2002 Nissan Maxima SE 3.5 V6 from North America


An acquired and potentially expensive taste


Sensors - ALL of them. Especially emission related and crank sensors.

Whole exhaust - motor to the tail pipe - needed to be replaced at 90000. But she is being driven in the North East with a lot of salt in the winter.

Normal wear items - no exceptional complaints.

General Comments:

2002 SE 6spd. Purchased 2006 with 47k - currently at 92K.

Driven - thoroughly enjoyed - by an adult, that sometimes simply enjoys the mechanical symphony, of the slow wind up from a stop to the red-line, in second, without ever "punching" it. Just for the mechanical music. If you punch it however, hold on!! It'll still "sing" - but more like Axel Rose than Eartha Kitt.

That said... first the cons. God it's expensive!! Seriously. Dealer cost of $180 per light bulb!? Yes they're Xenon, but the OEM's from Philips Germany, with shipping, $150/-, for the PAIR!!

Why build a Sistine Chapel of a motor - truly a mechanical temple - and strap the worst sensors you can find to it? (My mechanic joked that he may as well stock the crank sensors - 3 in 3 years). And as for the emissions sensors - crikey! AFTER investing in a smoke machine to blow through the lines, to find the leak, that he has never had to use for any other car in 30 years on the job, the Check Engine Light STILL would not go off! He eventually ripped EVERYTHING out and re-laid all the hosing and sensors himself, at his own cost because my car had been back in his shop every alternate day for ten days by then!)

These cars - 2002 - are on the record for this sort of irritatingly tiny stuff that sucks money and time like you would not believe.

This is the "youngest" car in mileage and age I have ever owned. I expected to have to pay more for a car like this than any of the 100K+miles cars I have bought previously. I did not expect it to outstrip the TOTAL cost of ownership for ALL of my previous three cars combined in just three years!! (I owned a '92 Integra bought with 105K in '99 for $4995 in 'good' body condition, that I drove for 5 years, $1500 invested in maintenance of wear items, and would still have been in if a little girl didn't drive into me @ 204K! And was able to drive 5 miles home, with all of my lights and instruments still working! Talk about bang-4-ur-buck - for the sake of comparison!)

Hood "flutters" - yes! Even Nissan acknowledges this in a tech bulletin they put out - the polyurethane bonding between the hood frame and skin breaks, and so at freeway speeds, you will see the surface of the hood ripple. Quite alarming if you didn't know it was an acknowledged defect.

Rear window whispers away.

Lousy paint - leads to premature wear of the body.

And I don't like being told by the manual and the dealer that I should not change my own headlight!

It's as if a group of Japanese Engineers got together and said. "Hmm, let's do this one, really badly, really well!". That's the feeling I get. So brace yourself. I could go on, but from a dynamic standpoint, the only downside (apart from the turning circle) is that this IS, THE, Under-steering Queen of the automotive universe. Snow - go slow, slow-er.

That said... I really do love her. Oh my God, when your foot goes down, and the intake runners shorten up and the second pipe on the exhaust opens up (and you REALLY wish the first owner had ponied up for the helical diff!!), but you're hangin' on, marveling at the fact that a full-size family sedan is chirping the tires on every up-shift, there's almost no torque steer, you're not yet out of third, you're past 90, and you have another three gears to go...!!

Only car I have owned that does have the capacity to kill me. On the gas, the rush is relentless. Relentless. The motor is a masterpiece of balance and power. And the torque is available from the word "GO".

Traction and handling are excellent in the straight. Good, in the dry, through the twisties (she's a little conflicted - length and solid beam rear set up make her feel-like-wanting to rotate, but front end is pretty weighty. She handles better with a little load in the back.) She's far from the best in the snow. But she will go, she can be handled, she just needs a delicate touch. Handle with care in the wet too - though straight line tracking in the rain - at freeway speeds - is excellent. Straight line tracking on snow covered freeway also good - but don't lose it! See handling overview at start of paragraph.

