2009 Nissan Maxima Expert Review:Autoblog
Once upon a time, labeling anything other than a two-door, two-seater a "sports car" would have been anathema to enthusiasts. And calling a mid-size sedan by the same name would have been utterly absurd. But when Nissan originally slapped the 4DSC ("four-door sports car") label on the Maxima 20 years ago, the automotive landscape was a very different place. Today, the sports sedan has been embraced by the masses, and with a series of "four-door coupes" hitting the market, consumers looking for an entertaining ride with seating for four have a host of options to choose from.
So when Nissan trotted out the all-new 2009 Maxima in New York last year and revived the 4DSC label, the automaker's past successes weighed heavily on the redesigned sedan. Would it still deliver the power and handling of its predecessors or would it be just another poseur in a see of wannabe sports sedans? More to the point: is this really a sports car? Let's find out.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Nissan has always had a sporting streak running through its DNA. What began with the Datsun 240Z and 510 has evolved into 370Z, GT-R and, yes, even the Maxima. When the latest edition of the brand's flagship sedan debuted a year ago, it introduced a new design language dubbed "liquid motion." The theme was a complete departure from the sharp creases and relatively slab sides of the previous generation model, beginning with the headlights that form a stylized "L," a cue that has since been carried over to the new Z.
Another element of the new design theme which first appeared on Nissan's 2008 Forum minivan concept is the hood profile. A pair of ridges run from the grille ends to the A-pillars with the top crease chamfered at the edge. The ridges flank a wave that runs from end to end, providing visual interest both from the outside as well as the driver's seat. All four fenders swell outward, creating prominent shoulders rife with muscularity. The roofline has a fastback profile that contributes to the sedan's sporting character, but stays elevated long enough to ensure decent rear head-room before falling away.
The Maxima's styling has a lot to like, but there are some questionable details. From where we sit, the weakest styling element is the front fascia and the grille housed within. From certain angles, the nose looks too low and too heavy, with alarming amounts of overhang – and the same issue carries over to the rear. In both cases, a contributing factor may be the revised proportions that come from the two-inch shorter wheelbase compared to the 2008 model, along with a four-inch shorter overall length.
Inside, the Maxima is a curious mix of premium and cheap. The shapes and textures have attractive colors and textures, but aside from the top of the dash, the rest of the surfaces surrounding the driver are hard plastics. While most of the pieces don't deliver luxurious tactility, the matte finishes look pleasant enough and are well finished with no rough or uneven edges. Those surfaces that the driver comes into contact with most often are finished in leather, including the thick-rimmed, heated steering wheel.
The driver's seat is another mixed bag, with eight-way power adjustability, along with a very welcome manually adjustable thigh support. Unfortunately, we had issues with getting the seat back to fit comfortably, as the upper portion felt slightly lumpy and a bit too thick. The standard rear seat features a 60/40 split seat back. However, if you opt for the $3,450 premium package fitted to our test car, the rear seating area is replaced with a set of re-contoured buckets. As such, the seat back is fixed in place with only a center pass through for long, skinny items. The premium package also includes a dual panel glass moonroof, although only the front half opens.
If the Maxima is supposed to be a sports car, it has to be packing a great engine. And as we'd expect from the automaker, it doesn't disappoint. As a modern Nissan, it's only fitting that the Maxima is powered by the 3.5-liter VQ V6 as used in the 350Z and numerous Infiniti models. Unlike the Z, however, the engine is mounted transversely, driving the front wheels through an updated version of Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission. In a marked departure from most CVT transmissions, the programming on the Maxima's unit doesn't have the unnerving characteristic of holding the engine at a constant speed as obviously while accelerating. Instead, you get to listen to that fabulous six as the revs climb. Whether this unique arrangement ultimately takes a toll on overall fuel efficiency is a topic we'll leave open for discussion.
In addition to the normal "D" mode, the Maxima offers a more aggressive "Ds" as well as full "manual" option. The aforementioned premium pack includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in addition to the tap shift gate on the console that allows the selection of six pre-programmed "ratios." In "Ds" mode, the transmission keeps the engine climbing towards the redline before shifting, and like most similarly equipped cars, it also downshifts while decelerating to provide engine braking.
