2000 Nissan Maxima

In my experience, people who own Nissans love Nissans. But because about half the owners of even the bestloved models tend to change brands every three or four years, a carmaker must continually persuade owners of other brands to look its way.

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In my experience, people who own Nissans love Nissans.

But because about half the owners of even the bestloved models tend to change brands every three or four years, a carmaker must continually persuade owners of other brands to look its way.

Nissan hasn't been particularly strong in this department. Except, perhaps, with the mid-size Maxima sedan.

Maxima has almost become a brand within a brand at Nissan a car whose identity means something even to those who own and love their Accords and Camrys.

For 2000, Nissan has a Maxima that's about as all-new as a car gets these days.

It still looks like a Maxima, especially from the side, with its characteristic rounded-at-the-rear roofline.

Other styling details make you wonder if there's a secret clubhouse where designers hang out to decide what cars are going to look like for the next five years. I guess it's like music; there are only seven white notes and five black notes.

The car looks bigger, not only because it is by 50 mm in wheelbase, 30 mm in overall length, 15 mm in width and 10 mm in height but because the greenhouse (the glass-and-roof section, above the car's beltline) is bigger.

The base of the windshield has been moved some 50 mm forward and the rake of both it and the rear glass has been increased. The trunklid is also higher.

This all translates into more room inside, notably in width. The car even feels big when you drive it for the first time.

The rear seat is especially enormous, Maxima being one of the few cars of any size where three average size adults can sit in the back.

Trunk space is also up by a significant 68 L to 445 L and the opening enlarged for easier loading. If that's not enough, a 60/40 splitfolding rear seatback is standard on all models.

The interior is attractive and functional, with lots of storage spaces for the flotsam and jetsam of the daily commute.

Nissan notes that the steering wheel has been relocated relative to the driver's hip point, suggesting I wasn't the only one who had trouble finding a correct driving position in the previous generation car. The wheel was either too far away or the seat too close to the dash.

In the new car, you can adjust the seat cushion up or down at front or back, independently of the seatback, which is also rake-adjustable.

With the seat positioned as high as possible, to, um, maximize on-the-road visibility, only the topmost setting of the tilt steering wheel is really useful, and the wheel does not telescope.

Overall, it is easier to get properly situated in the new car.

The seats themselves are comfortable and were cloth upholstered in my base-level GXE model.

You won't exactly feel awash in luxury here; some of the trim materials look a bit economical. Then again, it didn't help that most of them were beige, with some brown, some matte black and one shard of "brushed-aluminium" plastic around the shift lever.

I'm reminded of that terrific Jeff Goldblum TV ad for iMAC computers: Which inmate of thinking jail decided that beige was good?

Assembly quality was hard to fault, though, apart from a fairly intrusive wind rush noise coming from the driver's side mirror.

The excellent radio (single CD, cassette, eight speakers, part of the optional convenience package) and automatic air conditioning system (ditto) are both operated by hard-to-adjust-on-the-move pushbuttons, save radio volume and air temperature.

Fan speed is still set by Nissan's impossible push-push-push system.

Maxima's 3.0 L four-cam 24-valve V6 engine has always been a sweetheart, so giving it more power can hardly be a Bad Thing.

A two-stage induction system, which creates a longer intake passage for good bottom-end torque and switches to a shorter one for better top-end power, has cranked output from 190 to 222 hp at 6400 rpm, and peak torque from 205 to 217 lbft at 4000 rpm.

Despite the fairly high peak torque rev figure, this thing is a hot rod, with great launch, outstanding midrange and a fine exhaust note as revs rise smoothly and strongly to the red line.

One drawback is some torque steer when accelerating hard on slippery surfaces. If that's the tradeoff, I'll take the torque, thanks.

A standard traction control system is very intrusive when it cuts in. Fortunately, there's a shut off switch.

Handsome isn't always as handsome does, though. Too bad Nissan didn't spend a few styling dollars on the engine compartment; it still looks like an explosion in a licorice factory under the hood.

Rare among cars of this class, Nissan offers a five-speed manual transmission on the base GXE and the sporty SE models.

A four-speed electronic automatic overdrive is optional on both and standard on the luxury-oriented GLE.

Frankly, the five-speed isn't that spectacular. The throws are long and a bit vague, and the lever positioned too far back and to the right, for me, anyway. It's offered more to help establish the car's credibility as a sports sedan; even most SE buyers are expected to opt for the autobox.

No probs; it shifts well, whether you're leaning on it or just pottering around. Overdrive is locked out by means of a handy thumb button.

Suspension continues to use Mac-Struts up front and Nissan's multi-link beam axle at the rear.

Until now, I hadn't liked it. Sure, it's cheap and compact, but cars with it have never felt particularly well planted, tending to float over road undulations, especially in corners.

In the new Maxima, the linkage that connects the beam to the body has been moved to behind the axle. It seems to make a difference.

The springing is pretty soft, resulting in a generally smooth ride, and the car corners with minimal body roll. It does feel more stable when you exercise it over the bumpy, twisty bits, but lifting off in a hard corner will bring the nose in quickly.

The skilled driver will appreciate this nimbleness, but if you are on your cell phone and hit a decreasing radius offramp a bit too fast, you'd better be prepared to do some wheel twirling.

Shouldn't be a problem, either, since the wheel feels meaty in the hands and steering response is quick and direct.

The tires even the 215/55 R16s that are also part of the convenience group give up early, leading to tire squeal in only moderately hard cornering. Yet they aren't completely dedicated to isolation, either; there is patter over small road irregularities.

If Nissan doesn't have the details of ride and handling nailed down quite as tightly as the better German cars, it has come pretty close.

If you want more crispness, the SE is now being built with optional 17-inch wheels and tires and a recalibrated suspension to go with them. While you can buy an SE with 16-inch boots now, I suggest you wait a couple of months for the new setup.

The 2000 Maxima is priced lower than before, never mind it also being better equipped. It starts at $28,590 for the GXE and ranges up to $35,400 for the SE automatic.

My GXE with auto and convenience group (auto air, trick radio, bigger wheels and tires, power driver's seat, heated front seats, a few other toys) came in at $31,600.

You might be able to get a similarly equipped Olds Intrigue, Buick Regal or Chrysler Intrepid for that or less, but the more relevant comparison would be to Camry and Accord, since those are what the marketing dudes call the "competitive set."

Maxima starts at just a tick over the cheapest V6 Camry, but the Maxima is simply a lot more car.

It's over two grand cheaper than the cheapest Accord V6, as well, and makes an equally good case for itself.

But Nissan doesn't need a positive review from either me or Lady Leadfoot. I could barely lever her out of the thing when it came time to take it back for the Maxima to succeed.

After just three weeks on sale, it is already setting sales records.

Get in line and hope to find one that's not beige.

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on driving experiences with Maximas provided by Nissan Canada.

Email:jbkenzie @

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