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motor trend '95 nissan maxima se
There's a .44 Magnum under that dark suit

By Mac DeMere, Photography by Scott Killen

Ask Nissan about the restyled and 95' Maxima, and the automaker will describe its comfortable ride, impressive quietness, stellar safety features, enhanced reliability, environmental benevolence, engaging personality, shiny hair, and sparkling white teeth. Ask us, and we'll tell you how the Maxima SE will whip the Nissan 300ZX, Integra GS-R and Taurus SHO in 0-60-mph and quarter-mile acceleration- and how it challenges or, in some cases, exceeds their handling marks, too.

Yet the Maxima's bodywork is so conservative it makes Jack Kemp's Empower America look like the American Civil Liberties Union. Performance-car drivers who underestimate this discreet-appearing car will be like gang-bangers who target what they think is a slightly built bank vice-president but who turns out to be Inspector Harry Callahan: Under that will-tailored dark suit is a Smith & Wesson Model 29.

Our Tester, a five-speed SE version of this fourth generation of Maxima, produced a blazing 6.6-second 0-60-mph time, a 15.2-second, 92.4-mph quarter-mile run, 0.83g skidpad cornering power and a 65.2-mph slalom run. That tops the Taurus SHO five-speed in every category. The new Maxima shows no mercy on its Nissan stablemates: It'll stomp the normally aspirated 300ZX, and drivers of automatic0-transmissioned 300ZX Turbos best not be snoozing when the light goes green.

The Maxima SE's marks aren't terribly surprising when compared to the 7.3-second 0-60mph run we recorded with a third-generation SE. Also, a top-of-the-line 95' Maxima GLE equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission turned in a 7.6-second 0-60-mph run with a 15.8-second/88.6-mph quarter mile. Despite such impressive performance, we never experienced a hint of torque steer, though, as you might expect, avoiding wheelspin requires smooth, judicious throttle application. Stopping distances one of the few areas where the Maxima doesn't excel: It's 131-foot 60-0-mph mark is only mid-pack.

Most of the SE's performance leap comes from the new engine used in all Maximas. Yet, without close inspection, it's easy to dismiss it as a warmed-over version of the old: It has the same configuration (60-degree V-6 DOHC, four valves per cylinder), the same peak horsepower (190) occurring at the same rpm (5600), and its displacement still rounds to 3.0 liters. Nevertheless, the new engine, codenamed "VQ" is about "all-new" as it gets without going to proton drives.

The engine is 1.2 inches shorter, 3.9 inches narrower, and 108 pounds lighter, which helps the new Maxima weigh about 100 pounds less than its predecessor despite additional features like dual airbags. To help reduce height, stroke is shorter and bore is larger with a resulting 28-cubic-centimeter displacement increase. Larger valves are set in a narrower included angle to further reduce size and improve combustion- chamber efficiency. Also contributing to compactness: A three-chain cam-drive system- one chain turns the intake cams, while shorter chains use the intake cams to spin the exhausts- replaces the single-toothed belt.

The new engine's peak torque jumps 15 pound-feet (to 205 at 4000 rpm) and, from the test results, it's clear the area under the torque curve is substantially increased. Another factor accounting for the improvement in acceleration: Because the main moving parts are 17 percent lighter, the engine revs markedly quicker. Also assisting: reduced friction through microfinishing- ultra fine-polishing similar to that done by builders of racing engine- of crank and cam journals and cam lobes, as well as by molybdenum coating on the piston skirts, reduced skirt area, and thinner piston rings.

Nissan trimmed the engine block's weight (by 50 percent) and size by changing from cast iron to high-pressure cast aluminum (with cast-in iron liners), and by radically reducing water jacket area and rerouting coolant flow. Now, most of the coolant goes directly to the heads, with a small amount simultaneously diverted to the block.

Improvements of much farther than the engine bay. Though the new beam-axle suspension may at first seem a step back from the previous independent, MacPherson-strut rear, Nissan says it's part of a new philosophy of including only "technology that doesn't exceed the need of the driver." Our tests prove that simpler can be better. Despite being equipped with all-season-rated tires, rather than the nullified performance-oriented "summer" tires, this SE was a giant 4.5 mph faster in our slalom test and a significant 0.03g better in skidpad cornering power than the previous model. Subjective-understeer, while, paradoxically, being less prone to oversteer in radical transition and when simultaneously turning and braking. Also, its ride rivals that of its uptown cousin, the Infiniti Q45.

