Over the last two years it managed to muster a pair of home runs
- no, more like grand slams - with the redesigned Altima and sporty 350Z. Drawing on this
newfound popularity, Nissan set out to redesign its 2004 Maxima as an upscale near luxury
sedan with a sporty personality. Just like the hot selling Altima, it has an athletic
stance with dramatic curves and muscular haunches, along with a powerful engine, sharp
handling, and a stylish, roomy cabin.
In fact, its greatest strength - that it copies the Altima's best parts - may also be
its greatest weakness. The Maxima is only slightly larger than the Altima and, despite its
clear attempt at looking and feeling sporty, doesn't quite match the smaller Altima's
But the Maxima offers some distinct advantages. Among these, most noticeable is
its styling, which features a more coupe like curved roof, sportier lines, and
swoopier body panels than the Altima. Along with the performance oriented style comes a
little bit of prestige too, especially since Nissan only expects to sell a relatively
small number of Maximas compared with the Altima.
The most important difference however is in the Maxima's cabin, where wonderfully
sumptuous materials give it a feeling almost as fabulous as in a full-blown luxury sedan.
Its door panels are covered in a suede like material similar to that in extremely
expensive Mercedes Benz models, and the dash on our test vehicle was exquisitely assembled
and rattle free.
Most controls are located where drivers would expect them, and the gauges are
particularly stylish and readable. However, buyers who don't like superfluous technology
could be turned off by the Maxima's in dash control screen and multitude of switches and
One option that sets the Maxima apart from other mid size sedans is the "elite
package," which puts a classy center console between two heated bucket seats in the
rear and adds a power rear sunshade. It makes the back seat feel like it's actually meant
for adults, but it costs a hefty $6,400 on the sporty SE and $3,550 on the luxurious SL
While the Maxima's performance is not quite as neck snapping as the less expensive
Altima, it's still worth noting. Nissan's award winning 3.5-liter V6 engine is responsive
and smooth as it makes 265 horsepower, and brakes feel safe and competent.
How the Maxima handles depends on which version you pick, LE or SL. The LE model has a
slightly firmer and sportier ride than the SL, which is geared toward luxury buyers who
want a soft and comfortable ride. People who love the thrill of driving should opt for the
LE because its suspension gives the driver a little more feedback from the road and,
consequently, a little more excitement.
Prices seem just right for Nissan's upscale sedan. At $26,950 for a Maxima LE, it costs
significantly less than a similar BMW 5 series and not much more than a well-equipped
All in all, the Maxima's mix of luxury and performance is impressive, especially for
the price. It probably won't be a grand slam in the showroom like the Altima and 350Z, but
it's definitely enough to give Nissan a couple more RBIs.
Why buy it? It's like the new Altima - stylish, fast, and comfortable - only with a
little more room, horsepower, and prestige. Its interior is beautifully luxurious and
impressive for the price.