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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Test drive: 2002 Nissan Maxima GLE with Automatic transmission, no navigation unit.

I'm a sucker for freebies, so when Nissan offered me a free Kenneth Cole men's watch in exchange for a test drive, I headed right for the nearest dealership and asked for a Maxima GLE. Although the sportier SE may have the best performance bang for the buck, I was curious to see how the more luxurious GLE would compare to my 2002 Acura TL Type S, which I bought for about the same price as an almost fully-equipped GLE.

Approaching the black GLE, I immediately recognized the attention to detail that had gone into the exterior design. Xenon HID reflectors and amber marker bulbs were encased in a crystalline headlight enclosure. The fender lines had just the right amount of flare to give the car a stable, sporty appearance. Even the rounded foglights gave the fascia a sporty autocross look. The exterior was near perfect...

...until you saw the rear end. I will tell you right now: I've hated the Maxima's rear end since Nissan redesigned it for model year 2000, and coming up close and personal with the hideous butt end of this car induced a visceral reaction. This tail belonged on a Dodge Neon subcompact, not a $30k near-luxury sedan.

The interior trim was quite pleasant, with comfy perforated leather grips on the steering wheel. The dark-on-light instrument cluster was uncluttered and very pleasant to look at, and metallic accents around the shifter and armrests were nice.

Glancing at the center console, I immediately saw a fatal flaw with its design: every display was angled upwards without a brow to shield the readouts from the sun. Result: the displays were utterly unreadable in direct sunlight. It surprised me that Nissan would foul up such a basic design principle. Although the car I drove had no Navigation unit, photographs of the Navi installation suggested similar problems would also be found with that option.

Other subtle control placement problems soon became obvious. The steering wheel had way too many buttons to control the radio and cruise control. Inexplicably, the largest buttons on the radio control cluster were for skipping CD tracks forward and backwards, while the tiniest buttons controlled the volume. The side mirror controls were not visible from the driver's position, so it took me and the salesman three minutes to figure out where it was. Also, the radio volume and climate control knobs looked confusingly alike, and I adjusted the temperature when I meant to change the audio volume on more than one occasion.

On the other hand, the moonroof control was one of the most unique I had ever seen. Instead of an open/close button combination, this moonroof controller had a slider with a tab in it. Place the tab anywhere along its groove, and the sunroof magically moved to provide the corresponding amount of opening.

Overall, the interior was roomy, and the seats comfortable without being mushy. A quick adjustment of the powered driver's seat and I was ready to take this car on the road.

Although the engine didn't exactly roar to life at the first touch of the pedal, the speedometer tilled away with alarming regularity. Power output was steady and very refined, and nary a sound was heard from under the hood. The ride was steady and whisper-quiet, and I had to constantly peek at the speedometer to figure out exactly how quickly I was travelling.

Handling around corners was very good, but the axle-based rear suspension was too easily overcome by aggressive cornering. The rear end skipped out on a moderately fast turn, and wallowed indecisively over rough surfaces. However, the engine's pickup provided satisfying exit acceleration around every corner, plus braking was smooth and predictable.

On the highway, steering was a mite over sensitive, and that made fast lane changes a nervous affair. However, the engine once again proved to be this vehicle's saving grace, allowing me to pass lesser cars on the road with quiet assertiveness.

Opening the hood back at the dealership, I peered inside the engine bay to discover that this car had no sway bar, which may explain some of the unsettled feeling during cornering. The air intake design was novel: A narrow slot just below the hood lip delivered cool outside air into the air filter assembly. Finally, as I walked away after a satisfying test drive, I glanced once more at the rear end to see if I could ever love it in my lifetime--a shudder up my spine assured me that this was one ugly duckling that I could never love.

In summary, the Maxima GLE proved to be a worthy contender for the near-luxury market. Aside from the rear end, the car had an attractive and commanding appearance, and a powerplant to match the image. The interior was very comfortable, but the control placement could stand several more iterations through the human factors department.

More dubious was its value for money. For the fully-loaded price of $29,500 (without Navigation unit), there were contenders out there with arguably better value for money, including my own Acura TL Type S. However, the GLE trim is heads and shoulders above the Accords and Camrys on the road, and may offer just the right mix of luxury and performance for the young at heart.

This review is also available at epinions.com
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
mdaniel said:
Have you ever considered writing for a car magazine?
You're the second person to ask me that :D
 

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I am no one
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daverman said:

You're the second person to ask me that :D
i gotta be a third person. you should just go and compete with edmunds.com :) you shoudl test drive more cars and post all your reviews here, man we will make a new forum for it :D
 

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Oracle11iGuru
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yea I was the 1st person.

Good work, Dave. it is enlightening, no sway bars huh? How is the kenneth cole watch?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
2001TL4KCdude said:
yea I was the 1st person.

Good work, Dave. it is enlightening, no sway bars huh? How is the kenneth cole watch?
That's right! :D Thanks for the compliments. The watch will come in the mail in about two months, so I'll let you know how it looks then. ;)
 

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Jack This
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2,318 Posts
Good work Daverman. I look forward to seeing Car and Driver plagiarize your entire review.
:laugh: :sqnteek:
 
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