2008 Nissan Maxima Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Future historians will record that, in the summer of 2006, astronomers revoked Pluto's status as a planet, and Nissan reeled in the spacey styling of the Maxima, bringing it down a little closer to Earth-car standard. Those same historians will also render a verdict whether either decision was a good one. Right now we're might be too close to these events to tell, but we're thinking the styling changes to the 2007 Nissan Maxima are a good thing. And we still like to think of Pluto as a planet. In both cases, call us old fashioned.
Gone is the beaver-toothed, studded grille from the '58 Buick, replaced by a more conservative, more elegant grille more in keeping with the Nissan Altima. In fact, all of the body work has been restyled. The 2007 Maxima gets new headlamps, new taillamps, and redesigned fenders, rocker panels, rear spoiler, and hood. The cabin gets a new instrument cluster and center dash for 2007, making for easier, more intuitive operation.
Underneath, a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, replaces the more traditional five-speed automatic for smoother, more efficient operation. Nissan excels in this technology and we found the Maxima's transmission responsive.
The Nissan Maxima fills a niche for aficionados who appreciate something different. Straddling the line between mid-size family hauler and a near-luxury sport sedan, it offers drivers an interesting alternative to mid-size sedans such as the Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord. The Maxima is more focused on personal luxury and performance. And the 2007 model is just a little less quirky than last year's model.
Buyers choose between the more responsive SE and the more plush SL. Either way, cruising on the highway is effortless with Nissan's wonderful 255-hp V6 engine. For 2007, both the Maxima SE and SL come standard with a continuously variable automatic transmission, which translates to smooth, efficient power. Gone is the available six-speed manual, which is fine because we didn't care for it.
Both the Maxima SL and SE models abound with luxury features. The re-styled 2007 cabin is innovative and comfortable with supportive, luxurious seats. Surviving the 2007 revision is Maxima's daring Skyview roof, a narrow glass panel running lengthwise over the front and rear seats. It's the sort of feature associated with futuristic concept cars. Also interesting are the available rear bucket seats, a feature seen primarily on show cars or as an option on high-end luxury models.
Together, the rear bucket seats and Skyview roof make back-seat riders feel more like first-class passengers and less like coach-class cattle. The Maxima is not as family-friendly as the Altima, particularly with the optional four-bucket-seat interior. Instead, it's designed for people who don't have children or maybe just one and want a more interesting, more luxurious sports sedan. (A traditional rear bench seat comes standard for owners who may want to put three people in back.)
In short, the 2007 Nissan Maxima is an enjoyable and interesting sports sedan.
The 2007 Nissan Maxima is a mid-size four-door sedan with a V6 engine and front-wheel drive. The only transmission available is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). As before, Maxima is offered in two distinct flavors: the sporty 3.5 SE and the more luxuriously equipped 3.5 SL.
The SE ($28,050) comes standard with cloth upholstery, brushed aluminum interior accents, and all the conveniences you'd expect in a top-end mid-size sedan. The SE also comes with a sports suspension, traction control, and 18-inch wheels and tires.
The SL ($30,300) upgrades with leather upholstery, woodgrain interior trim, heated seats, xenon HID headlamps, a premium eight-speaker Bose stereo, and other conveniences that are optional on the SE. The SL rides on a softer suspension with 17-inch wheels and tires.
The Skyview roof comes standard on both SE and SL. It does not open, however, and can be replaced with a conventional power glass sunroof ($900) that does.
SL buyers can upgrade with a Driver Preferred Package ($1000) that adds a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, rear sonar system, memory driver's seat with power lumbar support, power tilt/telescopic heated steering wheel with memory, auto-dimming outside mirrors with memory, and a feature that power-retracts the driver's seat all the way back when you open the door to ease entry and exit.
SE buyers can upgrade to SL-level luxury: The Bose Premium Audio Package ($1,050) includes eight speakers, a six-CD changer, RDS, speed sensitive volume control, and pre-wiring for satellite radio. The Sensory Package ($2,400) combines the Bose audio with leather-appointed heated seats, a four-way power passenger seat, heated mirrors, and a compass. The SE Driver Preferred Package ($3,750) combines the Sensory Package with the contents of the SL Driver Preferred Package described above.
