I have a highly academic and ‘environmentally conscious’ friend who I like to bait with powerful four-wheeled weapons. Not for her the heady thrills of acceleration when a serious intellectual film beckons. Enter the Nissan Maxima Spec R to play leading man — a car less Nicholas Cage’s The Family Man, and more Marlon Brando’s The Godfather.
Team Nissan in Newmarket had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: the Spec R, dressed in its best black tux, not the lithest looking contender, but with a huge presence and packing a powerful punch.
The Maxima’s imposing looks weren’t wasted as my friend is not a total automotive philistine. She got in the car and proclaimed how ‘nice’ it was (she tends to be short of adjectives for automotive beauty). So I baited the hook by telling her it would reach 100kph in about 6.5 seconds and it had 180 tree-hating kilowatts driving the front wheels. Oh, such a look of disdain. “But doesn’t all that just burn lots of fossil fuels.”
Bait taken, hook, line, sinker and pretty much the whole rod. “According to the yellow sticker on the window, the AA independently tested the Maxima and it only uses 8.09l/100km,” I countered, “which is probably less than your 1990 Toyota that’s done 180,000km.”
Ever the feisty one, “Imagine how economical it’d be if it didn’t have all that power”, she smugly added. “Yeah, but it would mean you would have one less thing to be annoyingly righteous about.”
Anyway, friendship over, the serious job of finding out whether this Maxima deserves the moniker of Spec R was underway. A standard Maxima Si looks like a very sensible car, so it’s satisfying that Nissan have given it a bit more excitement in the form of a body kit, larger mags and wheels (18-inch, with 225/45R18 tyres), revised suspension and a rorty exhaust.
And how that exhaust sings the song of the 3.5-litre V6. Every stab of the throttle sees all 1513kg lunge forward, and the pleasure of blasting between corners on a twisty road becomes addictive. What goes quickly must also stop, and the disc brakes with their ABS and EBD assistance are exceptional. The steering is light with not quite enough on-centre feel, and this can cause you to turn in slightly earlier than you want to — not a major for everyday driving, but it took a few kilometres to adjust to the sharp bends where accuracy is important.
The Spec R can chew through the motorway miles with ease, and showing less than 2000rpm when cruising at 100kph in sixth gear, it’s quiet. The driver’s seat hugs you like one of the family and its position is perfect. Less can be said about the rear, unless you’re under 5’10″. Tall passengers can expect to have their hair frequently ruffled against the roof lining. But, passengers generally don’t buy cars, so a quick reminder that the bus is far less thrilling or convenient will shut them up.
The best way to drive the Spec R is to take it out of the CVT auto and change the gears yourself — it’s far more rewarding, and sounds better. It has the sporty edge that you would expect from a car badged a Spec R, and you have to understand that that is what you are buying it for. Yes, the throttle response is probably too aggressive for rush hour, the interior trim is a bit cheap, and it hasn’t got the most intuitive or ergonomic switchgear, but it’s an affordable luxury car with a generous helping of power, not a prestige car. It proves that performance in a large car doesn’t always equal frequent stops at the petrol station, or require a six-figure investment. In many ways it is let down by little flaws, but for the power thirsty, the Maxima Spec R is the don of its class.
Price: from $46,995
- Twin exhausts give a thrilling growl
- Seats and seating position
We don’t like:
- Engine noise thrills are dampened by CVT
- Get better quality speakers if you’ll spend a lot of time in the car
- Large boot let down by small aperture
Words Darren Cottingham, photos Jared ‘Clutch’ Clark