The key elements of Nissan's new "multi-link beam" rear suspension is a torsion beam-axle. Shaped like an inverted "U", it bends to allow semi-independent vertical motion of the rear tires. Integral trailing arms locate the axle longitudinally. Lateral motion is controlled by an adaptation of the Panhard rod. The latter features a rod between the axle and the Panhard rod, and a laterally flexible bushing where the Panhard rod attaches to the axle. (Imagine the Panhard rod and the beam axle making upper and lower legs of a capital "A" lying on its side, with the link (called a Stewart-Russel link) and the crossbar and the flexible bushing the very top of the "A".) The result: The rear suspension keeps both rear tires perpendicular to the road during body roll, while avoiding a conventional Panhard rod's tendency to jack the suspension up or down. This permits the use of softer rear springs and, thus, softer front springs. Presto, better handling, better ride.

The new rear has other benefits: It's lighter and smaller (and cheaper!) than MacStruts, permitting an increase in wheelbase (2.0 inches), rear-seat leg room (1.1 inches), and usable trunk space. The front suspension remains MacPherson struts with power rack-and-pinion steering that offers excellent steering feel. Though four-wheel disc brakes are standard, anti-lock is optional. \par \par To produce a more sporty feel and crisper turn-in, the SE has stiffer rear springs, firmer shocks all around, urethane front bushings, and slightly wider tires (215/60HR15's versus the GXE's 205's). The SE also comes with body-colored rear decklid spoiler, front fog lamps, body-colored door handles, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and alloy wheels.

Inside, gone- and unlamented- are the mouse-driven passive belts; dual airbags fill the regulatory passive-restraint requirement. Three-point belts feature height-adjustable upper anchors to ensure comfortable fit on just about anybody. Head room is up 0.6 inch in front, 0.5 inch in the rear. Unlike the rest of the lineup, the SE gets chameleon instrument faces that change from a whit background with black indicators during the day to a black background and white needles at night. One of the few complaints we can make about the new Maxima is the radio and climate-control displays are difficult or impossible to read in bright sunlight. \par \par The Maxima displays impressive solidity ;and lack of road noise, areas where the previous model fell short. The improvement is thanks partially to the new body being 10 percent more rigid, but also to the use of foam in body cavities and rigid, fusible insulation, which is highfalutin' name for carpet padding that thoroughly fills the floorpan's nook and crannies.

The simplified lineup has just three models: the base GXE, the top-of-the-line GLE, and the sporty SE. Even the GXE gets a long list of standard features: dual power outside mirrors, power windows and door locks, a tilt steering column, and cruise control. With pipe-type door beams, the Maxima meets 97' side-impact standards.

We're impressed that the Maxima offers the comfort and quiet once reserved for luxury-channel cars. We applaud the new engine, the-simple-is-better suspensions, and a sticker price that rises only slightly. But most of all, we love how it pulls alongside a hot car at a stoplight and sneers, "Go ahead, 300ZX, make my day."

 

-"To top the Maxima SE's acceleration with another four-door, you'd need the likes of an Audi S4, BMW M5, or Mercedes 600SEL, which costs about twice to four times as much. Visual differences between the SE and other Maximas start with the rear spoiler and include front fog lamps, body-colored door handles, and gray-accent front grille. Inside, white instrument faces change to black at night." \par \par -"This new, compact 3.0-liter DOHC V-6 produces better furl economy and lower emissions than the previous engine. Extensive weight-saving efforts include hollow camshafts. The new engine offers 30 more horsepower than the previous base power[plant- but a lot more torque- than the old uplevel engine. Though not currently available in the U.S., it's also produced in 2.0- and 2.5-liter displacements. "

-"The interior has a Mercedes feels, as do the firm, supportive seats. All Maximas feature A-pillar tweeters for enhanced sound-system performance. The base GXE gets dual power remote-controlled outside mirrors, power windows and door locks, tilt steering column, cruise control, and a console with plenty of storage." \

 

-Second Opinion
"The test gear must be screwed up. Zero to 60 in 6.6 seconds? No way!" It took nearly a dozen acceleration runs, two sets of fifth wheels, and three drivers to confirm what none of us could believe; This demure-looking family car is the quickest Japanese sedan available in the States. With performance like this, who needs a V-8? Clearly, that's a question any prospective buyer of the big-gun Infiniti and Lexus models might want to ask. Inside, the Maxims gives up little in luxury to its big-buck superiors, thought it's about a foot shorter in overall length. Want more? This Nissan's cargo capacity is greater than that of an LS400, and its EPA city/highway mileage ratings are 5 mpg better than this if the manly Q's. Then there's the price. At about $27,500, our tester came with sumptuous leather seats, automatic-temperature-control air conditioning, remote keyless entry, and terrific Bose sound system. About all that's missing is an exterior temperature display. For little more than half the cost of a king-level Lexus or Infiniti, this Nissan ranks among the best values in a luxo/performance sedan. Acura, BMW, and the rest now need be concerned. -C. Van Tune


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