EVEN though we don't associate Nissan with sporty cars anymore these days, Nissan built some of the best sports luxury sedans over the years.
The Maxima, in particular, is what made Nissan a household name when it came to mixing sportiness and luxury into one affordable package. The Maxima name has been around for more than 30 years and the current seventh generation car came out in 2009. While Maxima doesn't carry the perceived prestige of a luxury brand name like Infiniti, it is a luxury class midsized sport sedan.
Apparently there are affluent car buyers out there who don't flaunt wealth (an admirable trait) and don't see a need to pay extra for a status brand name.
Maxima has changed over the years, going from rear-drive to front-drive in the mid-1980s. Since 2000 every edition of the Maxima has been designed in the United States and in 2004 Nissan also moved production of Maxima to a U.S. assembly plant. One thing that hasn't changed: the Maxima is, and has always been, the ultimate Nissan sedan.
These days, however, the Maxima's under-study, the Altima, has been steadily gaining ground and they now even share the same basic structural platform. The Maxima is distinctly different looking, it's a more performance-minded sedan and it's another leap up the luxury ladder. Still, you can't help but wonder about the long term future of the Maxima.
The Maxima is powered by the award winning 3.5-litre VQ series engine, which is one of the best V-6 engines of all time. It can provide 290 horsepower and 261 foot-pounds of torque and exhausts a growl, when you stomp on the gas pedal, which Nissan calls the "Maxima Sound." It's a sophisticated modular engine that comes with continuously variable valve timing (chain drive), a variable induction system and an electronically controlled throttle.
Just one transmission is offered in Maxima, it's automatic and it's a continually variable transmission (CVT) type. Nissan used to offer a manual in the previous generation Maxima and it's too bad that stopped, but this is not a conventional CVT.
Our tester Maxima came with a Sport Package, which included 19-inch wheels, auto dimming side mirrors that also automatically tilt down while reversing, a rear view camera, xenon headlights, transmission paddle shifters, power tilt and telescopic steering, a rear spoiler, a sport tuned suspension and more. Style
Lower and wider than Altima, the newly redesigned front and rear of the Maxima gives it a four-door GT-R (Nissan's high performance two-seater) like appearance.
Sculpted fenders wrap around big wheels in an attractive flowing design with a narrow waist or Coke-bottle shape from an overhead view.
A new grille and stylish new L-shaped headlight assemblies are prime elements of the redesigned front and matching large LED taillights are included in changes to the rear of the Maxima.
Maxima buyers have a
choice of two five-passenger seating layouts. The standard layout is a conventional rear back seat with a 60/40 split fold feature, which allows maximum utility. The sport package in the test Maxima included the optional interior with two (outboard) more supportive bucket-style rear seats and a large drop-down centre armrest that hid a lockable pass-through opening to the trunk. This layout also includes a hidden body stiffening crossbeam behind the rear seat.
Up front, the three spoke steering wheel has a lovely stout substantial feel, and it's also a heated steering wheel. Another nice surprise discovery was a manual thigh extension on the driver's seat cushion. The sport package adds paddle shifters that are bigger than usual and column attached.
This fixed location (instead of on the steering wheel) makes them much easier to locate as you turn the wheel.
On the down side, the foot operated park brake was a little disappointing in a sport sedan - a central hand operated lever seems more appropriate.
The fake metallic trim that came with the sport package could also be better. Safety
Other than outside mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators and active front seat head restraints, the safety package in the Maxima is a conventional one. It includes a full complement of air bags plus standard Vehicle Dynamic Control with Traction Control System.
Solid and powerful are two words that best describe the Maxima drive experience. Supremely comfortable at highway speeds, the Maxima has a secure and well-planted feel on the road with loads of instantly available reserve power to get past something in a hurry, when needed.
It's that always available, abundant power that makes Maxima such an enjoyable and easy to drive sport sedan. And it can certainly move, acceleration to 100 kiloemtres per hour is estimated to be around 6.4 seconds.
The Xtronic transmission is one of the best CVT's available. Although it has no conventional gears, six fixed speed ratios are programmed to mimic manual mode operation and allow finger trip control via the paddle shifters. It's fun to play with when a winding road driving opportunity presents itself, but the Ds (drive sport) mode is simply handier for everyday use.
Sliding the shift lever to the left engages the Ds mode and causes the engine tachometer needle to instantly bounce higher as the Maxima prepares to burst out of the gate. Up-shifting through gears while accelerating, engine braking (simulating a down shift) and maintaining engine speed while going into a corner are all achieved via an intuitive electronic control logic system. Simply amazing logic!
The steering is nicely weighted and tuned to provide excellent straight line stability at highway speeds. The engine is mounted lower in the body frame to achieve a lower centre of gravity and has six mounting points to hold it firmly in place. There isn't any of the noticeable torque-steer that is usually associated with front-drive cars with this kind of power.
An affordable premium sports sedan, the Nissan Maxima seems to get better and better with time. Long may it live!
Specs - 2012 Nissan Maxima
Trim levels: SV, Sport & Premium
Sticker price: $37,880$42,880
Power: 3.5-litre V-6, 290 horsepower.
Transmission: CVT automatic Fuel consumption: 10.9/7.7 litres/100 kilometres (city/ highway)
Basic warranty: three years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty: five years/100,000 km
Rust warranty: five years/ unlimited km
Acura TL: $39,490-$48,990
BMW 3-Series: $35,900-
Hyundai Genesis: $39,999-
Volkswagen Passat: $23,975$37,475
Volvo S60: $38,300-$50,325
THE 290 horsepower Maxima can zip up to 100 kilometres per hour in around 6.4 seconds.