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2003 Nissan Maxima Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: A great unassuming sports sedan that's easy on the pocketbook and big on thrills by Vistance



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The 5th generation Maxima has long since become an overlooked car due to its age and how common they are, however the performance offered by this car in 6-speed manual form rivals modern cars at a fraction of the cost and with a sound that's not easily matched.

Reviewed: 2003 Nissan Maxima

4dr Sedan 255-horsepower 3.5L V6 6-speed manual FWD

Why the 2003 Nissan Maxima?

Exterior styling

The 5th generation Maxima is a classic look before they started to get too much into the semi-luxury market and started looking more and more like a luxury car than a sports sedan.

Powertrain performance

The VQ35 is an excellent powerplant and is still used in many Nissans today. This early VQ35 equipped car has a lot to surprise much newer cars due to the great performance. Factory rated at 255 HP, these still hold their own against many new sporty performance cars. The manual transmission is an absolute must, it transforms the merely sporty handling and adequate performance into a sleeper due to the ratios on the 6-speed being far superior to the antiquated 4-speed auto. Factory 0-60 on the automatic was a bit over 7 seconds, but with the manual it dropped down to 5.9 seconds which outperforms many other sedans and just about any in its price segment.

Materials & workmanship

This is the last of the Japanese build Maximas, and the difference in quality is certainly appreciable between it and the later Maximas. Parts are simple looking, but functional and well made. Despite being an older car, there are no squeaks or rattles from anything and it feels just as solid as a much newer car.

Feature availability

Maximas can be loaded up with far more features than many may be aware. My particular Maxima due to having the Titanium package, has chrome door sills, a unique silver paintjob, heated seats, a 6-disc in dash Bose radio, auto down front windows, and a heated steering wheel. The heated steering wheel in particular is not even particularly common on many luxury cars that are available, so the Maxima is a great place to be. I lack the memory seats and leather but those are other options which many would find enjoyable.

Driving position & visibility

The seats on the Maxima are insanely comfortable, long road trips are no big deal to this car. It has great lumbar support and the seats are very comfortable. I have the cloth seats and while initially disappointed they weren't leather, are actually better than the leather I've come to decide. The Maxima has great visibility thanks to its vintage, newer cars have lost the ease of visibility and replaced it with sensors. It's a very easy car to drive thanks to its size and visibility and never feels awkward or uncomfortable.

Why Not the 2003 Nissan Maxima?


Unfortunately, as wonderful as the Maxima is it has depreciated quite a bit. This is great for picking up a clean one but if any major repairs are required it can be a toss up on if it financially makes sense to repair. As with many cars, your enjoyment of driving it will dictate how much of an issue this is.

Reliability & durability

I strongly hesitate to list this as a con, because the Maxima is a very reliable car in general. In 3 years of ownership, I have only had to replace the battery, tires (knew it when I bought it), rear brakes (knew when I bought it), and I incorrectly replaced the clutch slave cylinder thinking it would fix an issue I was having with the shifter. I replaced some bushings on the shifter and flushed the transmission and put in new shift fluid, but these are regular items to replace at 150k miles and were done as preventative maintenance. These year Maximas tend to use some oil between changes, it varies based on how its driven but I have observed with high mileage oil the consumption has slowed considerably and now uses a quart maybe every 1,500 miles. While this is certainly not great, the car has no other notable reliability faults so as long as you maintain the oil levels there isn't much that goes wrong. My particular Maxima has the synchronizers starting to go bad in a few gears, but this was due to the previous owner abusing the transmission and not a particular flaw with the transmission itself.


If you are looking for a car to drive and you're an enthusiast, try to find an older manual Maxima like this. They're a blast to drive, very practical, comfortable, reliable, offer a lot of features, don't look outdated, and still get pretty good gas mileage (About 21 mpg average for me, with a leadfoot). It's a fun car you can trust every day, cheap enough you don't have to worry about it too much, and unassuming enough that you can surprise a lot of much newer cars and have a hoot at the same time.

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