- Strong acceleration from sweet V6
- Roomy interior
- Lots of upscale options
- Available with a manual transmission
- Balanced ride and handling
- Lousy center stack ergonomics
- Reflexes aren't as sharp as some competitors'
- Some interior materials seem low-grade
The Maxima is Nissan's premier sedan, and only the Z seems to have more instant name recognition in the Nissan fleet. The Maxima name goes all the way back to 1982, but really the Datsun 810 which preceded it was the genesis for what has become one of the best sporty sedans on the market. The Nissan Maxima has long boasted one of the best V6s in the industry, and the 2006 models certainly continue that tradition.
With the introduction of the 2002 Nissan Altima, many were predicting the death of the Maxima. It never made sense that Nissan would kill a car with such name recognition, but at the same time, the Maxima seemed obsolete, overpriced and underwhelming when compared to the quick and spacious Altima. For the 2004 model year, a redesigned Maxima debuted, sharing a platform with the Altima. This sort of begs another question -- isn't the Nissan Maxima now little more than a fully loaded Altima? In short, the answer is no.
Nissan has made the Maxima distinct enough in attitude and function that no one will confuse it for nothing more than an overpriced Altima. The Maxima lineup has just two trim levels: 3.5 SL and 3.5 SE. The SE is the sporty model with a firmer suspension and bigger 18-inch wheels, while the more luxury-oriented SL has 17-inch wheels and a slightly softer suspension. The SE is available with an optional six-speed manual transmission, while a five-speed automatic with shift-it-yourself mode is standard on both trims. In leather-lined SL trim, the Maxima is essentially a near luxury car that bridges the gap between the Nissan and Infiniti model lines. A luxurious "elite" package transforms the three-person rear-seating area into an even more comfortable two-person setup.
With its spacious interior, superb V6, balanced ride and handling and wide array of features and options, the 2006 Nissan Maxima offers solid value for its $30,000 price tag. However, there are plenty of good sedans in this price range, not the least of which is the Passat, which now has a big V6 of its own and a luxurious interior that makes the Maxima's cockpit seem a little cheap. This is not to say that a Maxima wouldn't still be a satisfying choice, but we would certainly encourage buyers to test-drive its competitors before making a decision.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2006
Steering wheel audio controls are now illuminated, satellite radio is available and the navigation interface has been improved for 2006. New options include a Bluetooth hands-free system and outside mirror tilt-down in reverse.
The midsize Nissan Maxima is offered in 3.5 SE and 3.5 SL trim. Designed to be the sportier of the two, the SE has a slightly stiffer suspension and 18-inch wheels on the outside and a metallic-trimmed interior on the inside. It's loaded with standard features that include an eight-speaker CD stereo, one-touch up-down front windows and keyless entry. Along with its softer tuning, the more luxurious SL has 17-inch wheels, wood interior trim, heated leather seats, a 320-watt Bose audio system and HID headlights. The optional Elite Package affixes even more luxury to the Maxima by changing the rear-seating area into a more comfortable two-passenger setup. This package adds a rear center console that features controls for the seat heaters as well as a switch to operate the power rear sunshade. Additional options on both models include a DVD-based navigation system and satellite radio.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
It may be a midsize sedan, but the Maxima's interior feels downright cavernous front and rear. The front seats are wide and accommodating, though finding an optimal driving position can be difficult. The dashboard features a sleek and modern design, ergonomics are spotty as most of the center stack buttons are the same size and shape, while the orange-lit central display offers minimal contrast. Trunk space measures 15.5 cubic feet.
Every Maxima comes with four-wheel antilock disc brakes with BrakeAssist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags are also standard, as are foglights and cornering lights. Maximas with an automatic transmission can be equipped with an optional stability and traction control system. A torque-sensitive limited-slip differential is optional when you select the six-speed manual. In NHTSA tests, the Nissan Maxima earned five stars (out of a possible five) for driver protection in frontal impacts. Front-passenger protection is rated at four stars in frontal impacts, as is front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. The IIHS named the Maxima a "Best Pick" after conducting its frontal offset crash, however the sedan earned only a "Marginal" rating (second lowest) in IIHS side-impact testing.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The front-drive Nissan Maxima comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine rated for 265 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. The 3.5 SE is available with a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic; the SL comes only with the automatic.
With the sweet 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, acceleration is strong at any speed, regardless of transmission choice. Although its suspension provides a smooth, comfortable ride, the 2006 Nissan Maxima lacks a true performance feel expected of a self-proclaimed sport sedan. The steering is communicative and well weighted, but competing sedans like the TSX, Mazdaspeed 6 and Passat provide a better feel for the road. The brakes, at least, are strong and easy to modulate.
Although the 2006 Nissan Maxima still offers a likable combination of performance, luxury and interior room, there are now many good sedans in this price range.