Nissan Cefiro / Maxima

The new Japanese Cefiro was born in December 98. 2 months later its American version, Maxima, appeared in the stand of Chicago auto show. At the first glance, the Mercedes S-class-inspired headlights and the handsome nose section inject a dynamic yet classy image to the otherwise ordinary exterior styling. For those prefer more sporty appearance, Maxima provides a GM-style exaggerate treatment to the grille, front bumper and lamps, which is awful to me but might suit somebody think they are driving a four-door Firebird. Oddly, this time the Japanese stylists have done a far better job than their California-based American colleagues. 

Styling aside, what separate the Cefiro and Maxima are two things - first, engine capacity; second, gearbox. The previous Cefiro was renowned for its super smooth, super silent VQ6 engine, the same will be happen for the latest car. As before the VQ6 is benefited by all alloy head and block, lightweight reciprocating parts and high precision casting. While smoothness and quietness are still unmatched by rivals, power and fuel efficiency have been upgraded by the adoption of variable valve timing and direct fuel injection. This Japanese-bounded 2.5-litre V6, helped by a high 11.0 : 1 compression ratio, output an impressive 210ps (JIS) and 196lbft. A 160hp 2.0 V6 is also on offer in Japan as the value choice. 

Maxima has neither direct fuel injection nor VVT, but it gets a full 3.0-litre capacity as a realization of "there's no replacement for displacement". Even so, variable induction manifold and variable back-pressure exhaust are added, the former improves low end torque and the latter boosts medium to high end power. Compare with the outgoing unit, it gains an incredible 32hp to 222hp, which equals to the previous 300ZX. Torque also rise from 205lbft to 217lbft. Apart from Jaguar's V6, this is the most powerful 3-litre V6 currently available. 

< Maxima 

For all the Japanese Cefiro and most US Maxima, the existing four-speed automatics are mated to the V6s. But there are always someone think their Maxima as a 4-door Firebird, so a 5-speed manual box is also on offer. In this case, the Maxima could sprint to 60mph in a mere 7sec. Top speed is likely to reach 142mph, considering the so-so drag coefficient of 0.32. 

When you have more power, you need an improved chassis to cope with. Basically the chassis is modified from its predecessor, adding 50mm to the wheelbase to free up more cabin space. The suspension is still front MacPherson struts plus rear multi-link beam axle. The rear one is Nissan's unique design, with an advantage of compact size. However, it also used to generate a bit too much understeer. As an improvement the engineers have relocated the panhard rod (a lateral control linkage), now in behind of the torsion beam axle. Besides, there are reinforcements in front subframe and rear suspension mount and various other locations. 

In real world the new Cefiro / Maxima really displays some improvement in handling. The first to notice is the reduction of understeer, which also appears progressively. The rigid chassis feels more stable in corner and rolls less, although steering remains too light and not communicative enough. Overall speaking it rivals well with Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat and better than Toyota Camry. 

Inside, the extra 50mm wheelbase gives more leg room to occupants of both rows, in particular, 30mm to the rear passengers. 30mm increase of height also benefit headroom. This means even more comfort to the originally spacious cabin. In terms of design, there is no much worth attention, however, fit and finish is never in doubt, so is quietness from the improved sound-proofing. 

That said, the new Cefiro / Maxima is an all-rounder performing well in every key aspects - performance, engine refinement, handling (if not able to rival European's best), comfort, quality and reliability. This is very attractive to most average families. If anything preventing it from dominating the US, it must be the American-penned styling. 

The above report was last updated on 7 June 99. All Rights Reserved.

Maxima 3.5 / Infiniti I35

Altima: 240hp 
Maxima: 255hp 
Infiniti I35: 255hp 
Infiniti G35: 260hp 

What's in common among them ? a large capacity, 3.5-litre V6 calling VQ35DE. What account for the different power ratings ? the 255hp versions are equipped with variable back-pressure muffler. The 260hp version should be the same, just rated higher for marketing reasons.  

So now both Maxima and its "premium" version Infiniti I-series get an additional 500c.c. and around 30 horsepower, not to mention the extra, torque-steer-inducing 30lbft. The Infiniti is also renamed to I35 as a result. 

Is it good ? as long as gasoline is cheap, no one will resist more grunt and performance. Forget about the idea that Maxima is a comfortable sedan. It is actually more hot rod that the cheaper, more mainstream Altima. Nor is the I35 an executive car. Car & Driver found it sprinted from 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds in a low mileage prototype. And that was resulted from a self-shifter with 4-speed only ! what would you expect from a 6-speed manual-equipped Maxima which is also 50kg lighter ? should be in the low 6. 

More torque means you can enjoy relaxed motoring at any gears, or its instantaneous overtaking power. However, ask more from its unsophisticated chassis and you will find it is actually no sports sedan. Despite of an optional LSD, 225 tyres and sports suspension package, the Maxima's front suspensions fail to put all that torque smoothly on road if it enter corners in a hurry. Bigger engine just make torque steer more likely to occur. Drive it at 8/10 and it will feel right. Push it to 10/10 and you will see a typical FF sedan with strut and beam-axle suspensions. Nothing surprising. To be honest, the cheaper Altima is actually better to drive. 

Maxima and I35 should emphasis on the comfort side. Unfortunately, the cheap beam-axle rear suspensions still transfer too much noise and shocks to the cabin when riding on rough surfaces. Again, the Altima's multi-link suspension is better. 

Obviously, the duo has run out of potential. Those buying it instead of Altima may be: a) want to have a bit more rear passenger room; or b) want to have a real Japan-built car. But it won't be too long - from 2003 the Maxima / I35 production line will be moved to USA. 

The above report was last updated on 26 Mar 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Cefiro (Japan)
Maxima 3.5SE
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Size (L / W / H / WB) mm
4785 / 1780 / 1440 / 2750
4865 / 1785 / 1440 / 2750
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT, 
direct injection.
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT,
variable exhaust.
2495 c.c.
3498 c.c.
210 hp
255 hp
195 lbft
246 lbft
5M / 4A
F : MacPherson strut; R : Multi-link beam axle
205/65 R15
225/50 VR17
1460 kg (4A)
1468 kg
Top speed
150 mph (estimated)
0-60 mph
6.0 sec (estimated)
0-100 mph
* Tested by Road & Track

Infiniti I35

Photo speaks louder than words. Undoubtedly, the Infiniti I35 borrows the styling from Japanese Cefiro. However, underneath the enclosure is the same power plant as Maxima. Because of the low price multi-link beam axle, it doesn't ride and handle as good as German rivals.
The above report was last updated on 26 Mar 2002. All Rights Reserved.

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