Pros: Awesome engine, attractive interior, available with a manual, HID headlights.
Cons: Fuel economy, OEM tires, optimistic MPG computer, HID headlights are a target for thieves.
I bought my 2002 Maxima SE 6-speed in late August of 2002. Why I bought it? I wanted a car that can keep up with traffic, and give cocky boy racers a thrashing at will. How I wound up with the Maxima? a test drive of course! But it wasn't an easy decision. You can clearly see that I was looking for something fun and practical, and in a manual transmission. I had to test drive lots of cars. Here are the cars I test drove. All the cars mentioned are 02's by the way.
NISSAN ALTIMA 3.5 SE 5-speed
NISSAN ALTIMA 2.5S 5-speed
SUBARU WRX 5-speed.
ACURA RSX type-S
VOLKSWAGEN GTI 1.8t and VR6 (both in 5 speed)
HONDA CIVIC Si (2002)
NISSAN SENTRA SE-R Spec-V
MAZDA MIATA 5-speed.
This review is on the 6-speed version of the 2002 SE Maxima.
There are lots of good points about the 2002 Nissan Maxima. Far and away the best part about this car is its 3.5L V6 engine. The VQ engine in this car is derived from the same technology in the earlier 3.0 V6 in the 94-01 Maxima. Nissan Just bored out this engine this time around. I must mention that the engine (VQ35DE) is among Wards auto worlds 10 best engines. Enough ranting on the engine, how does it perform? Thats where the test drive comes in, and I was sold on it. Stomp on the accelerator and you'll be amazed at how quiet you are accelerating. Stop on it again, and watch the Speedometer needle effortlessly climb. The engine emits an erie whine, yet its almost too quiet. Its a rush that can only be experienced, and it will hold you to the back of your seat. I've found myself on several occasions listening to the radio (not blasting it) and cruising at 4000 RPMs and not knowing until I looked over at the tachometer. At least you'll be content with this kind of power under foot meaning you can carry 4-5 passengers even with the A/C running and still accelerate briskly.
On the other side of the performance issue is this car's handling. This Maxima came with 17 inch alloys wearing Bridgestone potenza V-rated rubber. V-rated tires mean they can handle speeds of up to 149 miles per hour. In the twisties, the Maxima is a bit of a dissapointment. The car feels ponderous while taking curves at higher than normal speed. There is very little body roll, but I felt that the Maxima was a little out of its element driving around tight curves. Chalk up this lackluster handling to a solid beam rear axle. Don't get me wrong, this Maxima handles a bit better than your average car.
Since we spend a great deal of time inside the car, the Maxima's interior doesn't dissapoint here. My car came equipped without all the bells and whistles such as sunroof, leather, heated seats, navigation, and bose stereo. Needless to say, its a pretty handsome and well thought out interior. My car has a power drivers seat, auto dimming rear-view mirror, AM/FM/CD/Cassette stereo, adjustable armrest, trip computer,dual illuminated vanity mirrors, and steering wheel mounted radio and cruise control buttons. I find the radio controls on the steering wheel to be very helpful. The trip computer is also fun to play with, yet lacks some accuracy. In the rear, there are cup holders that slide out of the rear of the center console as well as another 12 volt outlet. The Rear seats fold down for more cargo space if needed.
There are a few niceties that I forgot to mention. The remote keyless entry opens the doors, windows, trunk, and has a panic button for the alarm. The HID headlights are good for driving and you will grow to appreciate them after you drive a car with halogens. The HID headlights (xenons) emit a brighter yet different color of light that illuminates things in a whiter light for better visibility. Foglights are also standard, but they are of little use.
The driving experience is rather pleasant in the Maxima. The highway ride is firm, but not punishing. This is not a floaty freeway cruiser like a Town Car, this is a sports sedan and you will feel bumps. After driving for a while, you'll feel that there is a balance between sportiness and comfort in the ride. Passing on the highway is easy, even in 6th gear. You'll never (maybe?) have to downshift for a hill in this car. With 246 foot pounds of torque, hills are not much of a problem.
As I mention the negative aspects of the Maxima, I have to say my biggest gripe is the tires. I can't blame Nissan here, Nissan didn't make these tires....bridgestone did. What makes these tires bad is their somewhat poor performance in wet/snowy conditions. It also doesn't help since this is a high torque front wheel drive car. You really have to take extra car in the wet weather with these tires. Many other Maxima owners I've talked to are getting rid of these tires as soon as they've purchased this car.
Being that the Maxima requires Premium fuel, you'll pay more at the pump. I've also seen fuel economy anywhere from 21-29 miles per gallon. I currently get 23-25 MPG in mixed driving. This car can soak up fuel, so stomping on the throttle is fun, yet a little costly. There is a MPG computer integrated in the trip computer. Here you'll find your Average MPG since last reset, distance until empty, trip time, average speed, and outside temperature. By the way, the MPG computer is 4 to 5 Miles per gallon optimistic. I calculated 25.7 MPG (light driving) while the computer said 29.7 MPG, go figure. On the highway, I get 28-29 miles per gallon, self verified.
Another gripe I have is with the Shifter. The 6-speed shifter is a little clunky during shifts, but as you get used to the car, you won't really notice it. It gets better once you break it in.
The 02'-03' Maxima has interchangeable headlight fixtures with the 00'-01' Maxima. The 02-03 Maxima has HID headlights, while the 00-01 doesn't. This makes my car a target for HID theft. Its not uncommon to see an 02-03 Maxima with its headlights missing at the dealership awaiting service, or driving around New York City. This problem is mostly around the East coast, and in some major cities so this makes the Maxima a car you don't want to park in unsavory areas.
On a lighter note, the 02-03 Nissan Maxima is not a car you'd want to give to a teenager. With 255 horsepower underfoot, one can get in serious trouble as well as a serious accident. The 02 Maxima 6-speed will top out around 145 Miles per hour, as tested by car and driver. So let it be known, this car really goes. This is also a car where tires are expensive. The 17 inch alloys make tire choices for this car short, and rather pricey. The Bridgestone Potenzas that come with the car cost $159 each.
Another good part about this car is its price. With the 2004 Nissan Maxima out, dealers will offer incentives and rebates on their left over 02 and 03s. I got a reasonable deal on this car and many others did. The price of this car (before or after incentives) is competitive as to whats available now. However, resale value of this car is not so hot so it makes finding a good deal on a second hand Maxima very easy.