By on June 6, 2005

 The Nissan Maxima is the Madonna of mid-priced motors. It can perform wild and sensational stunts, come home, pop on the kettle and write heart-warming children's books. Not bad for a car whose roots stretch back to 1981, when it was a 120hp wagon called a Datsun 810. Those days, salesmen probably threw in a couple of lawn chairs and two tickets to Grease at the drive-in to move the metal. Now all they have to do is toss a potential customer the keys.

Or just let them study the car for a while. The Maxima's body looks the way the Cadillac CTS wishes it did, before its designer decided to run for Mayor of Polygon Town. It's a clean, fresh design that's deceptively attractive. At first glance, it's easy to mistake the Maxima for another Japanese blandmobile. But then, as you experience the car's perfect proportions and restrained detailing in various lights and settings, the design begins to work its magic. Before you know it, words like 'handsome' and 'Nissan' seem less like oxymorons, and more like an invitation to a VIP room.

 Enter the enclave, and you encounter an interior that would make Elvis Presley's footwear proud. The Maxima's suede seats and doors are ridiculous in theory, elegant in practice. They add a welcome touch of glamor to a car previously known for its fundamental worthiness. The motorcycle-style guages and funky three-spoke wheel provide yet more proof that Nissan knows how to sex-up an automotive workplace.

Crank up the stereo and you'll know that Nissan has this interior fun thing fully wired. The Bose eight-speaker sound system puts out some serious tunage, in both volume and clarity. The in-dash six-disc CD player also offers mp3 and a tape-deck (in case you like that scratchy, hissing sound destroying your system). On the downside, Nissan's designers seem pathologically averse to multi-functionality; the centre console is a button pusher's paradise.

09_2005_maxima_se.jpgThe Mohawk "skyview-roof' is also a feature too far. While I liked Mr. T as much as everyone else, this roof is about as useless as his hair cut. Even the A-team had enough sense not to turn their van into a greenhouse. The heavy glass allows in extra heat, and aggravates you every time you look at it and realize it doesn't actually open. On the positive side, ornithologists will enjoy the opportunity to analyse splattered droppings from our feathered friends. Nissan should not have SHIFTed thinking and installed a standard functional moonroof, or, better still, nothing at all.

The Maxima is powered by Nissan's versatile V6; the same 3.5-liter engine motivates vehicles ranging from the Quest minivan to the 350Z sports car. Nissan tweaked the Maxima's powerplant to deliver 265hp and 255ft.lbs. of torque. The test car came with a five-speed automatic gearbox, complete with tip-tronic. So equipped, the Maxima reaches 60mph in a blistering 6.3 seconds. Even better, the surfeit of free-flowing torque and silken gear changes mean you can order your Venti bold without extra room and not spill a drop.

 Thanks to an extremely wide front track, wide low profile tires, and a relatively low body weight, the Maxima is a spry beast, as happy tackling the twisties as schlepping the groceries. If only Nissan had left the VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) at the lab. Understeer? Oversteer? Who knows? The moment your driving begins to get interesting, the handling Nanny closes the book. With this watchdog engaged, you might as well be driving the eighties version for all the raw excitement the Maxima delivers.

Luckily, you can turn off the VDC and experience the pleasures of a chassis designed by… kill joys. The Maxima's nose is genetically predisposed to washing wide during hard corners. While this makes the Maxima an entirely safe steer, where's the fun in that? Strange that Nissan provides us with a boisterous 265 ponies, but dismisses the superb handling offered in their rear wheel drive (or AWD for that matter) Infiniti.

Still, you've got to give Nissan credit for checking more boxes than the competition. It's got more interior and cargo space and more amenities (e.g. heated seats and Bose audio) than the Volvo S60, VW Passat GL, and Acura TSX. Moreover, the Maxima embarrasses its rivals in the raw power department. Its closest rival is the TSX, which falls short by 65hp and 89ft.lbs. of torque. For enthusiasts living in a material world, the Maxima is THE material girl.

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