So does the Maxima drive like a sports car? It's certainly has the right engine, with 290 hp and 261 lb-ft of twist providing brisk acceleration and the run to 60 mph consistently coming up in less than six seconds. Nissan engineers have done an admirable job of configuring the front suspension to keep the Maxima from veering off into the ditch when the go pedal is pressed to the floor, and the VQ is always good for audible delights and this installation is no exception. As the revs climb, a thrilling mechanical symphony emanates from under the hood while a sharp bark – distinctly reminiscent of the Z – comes from the exhaust under hard acceleration. In normal "Drive" mode, initial throttle tip-in feels a bit lazy, but pulling the shifter back into "Ds" seems to to remedy the issue. And although you can't get a proper manual transmission in the Maxima, if you want control of the ratios, tapping the paddles or the shift lever produces quick gear changes that put you right into the powerband.
But delivering on the sports car experience is about more than just acceleration. Eventually, the time comes to change direction. The leather-wrapped tiller provides precise control over the heading with no free-play and a measured reaction to torque in proportion to cornering forces. Compared to the Acura TL, the Maxima's steering feels much more natural and fun to toss into corners, provided that the pavement remains smooth. The spring rates provide a good balance between ride quality and road holding, but the damping needs more tweaking. When the road surface gets uneven, the rebound damping comes across as weak and the Maxima can feel floaty. It's nothing that can't be easily fixed, but it's not quite right for a sports car. When the time comes to scrub off speed, the brakes feel fully up to the task, and if things begin to go pear-shaped, the stability control engages smoothly without jerking the car around.
When playtime is over and a road-trip or gentle commute is in order, the Maxima is a pleasant place to be. Wind noise on the highway is nicely subdued and the XM NavTraffic system will help you avoid getting stuck in a jam. Our test car was the uplevel SV trim with a base price of $31,990, and with the premium and technology packages, the bottom line swelled to $38,535 (including delivery). When venturing into that price point, the Maxima's four-door sports car designation truly comes into question. Does it deliver? Not quite. It's a handsome sedan with a healthy dose of engagement. It's not so large and heavy that it feels ponderous, and having a VQ35 at your command is always a good thing. So... sports sedan? Yes. But this is no Z, and the 4DSC label may be going a bit too far. Now, if Nissan went back to a rear-drive Maxima that might be another story. But that car already exists. It's called the Infiniti G37.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
The latest Nissan out of the gate - the sixth model to wear the "Maxima" designation - gets a significant redesign for 2009. Launched in 1985, the first Maxima was a praised departure from its predecessor, the rear-wheel-drive Datsun 810. Reconfigured as front-wheel-drive, the newly-named sedan foreshadowed the arrival of Nissan's "4-Door Sports Car" or "4DSC", a name aptly-coined for the 1989 model. While each subsequent generation seemed to soften (much to the lament of enthusiasts), the automaker claims this ground-up remake once-again earns the 4DSC moniker. Follow the jump to see if Nissan succeeded.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.
Compared to the outgoing model, the new Maxima is shorter (in height and length) and wider (in both track and width) with a wheelbase reduced by two inches. Built on the D-platform that's shared with the Altima and Murano, the Maxima's styling is designed to exude sport over luxury-and it does so with more than a hint of the Nissan GT-R in the front end.
The most controversial styling element is found on the headlamps with their quirky trailing hook. In person, they are hardly noticeable as your eyes are instead immediately drawn to the muscular rear flanks that make the greenhouse appear much smaller than it truly is. With a subtle power-bulge in the hood and just enough chrome to soften the rough edges, the Maxima maintains an aggressive, if not polarizing, posture.
Nissan is offering the Maxima with several different packages and a treasure chest of options oriented toward both sport and luxury. You can seriously load it up with enough fluff to compete head-to-head with the Infiniti M. Without hesitation, we grabbed the keys to a Sport Package model, visually differentiated by its 19-inch wheels and rear spoiler.
Justifying the claim as a reincarnated 4DSC, Nissan fits the Maxima with a powerful adaptation of the now-familiar VQ powerplant. Still displacing 3.5-liters, the engine is now rated at 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque. Horsepower is up 35 over the last model, while torque increases 9 lb-ft. Even with the boost in power, Nissan is claiming fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city. On the highway, the new sedan is rated at 26 mpg (1 mpg better than before). Nissan's Xtronic S-CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the automaker's alternative to the traditional stepped transmission, is again the only transmission available on the Maxima. In addition to the standard "D" mode, Nissan is now touting a new "drive sport" ("Ds") mode for enthusiasts designed to increase acceleration feel and maintain engine speed during cornering.
From a driver's standpoint, Nissan nailed the cockpit (let's hope the same team is putting the final touches on the next-gen Z due due out in November). The adjustable steering wheel offers the proper diameter, the perfect thickness, and a pleasantly tactile texture and grip. The HVAC primary controls are round dials, and the NAV screen is easy-to-read. Settling into the cabin, the driving position is near optimal. Our six-foot two-inch frame found plenty of leg, shoulder, hip, and headroom in the generous front seats (embarrassingly a bit wider to fit American derrières). Our prototype had lumbar support and an adjustable thigh booster, too. If you can't get comfortable in the front seats of this car, make an appointment with a chiropractor.
