Last weekend I was back home in Traverse City visiting family. To save money, I usually fly into and out of Grand Rapids and rent a car for the drive. The drive may add time but the money saved from avoiding one of most expensive airports in the country helps ease the sting. The upside is that weekend rentals are cheap, so instead of the compact I usually rent, I sprung for an upgrade and got me a mid-sized! Yeah, I’m living the dream, folks.
Fearful that I would be spending 3 days with a dreadful Chrysler 200, I was sorta relieved when the rental agent handed me the keys for a Maxima. The current Maxima is one of those cars I’m vaguely aware of, but haven’t ever really given much thought to. Its sorta like Belgium, you know it exists, but it isn’t really top of mind. Now, I do recall liking the mid-90s cars, mostly because Nissan had interesting ads (ok, that’s not a read one) and put an emphasis on making the car fun. The fun factor extended to Nissan’s practice of subtitling the car the 4DSC (Four Door Sports Cars) with a punchy V6 and sports-tuned suspensions. Since the 5th generation car, I’ve hardly given the Maxima a second thought.
So what’s been going on with the Maxima since it last darkened the door of my conscious mind? Well, it’s packed on the pounds, but its also been guzzling its muscle milk because it’s 3.5 litre V6 makes an absurd 290 horses. Let that sink in for a second, a midsize family sedan makes 290 brake horsepower – 290! So its big and it’s stupidly powerful. Does that make it any fun to drive? Eh, kinda. The power delivery is intense, but it’s routed through a very non-sporting like CVT transmission. The result is a car that hauls ass, but lets down when it comes to driving involvement.
The Interior is, well it’s black. It’s got some soft touch, and not so soft touch plastics here and there. A big center stack dominates the interior and the whole things is awash in cheap looking orange lighting. BMW pulled off the orange hues in the 90s, but today it just looks like a latter-day Pontiac interior. In fact, in thinking about this car since last week, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the current Maxima is the spirit of W-body Pontiacs reborn – it’s got big, powerful motor, “exciting” styling, and dubious interior appointments. In a straight line it’ll pull like a freight train, but as soon as things get a little curvy, the whole car gets bendy and loses its composure. So 4DSC no more it seems.
I still can’t get over the amount of power the Maxima makes. On one of my drives, I came across probably the most unusual car I’ve ever seen in Northern Michigan, a Citroen 2CV Charleston. The 2CV represents motoring in its absolute simplest form – its lightweight, makes just 2 horsepower and is cheap. Essentially, its everything the Maxima is not. Yet, it served to put a rural post-war France back to work and puttered along in production until 1990. While I’m not advocating that we all live simply and drive 2CVs it does highlight how far we’ve come as a civilization and underscores that we’re never happy with just enough. I’m sure in 5 years the average family sedan will pack upwards of 350 horsepower and will weigh as much as the HMS Dreadnaught. But hey, that’s progress, right?