Pros: Class leading 255 HP 3.5 liter V6. Fit and Finish are stellar.
Cons: OEM Tires are costly. Wide turning radius. Torque Steer.
This is a very thorough review of a 2002 Nissan Maxima SE by a critical mechanical engineer. I will discuss every minute detail and try to sum up the experience when driving this car.
THE BEGINNING :
I purchased this car in April of 2003 as a one year used "off-lease" vehicle. The car came to me with 18,500 miles on the dash and the car now has 36,300. This is a one year wrap up of the vehicle.
I have received 2 recalls on the car, but they handled professionally and quickly by the service center.
The car I purchased was a 2002 Nissan Maxima SE 4 door model. It has a 255 hp, 4 speed automatic transmission. I purchased a "stripper" vehicle and as such the vehicle did not have any options installed. It did come with many useful features standard such as: Power windows/door locks, remote keyless entry with remote trunk button, Zenon headlamps, auto dimming rear view mirror, steering wheel mounted controls, and power driver seat.
The power is supplied by a 255 hp engine displacing 3.5 liters. Unlike most family sedans, this is the only engine available. If you are looking for a 4 cylinder engine (I don't know why you would), you should look at it's younger cousin, the Altima. Interestingly, the engine was originally designed to have 260 hp and you might remember it being advertised that way. However, dyno testing revealed that only 255 peak hp was being delivered and the company was forced to lower it's hp rating. Power is one of the car's best attractions. If you are looking for a vehicle with grunt, you have found the right place. This is one of the strongest points of this car. When I was looking for a vehicle, I was deciding between the 200 hp honda accord, and the 195 hp camry. The Maxima is the leader of the group in terms of power.
I believe that the engine itself sounds too mute during regular cruising. When you punch it, it will snarl at you in a fashion that is similar to the Nissan 350Z, but for most of the time it is like a mild mannered Clark Kent. The engine is never imposing, but it will get up and go when you ask it too. In manual form, I have seen 0-60 times posted in the low 6s.
I have had no problems with the automatic transmission. I am not a big fan of the manumatic automatic transmissions, but if that is what you are looking for, seek elsewhere. I believe that Nissan has updated the transmission for 2004 with a auto-manual and a new 5 speed auto shifter. The benefit of the auto-manual is to allow you to row through your own gears as if it were a manual, without the need to use a clutch.
One problem with the vehicle is axel-hop. The vehicle is a front wheel drive car and you will get a large amount of torque steer because of the large power under the hood. I wish Nissan would have seen fit to make this car rear-wheel drive because it would have corrected this problem. As it is, under hard acceleration the vehicle will attempt to change lanes and will not accelerate in a smooth straight forward manner. This isn't really as bad as it seems. This only happens during stoplight hero manuevers when you are trying to race the souped up Civic next to you at the light.
Conclusion : Put a linebacker in your garage, this car has some power.
This car is an excellent highway cruiser. The car is quiet, confident, and comfortable. It is a family car, but it doesn't tend to learn much into curves. However, the limitations are self evident when driving it and it doesn't handle as sporty as an Accord coupe.
One of the problems with the vehicle is the relatively larger 40 foot turning radius. During parking manuevers, this car will show its size. I feel that the turning radius could have been trimmed up a bit to give it a more sporting nature.
Conclusion : It handles like it should, but the turning radius could be a little tighter.
Reliability has been very good on this vehicle. For the most part, all I have had to perform is routine maintanence on the car. The 30,000 mile check up was performed at a cost of $300, which is pretty standard for V6 engines.
The only problem I have had is with the right front speaker. The speaker has been buzzy and has been replaced in the car. The new factory speaker is again buzzy and will have to be replaced again. The dealership claims that the wiring in the car is up to snuff and cannot determine the reason for the speaker malfunction.
Other than the speaker, the car has behaved like you would expect from a Japanese car. The car starts on demand and I have never seen a warning or problematic light on the dashboard.
Conclusion : When you speak about reliability in a vehicle what you are actually asking is how unreliable is the car? Excluding a speaker problem, I have no gripes to complain about.
There are a few more comments I wish to address. The factory tires will be expensive when you replace them. The SE comes with low-profile 225/50VR17 tires on 17-inch six-spoke alloy wheels. These are a non-standard size and as such you will only be able to find them at the Nissan dealership or at Bridgestone dealers (the maker of the tire). I will warn you that they are between $250 - $300 a tire. If you can find them cheaper than that, please let me know!
I am very pleased with the steering wheel mounted controls. Once you get used to their placement, they become second nature. I do have a gripe with them because they are not lit up at night (a cost saving measure).
I am also very pleased with the roominess of the vehicle. I was looking for a car that could seat 5 comfortably, and the Maxima does this task admirably. The car continues to be at the top of the JDpower and associates winner for a vehicle with the most frontal passenger space. If you are looking for a vehicle with the room to spread out, you have found your car.
When I was shopping for a vehicle my main concerns were power, roominess, and styling. Whenever I get into the vehicle, I always feel that the car has an upscale feel with aggressive tendancies. The car is a family car that begs to be let out to play. On the highway, it is very easy to mash on the accelerator at 60 and find yourself at 90mph with a ticket (I should know, I received one). With all joking aside, this is a car that fills a unique position in the auto industry. At new car price of $26000, the car is slightly more than the family sedans (Camry, Accord) and slightly less than the entry level luxury cars (BMW 325, Acura TL). You will not be disappointed with this car.