Fleet News

Nissan Maxima QX



##nismax.jpg --Right##SHOULD anyone be in any doubt where 'executive' ends and 'prestige' begins, check out CAP Monitor. According to the prophets of doom in Leeds, executive means Vauxhall Omega, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Citroen XM and Nissan QX, while prestige is BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A6, Jaguar S-type, Volvo S80 and V70, Saab 9-5, Alfa Romeo 166 and a supercharged Mazda Xedos 9.

It's an image, rather than quality, thing. A 5-series is simply more likely to impress a user-chooser's neighbours than an Omega. And this class division is reflected in CAP's residual value predictions: the best three-year/60,000-mile RV in the 2.0-2.4-litre petrol executive category is the Camry's 33%, and in the 2.5-litre and above sector it's 34% for a Legacy. Omegas are rated between 29% and 31%. In the prestige brackets Mercedes-Benz E-class gets the top score at 42% while most rivals are in the mid to high 30s. Percentage isn't everything, of course, but, like being German-built, it helps. So, it's a fair bet that Nissan's second generation Maxima QX will find itself sharing CAP's executive league with Omega after it goes on sale on October 1.

After all, that's where its predecessor, the QX, sits, with a current RV expectancy of 22% after three years/60,000 miles.

Not even the fact that Nissan describes Maxima QX as its most prestigious European saloon model, nor that it has a longer, wider body, 18% more luggage capacity, extra refinement, more sophisticated active and passive safety and security features and an uprated 3.0-litre V6 engine is likely to lift it out of the executive ranks, in which it will be joined a few weeks later by the Peugeot 607.

Maxima has been added to the QX nomenclature we're used to in the UK to create a new, single name for the whole of Europe (it was known as Maxima on the continent), where the new model's annual sales target is 6,000 units. That pales into insignificance compared with the USA - 130,000 units is realistic - but in Britain Nissan admits it will struggle to shift more than 650 Maxima QXs while market leaders BMW and Vauxhall expect to sell 15,000 5-series and 14,000 Omega units respectively.

So why bother with the UK's notoriously difficult executive/ prestige segment which accounts for little more than 5% of all new car sales a year? The answer is product pride.

Marketing director Neil Burrows said: 'We see Maxima QX as being another demonstration of Nissan's quality credentials and engineering ability. It's a statement of what Nissan is capable of doing. Businesses will buy most of them. There'll be very few true retail customers for the Maxima QX, but it does offer an alternative Nissan option on company car listings,' Burrows said at the UK press launch last week.

It's bigger and better equipped than the QX it replaces and, if our inside information on prices is correct, it'll be considerably less expensive. Outgoing cost of entry is £23,450 for the QX 2.0 V6 SE auto. We expect Maxima QX to come in at £20,500 for the 2.0-litre manual and £21,500 for the automatic. If the fully loaded 3.0 V6 SE+ auto can be put on-the-road for £26,000, that'll be more than £4,000 below the current QX 3.0 V6 SEL's RRP.

However, the lure of lower list price, extra space and added value is unlikely to cause a stampede of British executives to Nissan showrooms because while the car does handle in a more European manner, is quieter and offers more room in which to stretch out, it remains unexciting.

Engineering and build quality are not in question - the launch test cars were without exception well screwed together - but there's little to 'wow' about the Maxima QX and there may be some woe when CAP has a look at RVs.

For the record, restyling has provided Primera family looks and there's a 50mm longer wheelbase to give extra cabin height and width as well as 18% more space in the boot - up from 440 litres to 520.

Stiffening the bodyshell by 30% and modifying the rear suspension has helped overcome USA-style ride and drive characteristics. I won't trouble you with the technical ins and outs of the repositioned lateral link which forms part of a Super Toe Control package to minimise body roll, but suffice to say the Maxima QX has become quite spritely.

Noise, vibration and harshness have also been reduced. Nissan's engineers used benchmarks set by the likes of BMW and Audi to achieve their refinement goals and they have declared themselves pleased with the results.

From the many changes inside and out, the nicest touches are wider doors, new electro-fluorescent backlit dials with larger lettering, and wider front seats. The wood-effect panels and insets are so heavily lacquered they could pass for plastic, and the plastic à looks like plastic. Upholstery choice is grey velour (SE) and grey leather (SE+).

First run of the test day was in the entry Maxima QX, the manual gearbox 2.0-litre V6. The engine is an adequate performer - 60mph can be reached in less than 12 seconds, and average fuel consumption is 30.7mpg. Gearchange was slick and positive, but the steering over-light and vague.

With automatic transmission, the 2.0 V6 is slow to pick up and takes more than 14 seconds to reach the 62mph mark while combined economy drops to below 30mpg. In an attempt to coax some spirit out of our car, we quickly brought fuel consumption down close to 20mpg. Oddly, the steering felt far more positive.

The best I managed in the 3.0-litre V6 was 18.1mpg but if that brings on executive stress, spare a thought for whoever pays the fuel bill for my more energetic co-driver - he achieved a miserable 14mpg average, according to the trip computer. Official figures show 26.9mpg, which is very much more reasonable for a two-tonner. It's easy to understand why these V6 units consistently win awards in the States - they're quiet, gloriously smooth, and few US drivers give a damn about fuel consumption.

SE trim provides most of the essentials of executive life, while SE+ adds necessities such as leather and xenon lights. Curiously, only owners of the SE+ 3.0 V6 will have the option to buy Birdview satellite navigation for an extra £1,500. The 3-D pop-up dash box is one of the best on the market.

Overall, the changes have been good for QX and great news for Nissan solus or restricted choice fleet drivers - among them the nation's Nissan dealer principals.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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