When I originally purchased the Maxima, I wanted to get maximum fuel economy and reliability while maintaining a semi-luxury design and sporty feel; enter the Maxima five speed, fuel efficent, reliable, and filled with creature comforts (Bose stereo, digital climate control, heated leather, etc.). The vehicle is responsive and comfortable, handling is about average for its size and build quality is relatively good. You really do get quite a lot for not much money, but be warned: Nissan charges premium prices for its components, well over the prices you'd expect from a Japanese automobile. All in all I would still recommend the vehicle despite its faults as a great daily driver.
Reliability (the vehicle has been worked on so little the bolts in the belly pan rusted off due to their rare removal!). Interior comfort package (radio, climate control, etc.). Engine performance, especially with the manual transmission is superb. Fuel economy is top notch.
Transmission design is "notchy" and you really have to "row" between gears. Also with age first gear and reverse require double clutching. Leather quality leaves much to be desired. Pricing on parts is almost at luxury car level, well above Toyota and Honda part costs.