A practical 4-door grocery getter with some muscle!
First off, these are pretty darn reliable cars, but there are some very common (and stupid) problems with them that Nissan "stealerships" will charge you an arm and a leg to fix that are easy enough to just fix yourself.
The Maxima has a fairly large enthusiast following also (Maxima.org), so that means all of the common problems are VERY well documented, and there are lots of knowledgeable folks around to help you fix issues on your own and avoid the "stealerships". I purchased this car with 43,000 miles on it, and it was trouble free until 73,000 miles.
At 73,000 miles, an ignition coil went bad. Nissan would charge over $300 just to find and replace a single coil, but I fixed it for $55 myself. No big deal here, and no special tools required either.
Just after that the knock sensor failed. This puts the engine into a safe mode, so instead of having 190HP, now you only have maybe 160HP. It's a big difference, and your mileage will also drop very noticeably. These cars are notorious for failing knock sensors at the 70-80k mile range. Fortunately, that means the problems are well documented at the enthusiast sites (Maxima.org for example) and you can again save a bundle. Nissan would charge $800 to fix this stupid little sensor and get your 30 horsepower back, but I fixed it for much less. I found the part for $120, then some gaskets from the intake manifolds would need to be replaced also (got to remove those to get to this sensor) and was all fixed once again, including labor from a private mechanic (family friend) for just over $200.
THANK GOD for the enthusiast sites such as Maxima.org. Otherwise I would be a bit poorer right now. Aside from these two stupid (but potentially expensive) little issues the car has been very reliable. I have never been stranded. The ignition coil gave plenty of warning that it was going to go via a check engine light a few weeks in advance, and the knock sensor is not critical.
The exterior styling is either love it or hate it, and I personally love it. It has a more aggressive look to it. I like the 5-spoke alloy wheels and side profile. The tail looks a bit odd, but I enjoy a car from the inside.
The interior design is very nice and classy and resembles the current Infiniti G35. White faced black print SE gauges turn to white on black at night, which is very neat. Seating position and driver room is an improvement over my previous vehicle. There are no consistent squeaks or rattles in the car either, although some do come and go every once in awhile. I would say interior material quality is average.
My one complaint with the interior would be that the ride is fairly noisy compared to others in the class. High speed cruise lets enough noise into the cabin that it is somewhat difficult to have a normal conversation. Honda is better, and Toyota is flat out superior in this area.
Features are very nice, as I have a fully loaded model. The Bose stereo sounds amazing. The leather is of decent quality. It also has heated seats and mirrors, which are very handy in the winter. The auto climate control is fairly intelligent. The car also has ABS and side air-bags as well.
Performance is EXCELLENT with the 5spd manual! The engine may only have 190HP, but it is a very torquey engine (205 lb-ft) and it is also a very lightweight car at only 3000 lb. This is about the weight of a 4-cylinder Accord. That combines to give the car a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds and an average 1/4 mile time of 15.2 seconds, which is excellent even by today's standards. Some Maxima.org members have even been able to get 14 second timeslips out of the car still stock.
The Nissan trademark "VQ" engine is everything they say it is. It's exceptionally smooth, loves to rev, has a muscular snarl, and deserves every Ward's 10 Best Engines award it has ever gotten. Even the automatic versions are pretty peppy. If you test drive one and the engine does not seem responsive and zippy, there is a 90% chance that the knock sensor is dead (see problem section above). When operating to spec, this engine is simply amazing.
Fuel mileage is also very good. The torque engine and 5 speed manual combination work very well together, and you are able to leave it in higher gears even at low speeds. Even with a fairly aggressive driving pattern, I still manage 24-26 mpg in mixed driving. I averaged 29.5 mpg over an extended highway trip once, even though the car is only rated at 27 mpg highway. I am very pleased with the mileage, although the car does require premium unleaded fuel. Something to be aware of as far as operational costs.
Handling is VERY good with the sporty SE suspension over smooth roads, but unfortunately the rear-beam semi-independent suspension just isn't that good, and lacks preciseness. The rear end will begin to skip around over rougher roads, and requires more steering input than a fully independent rear suspension car like the Accord. It would certainly not stop me from buying the car, but it is something to be aware of nonetheless.
Overall this is an excellent car. I have had it close to two years now, and it still brings a grin to my face every time I drive it, and I always look forward to doing so. Those that bought the car new will probably not be very happy, because Nissan resale is quite bad for a Japanese import, but that works out in your favor if you buy used like I did. All of the resale in the segment goes to the Camry and Accord, so those are good cars to buy new. Nissan gets the short end of the stick, so you will save a bundle of money by buying a low-mileage used one. Of course, this doesn't matter if you plan on keeping the car for a long time.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 3rd October, 2003