PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Nissan's American management had to twist some arms to save the Maxima.
Some executives in the parent company believed the mainstream Altima sedan could also fill the Maxima's sporty-sedan segment, says Jack Collins, Nissan North America Inc.'s vice president of product planning.
"This exact question - after the alliance with Renault - was asked very sharply by some of the French people: 'Why do we need the Maxima, can't we just cover this with Altima?' " Collins says.
"Through the darkest days of Nissan, Maxima remained a very strong product with a real loyal owner base," he says.
More than 2.1 million cars have been sold in the United States since 1981, and some owners are into their fourth or fifth Maxima, Collins says.
For the 2004 Maxima redesign, Nissan tampered little with the sedan's successful formula. It remains a driver's car with a powerful engine, good road manners and a sporty, comfortable interior.
The company did change the exterior styling. It also added features and optional equipment, resulting in a price increase of about $1,300 above the current Maxima.
Resembling the 350Z
The Maxima's exterior styling, such as the arc of the roof, headlamp design and tall sculptured wheel openings, bear a resemblance to the 350Z. The car's styling and engineering were done in Japan.
The new version is longer, wider and more powerful.
|2004 MAXIMA||2003 MAXIMA||2003 ALTIMA|
|Wheelbase||111.2 in.||108.3 in.||110.2 in.|
|Length||193.5 in.||191.5 in.||191.5 in.|
|Width||71.7 in.||70.3 in.||70.4 in.|
|Height||58.3 in.||56.7 in. (SE)||57.9 in.|
|Engine||3.5-liter V-6||3.5-liter V-6||3.5-liter V-6*|
But unlike previous generation Maxima models, it is being assembled in Smyrna, Tenn. Previous models were imported from Japan. But the new model will be sold only in North America.
The car is produced off Nissan's FF-L platform, shared with the Altima, Murano and the redesigned Quest minivan. While the new Maxima and the Altima share a front-drive platform, the Maxima continues to be targeted at the sporty, near-luxury segment. Among the competitors benchmarked were the Audi A4 and the Acura TL.
Collins says the Maxima and Altima were developed with different characteristics, "and they serve different kinds of buyers with different needs."
Among the engineering features on the Maxima but lacking in the Altima: a multi-link independent rear suspension; springs and dampers tuned for sportier handling; a steering rack engineered for better road feel; electronic engine mounts to provide a smoother idle; additional bracing for more torsional rigidity; and additional sound deadening material near the firewall and under the carpeting to reduce noise.
The 2004 Maxima has a 260-hp 3.5-liter V-6 with 250 pounds-feet of torque. The 2003 Altima has an optional 3.5-liter V-6 with 245 hp and 245 pounds-feet of torque.
The result is that the "Maxima is much more of a refined car," Collins says. "It has a substantial feeling when you drive it. The Altima is kind of light, nimble, a less heavy feeling. It is sort of a lighter on its feet feeling."
Collins says owners surveyed during development wanted expressive styling for the 2004 Maxima, along with more room, without sacrificing performance. To create more interior space, the 2004 Maxima's wheelbase is 2.9 inches longer and the width is 1.4 inches wider than the 2003 model.
The Maxima comes standard with what the automaker calls the Skyview roof. A narrow rectangular-shaped glass panel stretches from near the windshield to the back of the roof. The panel does not open; sliding sunshades block sunlight.
The result is a higher price to position the car further away from the Altima. The base 2004 Maxima SE is $27,490 including transportation, compared with $26,189 for the 2003 model. The top-of-the-line 2004 SL is $29,440, compared with $28,089 for the GLE. The GXE, the base model in 2003, no longer is offered.
New optional features include rear bucket seats with console, navigation system, and packages that include equipment such as folding outside rear mirrors, a power sunshade for the back window and a heated steering wheel. A five-speed automatic transmission and stability control also are available.
Nissan aims to sell about 65,000 Maximas annually. Last year, it sold 98,502 Maximas. Shipments to dealers started earlier this month.