Review: 2005 Nissan Maxima

Any family sedan with more than 100 cubic feet of total interior passenger volume is fairly roomy, and the Maxima measures 103.6 cubic feet. However, the more affordable Altima is almost as roomy as the Maxima, at 102.8 cubic feet. For further comparison, the perennially popular Honda Accord holds 102.7 cubic feet of passengers and belongings inside its four doors, while the new Ford Five Hundred offers a whopping 107.5 cubic feet. The Maxima's trunk takes in 15.5 cubic feet of Samsonite, but that total is reduced to 13.7 cubic feet if you choose the optional full-size spare tire.

Unique among non-luxury cars, Nissan offers a four-passenger seating configuration in the Maxima's Elite package. Optional on both SE and SL models, bucket seats flank a center console, replacing the traditional three-across bench rear seat. A power-operated sunshade, heated seats, a 12-volt power point, and automatic up/down rear windows complete the Elite package's first-class rear accommodations. Cloth upholstery is standard in the 3.5SE, with leather optional, while all 3.5SL models have leather as standard. An eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat and a four-way power adjustment for the front passenger's seat are standard on the SL and optional on the SE. A driver's-seat memory system that controls seat, steering wheel, and exterior mirror adjustments is optional on both models.

The Maxima's interior decor aims for a blend of high tech and elegance, with questionable results. The gauges--which illuminate in orange at night--are suitably sporty and legible, and the center stack spills nicely down the instrument panel in a logical array of climate controls and audio switchgear. The steering wheel and the gearshift knob are swathed in leather. Dual-zone climate control, automatic on/off headlights, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, and wood-tone (SL) or metallic-like (SE) trim are standard.

One of the Maxima's most unusual and appealing features is its standard Skyview glass roof, which is an elongated, rectangular glass panel stretching from the entire length of the roof to create an airy feeling inside the cabin without compromising the solidity of the roof structure. It's equipped with sliding sunshades. A conventional power glass sunroof is available in place of the

The Maxima is competitive with its peer group in terms of safety equipment, with dual-stage front-seat airbags, front-seat side airbags, and side curtain airbags. The front seats feature whiplash-resistant "active" head restraints, and all seating positions have three-point seatbelts. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard, but stability control is optional only on models equipped with the automatic transmission.

Nissan makes its simple: it equips the Maxima with one spectacular 3.5-liter/265-horse DOHC V-6 engine mated either to a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. The latest derivative of Nissan's highly regarded V-6s, it produces 255 pound-feet of torque with sharp throttle response, an eagerness to rev, and a broad power band all the way to the 6,600-rpm redline. Output in the Maxima bests the Altima by 15 horsepower, but it falls 15 horses short of the Avalon and trails the Toyota slightly in fuel economy.

As suggested, the Maxima delivers swift straight-line acceleration from a standstill or when passing. However, as is the case with most powerful front-wheel-drive cars, when you punch the Maxima's gas pedal, you're likely to feel a sideways tug at the steering wheel. This phenomenon is called torque steer. It's not hard to rein in, but it feels like the engine is battling the rest of the car, and it's something you won't experience in a rear-wheel-drive car. Therein lies the rub with the front-drive Maxima: it isn't as good to drive as rear- or all-wheel-drive competitors, such as the Infiniti G35, which is far more rewarding for not much more money. And some lux-minded front-drivers, such as the Acura TSX, are more nimble. The Maxima is a great cruising or highway car, with generous power and a comfortable ride. It's less satisfying as a true sport sedan, as it tends to squirm and wallow when pushed aggressively on twisty roads.

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