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by Tom and Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,679
     Price As Tested                                    $ 26,630
     Engine Type                             3.0 Liter V6 w/SMPI*
     Engine Size                                 182 cid/2988 cc
     Horsepower                                   190 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               205 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.3"/69.7"/187.7"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3063 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/65R15
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                  5 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            21/28/24
     0-60 MPH                                        7.6 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                               15.9 @ 91 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    125 mph
     * Sequential multipoint fuel injection

(When Nissan got into the mid-sized sedan business 19 years ago, the company was still called Datsun and its various models carried numbers rather than names. Back in '77, Bob Hagin labeled the new "big" 2.4 liter six cylinder Datsun 810 sedan "...a 280 Z sportster for the whole family.." and lauded its sports car handling coupled with better-than- average performance. Now the field is crowded with "performance" sedans and Nissan has to fight for a share even when development money is tight. In the new version, the company has cut corners in the suspension department and the Hagins lament the passing of the old system.)

BOB - There isn't much new to report about the 1996 Nissan Maxima, except that a power passenger seat is now available as an option, and there's a redesigned cupholder to carry those extra-large soft drinks. It's kind of refreshing to find a car that hasn't been changed just for the sake of change. Maybe it will help stabilize prices. Big changes cost a company big bucks and those increases are passed on to buyers.

TOM - It must have been hard for the Nissan "brass" to change a good thing - the preceding version had a really slick suspension system in the rear and the handling suffered some when it was simplified.

BOB - The decision to switch from an independent, multi-link rear suspension setup must have annoyed the engineers who planned it out. Nissan has a performance reputation and a step backwards to a beam axle must have seemed like going back to a horse-drawn cart. The system isn't nearly as complex, and it takes up less underbody room so the resulting increase in rear seat room is a plus - but I'll take high-tech over increased rear seating comfort any day.

TOM - But you have to admit that the Maxima really scoots. Our GXE packed the new V6 3.0 liter engine that Nissan brought out last year and the company says that it's one of the lightest, most compact engines in the industry. It weighs 64 pounds less than the old '94 version, and uses less fuel to produce the same amount of horsepower. With 190 horses and 205 lb-ft of torque, the Maxima work well coming off the line.

BOB - Technically the engine is a jewel. Nissan "micro-finished" the crank and camshafts, used thinner piston rings and added a two-way cooling system to reduce friction and make the engine run easier on less gas. They added a digital knock control system inside the computer to make spark delivery more precise. The engine guys went forward but the chassis engineers had to take a step back.

TOM - There is such a thing as a bottom-of-the-line Maxima, but the GXE trim version is no "stripper." They all come with air, cruise control, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors as well as tilt steering but the front bucket seats are manually-operated unless the buyer opts for the Security and Convenience Package. That kit includes an eight-way power driver's seat, remote keyless entry, an alarm, lighted vanity mirrors and upscale "stickier" tires. The best Maxima version has got to be the sport-tuned SE model, with all the features.

BOB - And it's sure easy to get used to all that fancy stuff. Our test car came with anti-lock brakes which is a $999 option and it's available on all Maxima models. It isn't a standard feature on any of them so it's up to the buyer to be attracted to safely features. I think ABS should be mandatory on all cars sold in the U.S. Anything that keeps a less experienced driver from getting into trouble should be standard equipment. All new cars come with air bags for safety and I think that ABS should be in that same category.

TOM - Come on, Dad, it's time to get off the soap box. Maximas stop well anyway since they all have four-wheel disc brakes and adding ABS is no guarantee that a numb driver won't get in trouble anyway. But one thing is for sure: ABS allows the driver to steer during a panic stop, where inexperienced drivers might lock the brakes and run straight into trouble. Maybe a day of advanced driver training on a race track with a professional instructor should to be included in every new car sale, too.

BOB - Hey, Tom, who's on the soap box now?