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The Nissan Maxima SE 5-speed, A sports car for five

by Larry Weitzman

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

Nissan has marketed the Maxima as a for door sports car for years. They aren't kidding. With a butter smooth five speed manual transmission, you can dive into corners and plan your gear changes as conditions require, then power out up shifting as its nimble handling straightens out the twisties. Great fun on a Sunday afternoon.

And you can do it with Grandma in the back seat. That is what separates the Maxima SE 5 speed from other mid size V-6 sedans.

The Maxima comes in three model trims, the low price GXE, the mid-level sports minded SE and the luxury loaded GLE. My test vehicle for this go round was a loaded Maxima SE five speed. The current Maxima has been in its current form since 1995 when it was rated as a ten best by a respected car magazine. It caused ripples even within Nissan when this mid-priced family sedan could out accelerate its luxury market Infiniti Q45 to 60 mph.

The Maxima immediately had the reputation for being a giant killer. But there are other things that make this vehicle so good. First is the look of the vehicle. It basically hasn't changed since 1995 and isn't due for a makeover for another year. But Nissan thought this body was good enough to eliminate the Infiniti J30 and put in its place the I30, which is a Maxima with a different grill and taillights.

A close inspection will reveal that the I30 is little more than a gussied up Maxima. The basic body, drive train, and running gear is lifted right from the Maxima line. But the SE has a character unique to the Maxima. The standard struts up front and multi-link beam with front and rear stabilizers are upgraded with firmer springs, struts and shocks plus liquid filled transverse-link compression bushings and urethane front suspension pivot bushings. What this all means is a vehicle with the balance and capability to go around corners like a pure bred sports car while maintaining a smooth serene freeway ride.

The Maxima SE also comes with some stunning 16 inch five spoke wheels and wide 215/55 performance tires which helps separate the SE from the other Maximas.

This Maxima SE makes doing the twisties on Green Valley or Bass Lake a piece of cake. Manual control of the transmission gives one the feeling of being more a part of the process instead of just being along for the ride. It certainly makes the ride more enjoyable. Powering out of the corners feels more positive and connected. Deceleration becomes more predictable with the engine being directly connected to the wheels by the manual transmission.

Ponderosa Road is a benign experience, with little road noise and jarring from the washboard surface entering the cabin. The Maxima stayed planted in the bumpy corners.

Tar strips on the freeway become a non-event. Even with the slightly firmer ride, it is still very smooth and larger dips are very well controlled. Nissan has created an excellent balance.

But the good news is how this car performs. The more I drive it, the more I like it. The engine feels like a turbine. It's that smooth. An electric motor with a rheostat. The 3.0L DOHC 24 valve, aluminum alloy V-6 puts 190 hp at 5,600 rpm and 205 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. All models get this engine.

When connected to a silky five-speed manual, this road rocket will sprint from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds without abusing the clutch or transmission. I am sure I could shave a half a second with more clutch slippage and harder shifting, but most people don't drive like that. The engine is so smooth and quiet, I found myself bumping off the electronic rev-limiter (about 6,700 rpm) when asking for maximum performance.

Passing performance is also stellar. 50-70 mph arrives in 4.7 seconds with a required shift from second to third at about 67 mph. Going up hill slows that time to about 6.3 seconds. The Maxima feels quicker than the times show because of the smoothness and immediate responsiveness of the engine/transmission combination.

Fuel economy is rated 22/27, but I averaged over 25 on my first tank and would think a constant 65 mph would yield 30+ mpg. With its large 18.5-gallon fuel tank, 500 miles would be a breeze. With an automatic (a $1,000 option), I would expect times comparable to those above, certainly within a couple of tenths, and possible even quicker when passing. The automatic, which I have driven, is a super smooth electronic 4 speed.

The interior is roomy considering this car is classified as a mid-size. The leather trimmed (a $1,349 option) front seats are large, firm and comfortable. The rear offers generous leg room and good seating for two and the not bad seating for three as long as the center passenger is less than six feet. The rear center armrest pulls down to reveal a trunk pass through.

The trunk is well shaped and holds 14.5 cubic feet. I put it to a test when required to fill it up for a short trip with my wife and kids. It swallowed up everything we could think to take with us.

But the focal point of the interior is the dash. The instrument pod contains a large speedo and tach flanked left and right by a fuel gauge and temp gauge. They are black on white and incredibly legible. At night they switch from black on white to white on black, a neat trick. The lower portion of the pod contain two aircraft type enunciator panels of warning lights functions. Very nice.

The center of the dash or vertical part of the center console, depending on your point of view, house the electronic environmental controls (the read out has been lifted right out of a Q45) and beneath is the superb sound system. My test car had the optional ($899) 200 watt six speaker sound system. It was clear, deep, clean and crisp. I wouldn't have expected anything less, however, the standard system comes with a cassette and C/D and does a nice job of acquitting itself.

The door paneling has soft inserts and the usual pockets. The center console contains cupholders, armrest and plenty of storage.

Nissan offers in addition to standard dual air bags, side impact air bags as part of a deluxe seating package. It also includes dual seat heaters and outside mirror heaters. Well worth the extra $449.

The Maxima SE has a MSRP of $23,499. Add to that the Bose system, a convenience and security package which contains a power moon roof, homelink transmitter (I love this feature) keyless entry and a host of other items ($1,690), the leather package and floor mats ($79 but they are embroidered) my test car had a list of $28,906 with destination ($490).

The base Maxima GXE starts at $21,989 with destination, which includes power windows, locks and, mirrors. A great performance value.

The SE can be had with an automatic for a $1,000 premium or a full on GLE luxury model with standard leather and other features starts at $26,899 plus destination.


Price                                       $21,499 (GXE) to 29,000 plus (GLE)
   3.0L DOHC, 24 Valve                      190 hp @ 5,600 rpm
                                            Transverse mounted V-6205 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
                                            5 speed manual
                                            4 speed electronically
                                            controlled automatic


Wheelbase                                   106.3  inches
Length                                      189.4  inches
Width                                       69.7   inches
Height                                      55.7   inches
Curb Weight                                 3,014  pounds
Truck Capacity                              14.5   cubic feet
Fuel Capacity                               18.5   gallons


0-60                                        7.5    seconds
50-70                                       4.7    seconds
50-70 (up hill)                             6.3    seconds
Top Speed                                   Way beyond my nerve and without an
                                            electronic limiter probably near the
                                            top of the speedo (140 mph).
Fuel Economy                                EPA 22/27 city/highway.  My estimate
                                            would be 25 mpg in El Dorado County,
                                            30 plus mpg on the highway at steady
                                            legal speeds.