The Nissan Maxima SL would have made a hell of a Buick. One shake of its golf-bag-devouring bustle, one blip of its throttle, and the fictional Buick Maxima would have drawn a crowd of Geritol guzzlers on the lookout for something Detroit is loathe to give them: a hot toddy spiked with a shot of adrenaline. A measured dose of Cialis, not a foot bath in Epsom salts.
s obvious Buick thinks of its customers posthumously, Nissan seems pretty sure they
re still kicking up dust. Put it this way: My mom
s uncle served in Burma during World War II. For the first 55 years of his driving life he owned Pontiacs exclusively; for the final 20, he owned Nissan Maximas. Wouldn
t be caught dead in an
d say. If he
d lived long enough to see the Maxima
s 2004 redesign, of which 2006 will likely be the final model year, it
s assured he would have again traded up.
(Though Nissan claims its typical Maxima buyer is nearly two decades younger, on the road we
ve been seeing lots of gray terrain bobbing above new Maximas
s because the Maxima SL is, at base, a sensible, entry-luxury car
offering all the comforts of a Lincoln Townhouse without the seagoing road feel. Not as rough and ready as its SE model sibling, which is tuned for younger spines undaunted by disc degeneration, it
s nonetheless comfortable without being comfortably numb.
Under the hood, however, beats the heart of a Georgia feist on a possum hunt. In fact, tip-in is so overanxious, you
d think Nissan
s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 (265 hp in the Max) was financed by the rubber industry. It
s a great engine, smooth if not sonorous — the same one Nissan inserts in the 350Z and Pathfinder. But in the Maxima, it
s got a mischievous streak wide enough to play Australian rules football on. Pull my finger, it bids. And, by cracky, you always fall for that one.
Torque steer is the result. Heaps of it. Swings wilder than Babe Ruth
s after a night of bathtub gin at El Morocco. The Maxima
s a front-driver, you see, built athwart the same underpinnings as its Altima sibling. That means an interior measured in acreage, but a driveline that misbehaves like Golden Ticket-holders in Wonkaland. Despite the benefits of instant power, if gramps wants to overtake a semi, he
d better have both hands firmly to the wheel.
Still, the Maxima SL is a decent handler overall. The massive rubber quotient and sufficiently damped suspension collude like felonious bankers to keep the blocky sedan more or less on track. From behind the wheel, however, it feels huge and heavy, more so than its spec-sheet weight and measurements would suggest. Safe is how some would put it.
Inside, with wood-inlaid curvilinear shapes enfolding the cockpit and a novel, rectangular moonroof bisecting the overhead space, the Maxima
s interior rivals Copenhagen
s Opera House for Danishness. Someone in wardrobe took the time to hunt down excellent faux finishes, from the
along the doors, to the
headliner, to the
tone accents. If my hands hadn
t felt the real thing, I
d almost swear these materials were authentic. Outside, the surface-y design language is closer to the avant garde than any other sedan on the road. Art-house pretense aside, it
s got the face of a robotic armadillo, and the bum of a Victorian hoop-skirt model.
Uncle Nick would have loved it.
[by Mike Spinelli]