The Elite Package, available for both the SE ($4,700) and SL ($1,950), replaces the rear bench seat with two heated bucket seats and a center console extending the full length of the interior. This option includes everything from the Driver Preferred Packages, plus a power rear sunshade with front and rear controls, auto up/down rear windows, and an extra rear 12-volt power outlet. Options for SE and SL include a DVD navigation system with seven-inch color LCD display ($1,800); XM or Sirius satellite radio ($350); Vehicle Dynamic Control ($600), and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system ($300).
Safety features that come standard include the Advanced Air Bag System with dual-stage front supplemental air bags, front-seat side-impact air bags for chest protection, and roof-mounted curtain side-impact air bags for front and rear outboard occupant head protection; front-seat active head restraints; and front seat belts with adjustable upper anchors, pretensioners and load limiters. A sophisticated traction control system and a tire-pressure monitor come standard. An electronic stability program called VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) is optional.
The Nissan Maxima has been re-styled, and cast in a slightly more conservative mold.
The change is most apparent up front. The new grille is shaped similarly to the old one (and to the Altima's). But the former, '58 Buick-inspired texture of individual chromed studs has been replace by three horizontal, charcoal-colored slats; and the bold, dark-chrome center medallion has evolved into a simple central bulge. The full-width lower bumper opening that formerly stretched from foglight to foglight has been replaced with three smaller, albeit taller, openings. The hood and headlights are new, too, and also a bit more conventional in appearance than before, although the new headlights now incorporate built-in cornering lights.
The remainder of Maxima's exterior is less radically changed. Big, round fender openings still pay homage to enormous alloy wheels; although the side sills are now more aggressive, and the wheel lips themselves less flattened and chiseled. Both the 17 and 18-inch wheels are now seven-spoke designs. The rear roof still slopes into the trunk lid, flanked by buttress-like sail panels. Large triangular taillight clusters, like the headlights, wrap around to the sides of the car. But the deck-lid spoiler (standard on SE, optional on SL) is now more prominent, as is the cutout at the bottom of the bumper for Maxima's four exhaust tips.
Overall, Maxima still presents a muscular body with pronounced character lines; aerodynamic and modern and yet architecturally Art Deco. It's just the Flash Gordon-style flash that's gone.
The interior of the Nissan Maxima has been freshened for 2007, including a new instrument cluster and a new center-stack layout. Nissan says the new design is more intuitive, enhancing the 'Human Machine Interface.'
The first thing we noticed is that the new center stack looks more friendly, less hard-edged than the old one. In models without the navigation system, a dot-matrix screen displays HVAC, audio and trip computer functions in one central location. With navigation, this is replaced by a seven-inch LCD screen.
Simulated leather door panels replace fabric surfaces on models with leather-appointed seats, and integrated chromed accents have been added to the transmission shift lever plate and door panels. Brushed aluminum trim accents the SE, while a new wood tone trim appears in the SL.
The seats in the SL look nice and feel firm yet pillowy, supportive and luxurious at the same time. They were already great last year, and now Nissan has added more shoulder bolstering. You dream of all-day interstate cruises across the West in seats like these. The sliding center armrest has also been redesigned to improve comfort and convenience.
In front of the driver are three small gauges set in their own pod, like those on a motorcycle, with updated graphics for 2007 that are easier to read. The steering wheel is still familiar Nissan issue, however, functional but not beautiful. It tilts and telescopes, and the redundant controls on the spokes are illuminated.
When seated in the back of a four-seat Maxima with the Elite Package, you get the feeling you're in the passenger seat of a two-seat sports car. With the narrow Skyview window above your head, you don't feel like you've been relegated to the kid seats while the adults up front enjoy all the luxuries. The Skyview window does not open, but Nissan says it found a lot of people rarely open their sunroofs. We're among them. For those who prefer it, a conventional sunroof over the front seats is available.
Nissan offers a choice of XM or Sirius satellite radio, both factory-installed. Satellite radio can be great companion on long trips, delivering CD-quality sound nearly everywhere. Not having to change stations on a cross-country trip has distinct advantages. Being news hounds, we enjoy being able to keep up on current events with the 24-hour TV news stations, such as CNN or Fox News. Finding stations is easy with RDS (radio data system), which clearly identifies programming on the radio's display.
The Bose Premium Audio Package includes eight speakers, a six-disc in-dash CD changer (now with MP3 capability) and speed-sensitive automatic volume control. An auxiliary audio input jack comes standard on all models to accommodate Apple iPods and other MP3 players.
The available navigation system works well, though it's not quite as easy to set and operate as the systems used by Toyota and Honda.
Three cargo nets are provided in the trunk and work better than most for holding down a load of groceries.
