Nissan tells us that this sixth-generation Maxima is meant to be a kind of four-door sports car, a return to the theme that first put the Maxima on the enthusiast's map back in 1989. And it looks the part, now that a tough, chiseled form has replaced the bar of soap that had been rubbed on to little good effect since 1995. Naturally, the new Maxima looks its best in radiant ember, another shade of the orange-copper that has been Nissan's signature color ever since the Z-car concept appeared in "Tangerine Metalflake Streamlined Baby" in 2001.
Underneath the new suit of clothes is a fractionally stretched version of the Altima's front-wheel-drive platform. It's just as spacious as the previous Maxima, although the raised driving position reduces headroom by nearly an inch. The chassis has the usual panoply of electronic aids, including available Vehicle Dynamic Control and electronic brake-force distribution. Now that the Maxima is assembled in Tennessee, there's no price penalty for all the added goodness.
The new Maxima's interior makes a more powerful style statement than before, thanks in part to two unique features. The Skyview Roof (standard equipment) is a fixed piece of smoked glass that arches over both the front and rear seats, and the added outward visibility lends a sensation of spaciousness to the interior. Second, the optional Elite seating package (shown above) replaces the three-across rear bench seat with twin bucket seats separated by a console.
Nissan has tuned this long-wheelbase chassis to deliver a more substantial impression than the Altima, and there's a great down-the-road feel that's instantly noticeable. The Maxima also rides very well, although the top-trim 3.5 SE's 245/45VR-18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires sometimes slap against breaks in the pavement. The 3.5-liter V-6 combines a broad power band with a keen willingness to fling the tachometer needle across the dial, although it's good to remember that 265 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque come with a penalty in fuel economy. The optional six-speed manual gearbox for the SE makes this car faster still (a five-speed automatic is standard on the SE; the 3.5 SL base model comes only with a four-speed automatic).
On the open road, the six-speed 3.5 SE isn't quite the sport sedan the specification makes it out to be. The 3432-pound Maxima has poise, but its newfound grip in tighter corners is accompanied by lots of body roll, and all that horsepower would overwhelm the front tires without electronic help.
This is a purposeful, masculine car. Current Maxima owners will love it, but the Mazda 6 is a cheaper way of combining sport and family sedan.