ENORMOUSLY comfortable. I am, not very tall, at all... Much more car than I ever need to fit into - actually I look a little funny in the car (yeah, that short! But that should simply speak to the excellent driving position - I have no problem at all, and the seat isn't all the way up to the wheel either. The seats, could be more supportive.). But the biggest people I know love to ride in this car, front or back.

She cruises quietly - road noise is acceptably good given the suspension bias to the stiff side. Excellent transmission. Had a lot of chatter in the clutch when I first bought her. Thought I may need to replace, but about 5K miles later, she sorted herself out and I have not had any problems since.

When she's running, she's a dream for anyone who's looking for a large comfortable Sedan, or a tire munching mechanical marvel. That tranny and the 3.5VQ motor are a godsend on the freeway. In 6th gear, pegged at 2,350 rpm's, doing 74mph - Summer time, expect 27-30 mpg. Fall and Spring, when it's cooler, you will easily get 30-35+. (Depending on the elevation and grade of the road). I've driven 550 miles on a single 18 gallon tank - no joke!

Once on the move, one really doesn't have to downshift at all. What a stunningly smooth motor for the horsepower and torque it puts out. I have banged off the rev-limiter at 105mph in 3rd, and 7Krpm's indicated - no problem (yeah - you can't break her unless you really try - the motors full rating is actually around 7.2Krpms).. Relentless! That's the only way to describe what this car can do on the gas. I just wish Nissan put the Helical Diff in them all instead of optioning it out - I mean, even the baby Sentra came with one as standard! But as long as you know what you are doing, and have half an idea what you are dealing with mechanically/dynamically - she will put a smile on your face every time.

In conclusion, it can be a regular pain - very regular - if you're not careful or just unlucky. I wouldn't recommend these cars largely based on what it has cost me to maintain.

But otherwise, no complaints. For a "driver", this car will be a revelation on its technical merits and capability alone - if not for the comfort and the long list of amenities (and mine's not even completely loaded out). For the "boy racer" - just try not to kill yourself, please.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 3rd August, 2009

3rd Jan 2010, 09:39

Worth the read. Thanks for the insight fellow 02 Maxima reviewer.


1st Feb 2010, 18:07

Excellent and very thorough review. I have a 2002 SE /6 speed manual with over 162,000 miles. Bought it new and and can tell you that the your review is dead on. Love the car if you love to drive. I have the original clutch and no major problems with this car to date. All power gadgets (windows, seats, etc.) are original with no problems at all. Yes, after 80K or so, the check engine light becomes a chronic illness you just have to learn to live with.

I am now finding that the car is burning or leaking (although no oil slick anywhere) motor oil slightly. I'm told it may be time to replace the rear main seal. But for now I can live with that too.

Again, great review.

14th Feb 2010, 15:02

I'm a bit nervous now. I just brought a 2002 Maxima yesterday. I had a 2001 a while ago and do know that I have to be very careful in the snow and rain, but can anyone tell me if buying really great snow tires will make a major difference? I live in Ct so we do get ice and snow often. LOVE the drivability of this car, always did. Super smooth and I was so in love with my first one until I got laid off and had to give it up.That's why I went back to this one again but I do get a little nervous with the snow and rain. Can anyone help? My husband's not too sure about this one, either!

2002 Nissan Maxima SE 3.5L V6 from North America


OK, but would really think before buying another Nissan Maxima


The radiator went bad at around 125,000 miles, which I believe is fairly typical. Cost me $150 to fix it myself (very easy for moderately experienced mechanic).

The 02 sensor has tripped my check engine light a few times.

The car burns oil fairly heavy, (approx 1.5 quarts per 3,000 miles.) Recommend using Lucas oil to somewhat help this problem.

General Comments:

Car handles fairly well and has quite a bit of pep with 255 HP on tap.

The gas mileage is nowhere near what the on board computer predicts it to be. On average exactly 4 mpg worse than the computers estimate. On a recent trip I got 25 mpg at best. Not all that great considering the size of the car.

I think that the automatic transmission needs another gear so it doesn't rev so high.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 6th March, 2009