SATURDAY, APRIL 01, 2000
Maxima maximizes comfort and performance
G. CHAMBERS WILLIAMS III
FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM AUTOMOTIVE COLUMNIST

With prices starting at $21,049, the Maxima offers a lot of comfort and performance for the money. An already good car just got a whole lot better.

Nissan has updated its flagship Maxima sedan for 2000, and if you're in the market for a family car in the same class as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus, you'd better take a look at this one.

The 2000 Maxima is one of several new vehicles rolled out in the past few months by the revitalized Nissan, whose current lineup proves that this Japanese automaker means business and plans to stay around awhile.

With prices starting at $21,049, the Maxima offers a lot of comfort and performance for the money.

If value is more important than prestige, remember that a fully equipped Maxima, at about $28,000, is essentially the same car as the Infiniti I30. But prices on the Infiniti run into the low $30,000s. (The I30 is also completely updated for 2000.)

As with the Camry and the Lexus ES 300, the main difference between the high-end Maxima and the I30 is the price: You pay more for the luxury-brand name.

With the Maxima and the lower-priced Altima, Nissan is in the enviable position of having two good midsize sedans in two distinct price ranges. If you can't quite afford a Maxima, you can choose the lower-priced yet outstanding Altima.

But if you can swing a higher price tag and monthly payment, the Maxima will reward you. The car is roomy enough for five adults, the trunk holds up to 15.1 cubic feet, and the updated exterior styling gives the vehicle a distinctive, appealing look.

Standard equipment is plentiful even on the base model Maxima.

This is one of the sportiest sedans on the market in the low- to mid-$20,000s, and for 2000, the car is more fun to drive than ever. That's partly due to the upgraded 3.0-liter V-6 engine, now with a whopping 222 horsepower -- up 32 from last year. This engine is standard throughout the Maxima model lineup; there is no extra charge to get this much power.

Three models are offered: the base GXE, with the $21,049 price tag for a five-speed manual version and a sticker of $22,749 for the one with a four-speed automatic transmission.

Next in the lineup is the SE, the one we tested. Listing at $23,649 for the manual version and $24,149 for the automatic, the SE is the sportiest Maxima.

The most luxurious model is the GLE, which comes only with automatic transmission. List price is $26,249. Leather interior is standard on the GLE.

Our test car came with leather, but it was a $1,249 option. For those who want the best performance, the SE is the best choice. It comes with a stiffer suspension than the GLE or GXE, offering much better road-hugging abilities and true driver road feel. With the manual transmission, this is the car for driving enthusiasts who must have a sedan for practical purposes.

Standard equipment is plentiful even on the base model. The GXE comes with manual air-conditioning, alarm system, automatic headlights, AM/FM/cassette stereo, cloth front bucket seats, split-folding rear bench seat, cruise control, power windows and door locks with remote control, intermittent wipers, tilt steering wheel, rear defroster, dual power mirrors, tachometer and more.

With the SE, you get some sportier accessories, including 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, AM/FM/cassette/compact-disc stereo, front fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear spoiler and sport suspension.

The GLE, the one that is essentially the same as the I30, comes with automatic transmission, automatic climate control, leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power driver's seat, four-way power passenger seat, premium Bose AM/FM/cassette/compact-disc stereo, built-in garage-door opener, simulated leather door panels and wood interior trim.

This is one of the sportiest sedans on the market in the low- to mid-$20,000s.

I'm not a big fan of manual transmissions in family sedans. But if you must have a manual gearbox, the Maxima's is one of the best. Nissan, in its belief that most auto reviewers are "car guys" who eschew automatic transmissions, furnished only a manual transmission Maxima for me to test. Therefore, I can't tell you how well the automatic works. That's unfortunate, because about 95 percent of Maxima buyers will choose the automatic.

Options on our test model included the "SE comfort and convenience package" ($1,799), which added a sun roof, 17-inch alloy wheels with V-rated tires, the eight-way power driver's seat, built-in garage-door opener, variable intermittent wipers and a trunk cargo net; the leather package ($1,249), which also brought the power passenger seat and automatic climate control; and the Bose audio system ($899).

These additions raised the sticker to $28,295, including $520 transportation. The included equipment made our test car the equivalent of an I30 with manual transmission and sport suspension.

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the manual transmission models are 21 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

The Maxmima is more fun to drive than ever partly due to the upgraded 3.0-liter V-6 engine, now with a whopping 222 horsepower -- up 32 from last year. This engine is standard throughout the Maxima model lineup; there is no extra charge to get this much power.

AT A GLANCE: 2000 Nissan Maxima SE sedan

THE PACKAGE: Midsize, front-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger, V-6 powered sports sedan.

HIGHLIGHTS: Completely redesigned for 2000, Nissan's flagship sedan is essentially the same car as the much higher-priced Infiniti I30. The SE model is the sporty one, with a firmer suspension and sportier trim. Great power from the V-6 engine, excellent roadhandling and wonderful creature comforts inside. This is a truly nice vehicle.

NEGATIVES: Suspension is not as good as it could be; the rear suspension is not independent.

MAJOR COMPETITORS: Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mitsubishi Diamante, Pontiac Grand Prix, Volvo S70, Mazda Millenia, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Volkswagen Passat, Saab 9-3, Chevrolet Impala LS.

EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 21 miles per gallon city/27 highway (manual transmission).

BASE PRICE, SE model, manual: $23,649 plus $520 transportation.

PRICE AS TESTED: $28,295, including transportation.

ON THE ROAD RATING: A-plus.

8-Feb-00


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