Nissan Maxima edges into the luxury class

January 16, 1992|By John R. White | John R. White,Boston Globe

Nissan has always been synonymous with small, fuel-efficient, inexpensive transport, but there is certainly nothing cheap about the Nissan Maxima SE, a spirited 4-door sedan that commands a $20,815 list price, plus $300 delivery charge. It is, in fact, a very good car, a sporty performance sedan that extends into the luxury class. With but a few minor changes, it might go down as a great car.

But, alas for Nissan, these days the Maxima SE is just one more terrific automobile striving to be noticed in a marketplace overcrowded with excellence.

After 10 days in a Maxima SE, one gets accustomed to its few idiosyncrasies; its minor shortcomings tend to fade, but its significant virtues remain memorable.

The model chosen for evaluation comes with a 190-horsepower 3.0-liter (actually, 2.960-liter, 181.62 CID) DOHC 24-valve, fuel-injected V-6 engine and either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 4-speed electronically controlled automatic.

One of the idiosyncrasies of this car is the manual gearshift. At first, I was inclined to be annoyed with it, to consider it an inferior, unpleasant bit of work. It was balky; it was rough. No, it was just a slower design, not meant for the slapshot shifter. If one lingers awhile on the clutch pedal, the shifting smooths out. The Maxima does not like to be rushed.

But press the pedal, and the Maxima charges forward. Acceleration is good; passing power is there, too.

The handling is there, also. This is billed as a "sport-oriented" automobile, and Nissan isn't exaggerating. The car corners well and takes quick lane changes in stride.

The instrument gauges are different from most other cars; the Nissan black-on-white analog speedometer and tachometer dominate the cluster. Visibility is no problem. Power seat controls are somewhat inconvenient, on the side of the cushion and far to the rear where you are fighting the seat belt to reach it.

The belts are a "passive" shoulder belt and manual lap belt. Some relief may be in store if you order the optional air bag, soon to be available at $500 a copy.

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