Exterior Design: ****
With the Altima and Maxima starting to look like fraternal twins by 2002, Nissan resolved to keep designers of the next-generation models as far removed as corporately possible - the Altima team at Nissan Design America in La Jolla, California and the Maxima team at the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan. As a result, the two cars became more like distant cousins, with the Maxima getting the most distinct corporeal arrangement in the entire US sedan market. One star withdrawn for upright-vacuum-cleaner face.
Power delivery is FedEx air, not USPS ground. The Maxima could light 'em up from a sparrow exhaling too near the accelerator pedal. Most often it's at a quiet intersection near an Elementary school, several feet from an idling police car, that the front meats scream bloody murder. Takeoff is far smoother and more manageable at highway speeds, though torque steer is sometimes startling during aggressive kickdowns. Some may feel that kind of rough trade has no place pulling a luxobarge.
The Maxima s four-wheel power-assisted discs, vented in the front, could freeze-frame a runaway coal cart. Pedal feel is on the firm side of spongy, which can make for some harrowing first drives amid New York City s loosey-goosey roadway infrastructure.
The Maxima SL is far easier on those with delicate constitutions than, say, "Mama Mia the Musical." But as luxury cars go, even without the SE s stiffened ride, the SL is nonetheless firmly planted on the sport-sedan side of the suspension range. The pat-pat-pat of roadway pilings is reduced to golf applause, but larger imperfections sometimes uncover a brain-rattling lack of play.
Decent amounts of grip for a sizable hunk of car. Body heave is more pronounced than, say, a 350Z but less so than the 1972 Miami Dolphins' defensive line.
The Maxima's five-speed autobox is joylessly efficient, despite being competitively light one cog (be assured the next model will have more ways to say "kick me.") The de rigueur autoshift function is as unnecessary as tits on a set of encyclopedias.
The Bose audio system is perfectly tuned to the nooks and crannies of the Maxima s postmodern interior. Zeppelin sounds awesome, including the drum solos, which is almost unheard of on a stock deck.
During one fateful trip, the nav system insisted I was fishing for blues on Long Island Sound, and set a course for the Mid-Atlantic Ridge instead of 49th Street and 3rd Avenue. Other than that one time, the system operated intuitively, if overly buttoned.
Lots of space for golf bags, luggage and prostheses.
Overall rating: ****
[by Mike Spinelli]