PHOENIX - Nissan Division has made its redesigned 2000 Maxima bigger, stronger and faster, without changing the underpinnings of the existing model.
In making subtle and not-so-subtle upgrades to the current Maxima platform, which went on sale in mid-1994, Nissan has tried to move the Maxima onto its own turf, away from the V-6 versions of the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.
'It's the same basic platform, but people wanted things a little different,' said Rob Fair, senior project engineer for Nissan Research and Development Inc. in Los Angeles.
Fair said current owners like the existing Maxima just fine. But they want better performance, more interior room and more of a luxury flair. That required more than tweaks.
The Maxima has traditionally sold a stable 120,000 units annually. But the current version has fallen under intense competition from the top trim levels of the Accord and the Camry. Nissan wants the 2000 Maxima to be seen as something more than just another mid-sized sedan.
The Maxima's wheelbase has grown by 2 inches, while the overall length is up by an inch. The sedan is now a half-inch wider and taller and 25 pounds heavier. The windshield base point moves 2 inches forward to provide more interior room.
While keeping the same 3.0-liter V-6 powerplant, Nissan has stroked the already strong engine to develop 222 horsepower and 210 pounds-feet of torque. To get that power, Nissan gave the exhaust cams a performance-oriented profile. Nissan also modified the exhaust system to provide more power. To absorb the increased power, Nissan beefed up the transmission with improved friction material and increased oil flow.
Nissan took a lot of flak from the automotive media for using a cheaper 'multilink-beam' rear suspension on the current Maxima. To both save money and maximize rear seat room, the solid-axle-with-Panhard-rod configuration remains on the new model. Although this lacks the sporty response that an independent rear suspension would have, the beam suspension has been updated for better handling, Fair said.
'The beam suspension has worked well for us. It packages well, costs less and transmits less noise than an independent rear suspension. It meets the customers' needs,' Fair said at a media preview at Nissan's test track here.
The brake calipers have been made larger and the brake materials modified for extra performance. Antilock brakes are standard. Steering rack rigidity has been increased with a more positive feel. The body structure features beefier subframe mounts and side sills, the windshield glass is thicker and the optional side airbags are seat-mounted.
The Maxima goes on sale in mid-June. Nissan wants to maintain the volume at around the 120,000-unit mark. Pricing has not yet been announced, other than a statement that Nissan wants to keep it in the same range, which starts at $21,989, including the destination charge, and creeps near $30,000 loaded.