The Nissan Maxima is a pleasant car, quick, responsive and enjoyable to drive, smooth and refined for cruising.
Cruising on the highway is effortless in the Maxima, and the 3.5-liter V6 pulls strongly in passing situations. In fact, the Nissan V6 has such a broad power band that the Maxima is happy being either a high-revving hard-charger or a boulevard loafer. You can keep the engine at high revs to extract the most acceleration on challenging roads, or you can lug it along at a cruising pace without concern. It's a great engine, and no wonder it has become one of the most popular choices in sport-compact drag racing of the Fast & Furious type.
It's exactly the same engine it was last year with the same amount of power, but it has been downrated to 255 horsepower for '07 (from 265 in '06) because the industry now measures horsepower differently; indeed, nearly everyone's numbers are being adjusted downward. Called VQ35 by Nissan's engineers, the Maxima V6 features microfinished crank journals and cam lobes, molybdenum-coated lightweight pistons, a resin intake collector, digital knock control, six individual ignition coils (one per spark plug), a cross-flow coolant pattern, and a silent timing chain. Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control (CVTCS) and a variable induction system, contribute to its broad torque curve, while its electronically controlled throttle delivers great response.
All 2007 Maximas come with Nissan's Xtronic CVT, a continuously variable transmission. Though an automatic, it has a manual mode. Instead of gears, the heart of the CVT is a pair of variable-diameter pulleys connected by a segmented steel belt. The belt rides in a 'V' in each pulley; the V can expand or contract, forcing the belt to ride a smaller or larger diameter. By moving the belt away from the center of one pulley and toward the center of the other, the CVT changes the ratio between the pulleys. Changes in ratio are thus stepless and therefore smoother than the conventional shift from one set of gears to another. And since it's continuously variable, and not limited to four or even six fixed gear ratios, the CVT can keep the engine operating closer to peak efficiency more of the time.
Although it sounds new, this is proven technology. CVTs have been used in small European cars since 1958, and in industry well before that. Now modern electronics (replacing vacuum-mechanical control) have made CVTs smoother, more reliable, and more efficient than ever; and we expect to see more of them in the cars and trucks we buy off the showroom floor. Nissan has offered a CVT in its Murano crossover SUV since 2003, and it's considered one of the best in the industry. As a result, Nissan is expanding its CVTs to the Maxima, Altima, Sentra and Versa.
We drove the Maxima down some winding canyon roads and found it handles very well with high grip limits. The Maxima feels bigger and more ponderous than the lighter Altima, however. The Maxima and Altima share basic structures, but the Maxima weighs more. The steering is accurate, though it seems light and slow. Body roll is minimal, meaning Maxima doesn't lean much in corners. But turn-in is slow, so when you come into a high-speed curve and turn the steering wheel the car is relatively slow to respond. Charge into a corner past the grip of the tires and the car understeers initially. Coming out of the corners, the Maxima doesn't spin the wheels, which is a good thing, but there is some torque steer, a slight tugging sensation at the steering wheel. Traction control is standard, and Vehicle Dynamic Control, Nissan's electronic stability system, is optional.
Both models handle bumps well, a benefit of the Maxima's independent multi-link rear suspension. We prefer the sporty SE over the slightly softer SL because it feels more connected to the road yet it still rides smoothly and quietly, even on bad pavement. Overall, the Maxima feels li.
The 2007 Nissan Maxima is individualistic and indulgently luxurious, with innovative styling and interior features. Its engine is powerful and its ride is smooth and quiet. Its interior is innovative and comfortable. The revisions for 2007 improve the looks and refinement of this luxurious sports sedan.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Phil Berg filed the original report from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting on the updated 2007 Maxima from Los Angeles.
Nissan Maxima SE ($28,050); SL ($30,300).
Options As Tested
Driver Preferred Package ($3,750) includes leather-appointed seats; heated front seats and mirrors; four-way power passenger seat; memory and lumbar support for driver's seat; compass; power tilt/telescopic heated steering wheel with memory; auto-dimming outside memory mirrors; 320-watt Bose AM/FM/6CD/MP3 stereo with eight speakers, RDS, speed-sensitive volume, and steering-wheel controls, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, rear sonar system, xenon HID headlights; Navigation Package ($1800); XM Satellite Radio ($350); Power Glass Sunroof ($900); five-piece floor/trunk mat set ($170); splash guards ($140).
Nissan Maxima SE ($28,050).
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