Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE
A nicely styled car, the Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE brings in some nice technology touches, such as the autodimming mirrors, a HomeLink transceiver, and remote window lowering. Occupant comfort is a priority in the car, a fact highlighted by the front and rear heated seats, power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, and the heated steering wheel. There are a few things Nissan didn't get quite right, however, such as the information center and Skyview roof. This car would have been a bit more at home five years ago, but today it feels a bit dated, sporting a tape deck but having no MP3 CD or Bluetooth connectivity. Fortunately, satellite radio and navigation are available as options. With 265 horsepower, the car has plenty of power when needed, but it is hampered by a soft suspension and overpowered steering. Safety is provided by a variety of air bags, antilock braking, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and traction control. The Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE retails for $27,500, which is a fairly reasonable price for its size and power. The body of the Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE is aggressive styled, particularly at the front, but also unmistakably part of the Nissan family. The view from the rear is definitely more ho-hum. The rounded roofline, reminiscent of the 350Z's, looks nice from the outside, but the arch makes rear headroom a little tight for those more than 6 feet tall. The comfortable front seats are fully adjustable, and the driver seat and power tilt/telescoping steering wheel can be set to two memory positions, which can be linked to specific key fobs (only one position per fob).
There is a good fit and finish to the car, and suedelike door panels, titanium trim, and leather seats give it the feel of a luxury car, although the steering-wheel radio and cruise-control switch gear feel like poorly integrated add-ons. The nonopening, longitudinal Skyview glass-paneled roof also misses both aesthetically and functionally. Fortunately, a traditional sunroof is an option.
The center information console, although stylish, is a near miss. A menu-based joystick/enter system just doesn't need two clock-adjustment buttons, as well as three for trip and fuel economy. The trip meters aren't linked to either the odometer trip meters on the instrument panel or the fuel-economy meter, which means having to reset two different things to keep track of both distance and fuel economy--confusing. Also, there isn't a simple button to turn off the display, instead requiring a button push and two movements of the joystick. Once it's off, the display is supposed to turn on briefly when you change settings, then back off again, but in practice, several functions remained illuminated, so we had to go through the turn-off procedure again.
We found the trip and clock controls overly complex.
The rearview mirror includes features such as autodimming at night, which significantly cuts headlight glare. The built-in HomeLink universal transceiver can be programmed to replace up to three remote controls for garage doors, gates, security systems, and house lights--including rolling-code systems.
The premium Bose stereo system is powerful and crisp, but it's definitely old school due to its lack of MP3 CD support or an auxiliary jack. With 320 watts on tap, the stereo should have come with a remote control, allowing you to stand clear of the vehicle. The tape player spoils the look of the console and gives it a bit of an antiquated feel--hiding the tape player behind a door would have been a good idea.
With its uncommonly narrow dimension, the Skyview window in the roof is just odd.
Also lacking from this car is any Bluetooth support, but satellite radio (both Sirius and XM) and navigation are available. Although the car won't link to any of your gadgets, it has plenty of power to keep them going, supplied by four 12V accessory ports--three front and one rear--most of which are hidden in places where you could charge small devices out of sight.
Creature comforts are where this car excels, starting with dual-zone climate control and heated seats in the front and rear. The driver also has the benefit of a heated steering wheel, which warms up quite quickly and will be very welcome in colder climates. One of the nicer features is the remote window lowering, which lets you open the windows from across a parking lot. Never again will you have to experience that blast of superhot air as you enter the car on a sunny day.
There is quite a bit of technology under the hood. The 3.5-liter, transverse-mounted engine puts out 265 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. The engine utilizes continuously variable valve timing, a variable induction system, and the electronic throttle control to help it achieve this impressive power total and its ULEV/LEV2 emissions rating. To reduce interior noise from the engine, cars equipped with an automatic transmission have two electronically controlled, fluid-filled engine mounts, which have adjustable damping based on engine revolutions per minute. With this amount of power on a front-wheel-drive car comes significant torque steer, which is worsened by the seemingly overpowered steering. Also, the suspension, even with its rear-independent multilink system and sport tuning, is a bit too soft, making the car feel a bit vague on the highway. However, the car absorbs big bumps and potholes nicely at low speeds.
The EPA rates the automatic transmission version at 20mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. We observed a low 17.1mpg during our testing, although we spent most of the time--with the air conditioning on--in the city driving.
Air-bag protection comes from Nissan's Advanced Air Bag System, which utilizes dual-stage air bags and an occupant-classification sensor that determines how and if to deploy based on passenger weight and seat-belt position. The occupants are also protected with front-seat side-impact supplemental air bags and curtain side-impact supplemental air bags. Front passengers are protected from whiplash injuries with active head restraints, which bring the headrest forward if sufficient force is applied to the seat back. Additional physical protection is provided by front and rear crush zones. The Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE comes with standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and brake assist, which provides maximum braking when a panic stop is sensed. Additionally, an EBD system determines where to apply the most brake force based on passenger and cargo weight. Traction control and VDC (vehicle dynamic control) are available on cars with automatic transmissions. The warranty includes 36-month/36,000-mile coverage, as well as five-year/60,000-mile limited power train coverage.