power-operated, and the driver's window operates with one touch down and up. The instrument panel is new, and all instruments and controls are conveniently placed and very easy to see or use. The center console blends into the instrument panel. Handy storage spaces and power outlets add to usefulness. The Maxima SE is not fancy inside, but is functional, honest, and good- looking.
SAFETY: The Maxima's chassis is built with front and rear crush zones and standard antilock brakes. Dual front airbags are standard, with side bags available. All occupants have three-point harnesses.
ROADABILITY: Like all Maximas, the SE has a MacPherson strut front suspension and Nissan's patented "Multi-Link Beam" rear axle. Rear beam axles are commonly used to cut costs, and result in poorer ride and handling...unless the design is right. The Multi-Link Beam was introduced in the previous-generation Maxima and improved its ride and handling qualities compared to its predecessor. The axle has been modified this year, resulting in more improvements. Although the SE's suspension is tuned a bit firmer than that of other Maxima models, it's still very comfortable. And cornering is improved as well. The result is a family sedan with verve.
PERFORMANCE: Last year's Maxima had a 3.0-liter V6 engine with a very competitive 190 horsepower. Nissan is not sitting on its laurels. Internal improvements now give 222 hp, the highest in the segment and the same as the last 300ZX sports car. Torque is a healthy 217 lb- ft, and low and mid-speed torque has been improved for better response at common speeds. The result is a smooth, quiet engine with plenty of power for all situations. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and adds to the Maxima's sporty character. My test car had the optional (and more commonly ordered) 4-speed automatic. Some loss in sport is balanced with convenience in traffic, and the automatic works just fine.
CONCLUSIONS: With the introduction of the 2000 models, Nissan has maximized the Maxima.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 24,149 with automatic, $ 23,649 with 5-speed manual Price As Tested $ 26,246 Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.0 liters / 177 cu. in. Horsepower 222 @ 6,400 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 217 @ 4,000 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 108.3 in. / 190.5 in. Curb Weight 3,245 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.6 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium (92 octane) recommended Tires P225/50 VR17 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / Multi-Link Beam (tm) Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 28 / 23 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.0 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.31 OPTIONS AND CHARGES SE Comfort and convenience package - includes: Sunroof with one-touch control, 8-way power driver's seat, variable intermittent wipers, cargo net $ 599 Bose 200W audio system with 7 speakers $ 899 Floor mats $ 79 Destination charge $ 520