The latest version of the Nissan Maxima is now in its sixth generation, and from what we can tell, this may be the finest Maxima yet. Spending a few days with a 2004 Maxima SE gave us a chance to explore its highs and lows, push it through some serious back road blasts, and observe how it handled mundane daily tasks.
For 2004, the Maxima is treated to a few upgrades, a few downgrades, and a few minor adjustments. Most noticeable of which is the revised body style. With its wide C-pillar and very arched look, the Maxima drew heavily on design cues first introduced by its smaller brother, the Altima. The new body sits on a wheelbase that’s 2.9-inches longer than last year’s Maxima, measuring in at 111.2-inches. Overall length has also grown, proportionately, to 193.5-inches. Inside, passengers will be happy to note that the overall width of the sixth-gen Maxima has also grown by 1.4-inches.
All of these dimensional changes result in an interior that is downright expansive. Sitting in the wide drivers seat, we couldn’t help but notice how far away the A-pillars seemed to sit – there’s definitely a “great room” feeling with the Maxima’s interior. Furthering the euphoric interior experience is Nissan’s “luxury cloth” upholstery, which gives a suede-like impression. There are cloth accents that extend through the dash board, and are a welcome switch from the usual plastic or fake-wood that many manufacturers so habitually revert to.
The seats in our 2004 Maxima SE model (the sportier option, over the luxury-focused SL model) were wide and comfy, but didn’t offer much by way of lateral support. While cranking the SE through some tight twistys, I felt a bit uncomfortable with how much I was moving around in the seat. Despite the lack of lateral support, the seats are extremely comfortable in almost every other situation, and offer easy entrance and egress. Back seat passengers won’t feel cramped in the Maxima, and they’ll most certainly enjoy the longitudinally mounted sunroof that offers two distinct “portals to the sky.”
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a bit about the instrument cluster and center console assembly. It’s either a “love it” or “hate it” sorta’ thing. The triple barrel, titanium faced and trimmed instrument cluster did take a little getting used to, and the smallish tachometer can be blocked slightly by the bolstered steering wheel, especially in the higher RPM ranges.
The center console was a bit intimidating at first, as there are two large groups of controls, arranged horizontally in the center of the dash. A large, amber-colored LCD displays radio and temperature control information. Initially, the HVAC and radio controls felt slightly crowded to us, but eventually became quite natural feeling. The HVAC system worked effortlessly and efficiently, even in our 90-degree heat. Vents are well placed and easy to adjust. Window controls included the express up and down feature, something that we wish every manufacturer would include with their cars.
Nissan has wisely made only one engine option available for the 2004 Maxima – its infamous 3.5L V6 that lays down 265-horsepower at 5800 rpm and 255 lb/ft of torque at 4400 rpm. The 3.5L gains 10 horsepower over last years model, mostly by way of intake and exhaust improvements. While on the throttle, the capable V6 has a menacing growl that seems to prod you to push the drive-by-wire gas pedal farther and harder.
Gear changes in our SE were handled by Nissan’s 5-speed automatic, complete with its manual gate-shifter controls. Gear changes were swift and seamless, and our only complaint was that even with the shifter set to manual mode, the car would regularly upshift and downshift itself as it saw fit (mostly at higher RPMs). Snicking the stick up and down through the gears was quite fun, especially on back roads where the brawny V6 really showed how it loved to flex its muscles.
We’ve heard from others that torque steer was a problem with the 2004 Maxima, but to be honest, we didn’t observe any “overwhelming” torque steer with our SE model. It may have been due to the automatic transmission configuration, but nonetheless, we observed literally no torque steer – just plenty of tire smoke.
Driving dynamics were about what we had expected. The Maxima offered little-to-no body roll, and it handled road surface irregularities with comfort and ease. The car did give the impression of feeling heavier than its claimed weight of 3400-lbs, and pushing it through quick switchbacks had us really working to hit the apexes. On the open road, wind noise was virtually invisible, but we did notice some tire noise on certain road surfaces, which is most likely a result of the large P245/45/R18 Goodyear RS-A tires.
Around town, the Maxima’s large size can be both a blessing and a curse. The large interior and roomy trunk provide plenty of room for people and cargo, but the increased wheelbase and wider track result in a fairly wide turning radius. Steering feel was light and responsive, and offered decent feedback. At speed, the steering ratio is quick and accurate, but would probably benefit from a little more weighting – it’s almost too quick at times.
After firing up our trusty Beltronics GX2 Performance Meter, we rattled off a series of sub-7 second 0 to 60 runs, and a host of 15-second quarter mile runs. We’re positive the 6-speed manual would provide better times, but for a car of this size that’s been outfitted with an automatic, our numbers are nothing to be ashamed of. The Maxima’s brakes felt superb, with a strong, progressive bite and plenty of feedback. We recorded a modest 70 to 0 stop distance of 181 feet. On our skidpad, the Maxima’s new for 2004 independent rear suspension helped generate a respectable figure of .84g’s.
There are few vehicles in this price range that can so tastefully combine performance and panache like the 2004 Nissan Maxima does. With a MSRP (including delivery) of just under $28,000, our well appointed Maxima SE offered a tremendous value. Available options are many, including a power sunroof, bixenon headlamps (the standard HID lamps are incredible), leather seating surfaces and an improved audio system. The 2004 Maxima puts the fun back into driving by delivering wonderful performance, impeccable road manners and plenty of creature comforts – all at an impressive price point.