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Nissan Maxima SE 20th Anniversary Edition (2001)

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Nissan is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its mid-sized Maxima sedan with a special 20th Anniversary Edition of the sportiest Maxima, the SE. Call it the "Maximum Maxima," because the 20th Anniversary Edition SE shows why the Maxima has been and continues to be a benchmark in the mid-sized import sedan class.

The Maxima differs from its competitors in two important ways. It's positioned more upscale, with no entry-level four-cylinder models, only three trim levels powered by a very impressive V6. And it has always been sportier than any Japanese or domestic- nameplate competitors. Early Maximas used the same basic engine as was used in Nissan's 280 and, later, 300ZX sports cars. The Z is gone, for now anyway, but the Maxima still offers a standard five- speed manual gearbox in a class where most competitors have only automatics. And the SE model's sport-tuned chassis is unlike that of any other midsized Japanese-brand family sedan.

The current-generation Maxima was introduced for the 2000 model year, and so is little changed for 2001 with the notable exception of the Anniversary Edition SE. "Entry-level" is a poor description of the GLE, as it is very well-equipped. The GLE handles any customer demand for luxury, and the SE is one of the best front-wheel drive sports sedans available, from any manufacturer. The Anniversary Edition adds special body and interior trim, the "SE Comfort and Convenience" equipment package, and extra engine power and a limited-slip differential as standard fare.

I've been driving a 20th Anniversary Edition Maxima SE for the past week, and it's been a very pleasant week. The car combines performance that bests many sports coupes with the comfort and luxury of a more expensive entry-luxury sedan. A good interior layout and plenty of space for its size make any Maxima a great car; the SE has the added benefit improved performance.

APPEARANCE: The current Maxima builds on the design of its immediate predecessor, but with better-defined, more assertive front and rear styling. The 20th Anniversary Edition adds an "aero kit" consisting of a small front spoiler with matching side sills and rear under-spoiler, bronze-tinted headlight lenses, and 17-inch six- spoke alloy wheels with low-profile sports tires. Unlike some sports bodywork kits, this is very understated, befitting a sport-luxury sedan. A discreet amount of chrome trim adds a luxury touch. Body panel fit and finish is first-rate.

COMFORT: The current Maxima's standard interior is spacious, functional, and very comfortable if not overly fancy. The windows, mirrors, and door locks are power-operated, and the driver's window operates with one touch down and up. The 20th Anniversary SE adds simulated metal trim, drilled metal pedals, and black-on-silver gauges for a very sporty look. The comfortably supportive front sport seats have perforated leather upholstery when the "SE Leather Trim Package" option group is specified. Rear seat space and comfort are good, and the 60/40 split adds convenience. There is plenty of trunk space. Good soundproofing and high-quality seat materials help to make the Maxima a quiet, relaxing car, no matter which trim level is chosen.

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: A rigid chassis structure and firm but supple suspension tuning give the Maxima SE a near-perfect balance of ride comfort and handling ability. It's a bit softer than hardcore sports sedan, but works very well in the real world of questionably- paved roads. The 20th Anniversary Edition package includes a viscous limited-slip differential for improved traction. Rear beam axles are commonly used to cut costs, and can have less-than- perfect effects on ride and handling. Not Nissan's "Multi-Link Beam Axle" rear suspension. Its locating linkage keeps the rear wheels perpendicular to the road, without camber change, for good traction, and prevents unwanted lateral movement. In almost any real-world condition, it's as good as or better than any common independent rear suspension system. Its compact design allows increased interior and trunk space.

PERFORMANCE: With an engine like this, who needs a turbocharger? Nissan's high-tech twincam 3.0-liter V6 makes beautiful music and has a wonderfully flexible power delivery, with good low-end torque and a healthy midrange that keeps on building to redline. Thank the engine's low-friction internal design, variable air intake control, and a variable capacity muffler derived from the legendary Skyline GT-R for that. Standard horsepower has risen from the previous-generation Maxima's 190 to 222, and torque is up from 205 lb-ft to 217 at 4000 rpm. The SE gets a modified muffler that adds five horsepower, for a maximum of 227 at 6400 rpm. The five-speed manual gearbox is the way to go for maximum performance, with great shift action and a light clutch. The pedal arrangement encourages enthusiastic driving.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2001 Nissan Maxima SE 20th Anniversary Edition combines four-door sports car performance and near-luxury levels of comfort.

2001 Nissan Maxima SE 20th Anniversary Edition

Base Price               $ 27,149
Price As Tested          $ 30,456
Engine Type              dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size              3.0 liters / 181 cu. in.
Horsepower               227 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           217 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       108.3 in. / 190.5 in.
Curb Weight              3,199 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    14.1
Fuel Capacity            18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium, 92 octane
Tires                    225/50 VR17 Bridgestone Potenza RE92
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut / 
                           multi-link beam axle
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      22 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph               6.9  sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)           15.5 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)  0.31

SE Leather trim package - includes: leather seating
 surfaces, automatic temperature control, power
 front passenger seat, simulated leather door trim,
 passenger side seatback pocket, outside temperature
display                                     $1,349
Meridian Edition (tm) - includes: heated front seats
 and outside mirrors, low washer fluid warning light,
 front side airbags, trunk lid trim         $  539
Bose 200-watt 7-speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD
 audio system                               $  899
Destination charge                          $  520