Nissan's goal was to make the Maxima the best front-engine, front-wheel-drive sport sedan in the world. To prove their point, the planners charted our driving route to include stop-and-go city traffic, long freeway stretches, and plenty of back roads canyon-carving through the mountains of Southern California. With a press of the "start" button, it was time to see what the engineers had delivered...
Fighting LA traffic as our departure from the hotel, we immediately noticed the improved chassis. Regardless of the potholes and expansion joints, the cabin was free from bothersome NVH irritations. Another observation... from the driver's seat, the exhaust signature from the dual tips is inaudible. The intake roar, to which Nissan paid special attention, is very apparent under nearly all throttle increases. Hit the gas, and the engine roars. It is satisfying, even if the noise is coming out of the wrong end of the car.
Nearly an hour later, miles from downtown, we really opened it up. Touring through mile after mile of near-deserted canyon roads with our heavy lens-laden camera backpack on the rear seat, we found ourselves nonchalantly cornering hard enough to send the equipment flying to the other side of the car and back repeatedly. Wisely, we moved it to the floor... where it proceeded to easily clear the exhaust "hump" on the floor and still sail to the other side. The Maxima was performing well, very well, and without any unnecessary drama from the driver's observation. As expected, at the limit of adhesion (a tire problem-not a suspension weakness) the nose-heavy sedan will eventually understeer. On public roads, however, you'll land yourself in deep trouble with the law long before you run out of grip.
Nissan engineers also burned the midnight oil in an effort to eliminate torque steer. They apparently succeeded. On a barren road, with the car stopped and our hands in the air, we put the transmission in "D" and floored it. The Maxima accelerated forward... in a completely straight line. We tried again, and the results repeated themselves. Don't get us wrong, like all FWD vehicles you can still feel torque nudging on the front wheels under power, but Nissan appears to have eliminated the most obvious "I'm ripping the steering wheel out of your hands" sensation.
The brakes have been upgraded in the new model as well, and it shows. We slammed them hard, from illegal speeds, and they clamped down on the four ventilated rotors with pit-bull aggression. Only after repeated sadistic abuse did they start to show signs of fade. While the brakes performed admirably, the transmission seemed entirely confused by our odd driving habits. We were obviously not fitting any of its pre-programmed algorithms, and it would frequently take a few seconds to re-orient itself before resuming normal operations.
As enthusiasts, we were totally unable to embrace the CVT. It may be the perfect transmission for 98 percent of the car-buying public, but we prefer something with cogs. An enthusiast learns to drive by listening to the relationship between engine RPM and vehicle speed. A CVT-holding the engine speed steady offers none of that feedback to throttle inputs. Furthermore, we frequently found ourselves wanting a bit more power mid-corner, and the CVT was slow to respond. Even with an artificial "downshift" initiated via the paddle-shift (it wouldn't let us drop below fourth gear most of the time), the response was frustrating. We tired quickly of the "Ds" mode, and instead chose to leave it in "D" where we found power by simply flooring the accelerator and waiting for everything to catch up.
With the canyons far behind us and nothing but expansive LA freeways and surface streets in our windshield, the CVT was in its element. Seamless acceleration in light traffic combined with the VQ's big torque curve to make power delivery very comfortable. The automatic climate control kept us cool as temps blistered on the other side of the glass (a toasty 115 F. indicated on the OBC). Outward visibility was good, although the exterior mirrors with their massive plastic housings could offer a wider field of view.
The Bose audio system was a disappointment. Upgraded over the standard audio package, the sound was distant and a bit muddy. There are no tweeters mounted on the inside of the doors, so the sound is forced out of the dash-mounted speakers – way up front – and bounced off the glass. We tweaked around with it for a long time before simply giving up. With our best attempts still resulting in unimpressive sound, we simply turned it off and enjoyed the music coming from the VQ's intake for the remainder of the drive.
As we stood in the lobby of the hotel at the end of the day, the obvious question was whether or not this new Nissan was really all that different from its predecessors. Had the automaker reinvented the "4-Door Sports Car" again, or was this just another downhill slide of the Maxima legacy? The indication we were given in our 200-plus miles behind the wheel is that this car is a step forward for the Maxima. As for whether or not it deserves that "4DSC" sticker on the rear window once again, let's just say that real sports cars don't use CVT transmissions.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new four-door sports car.
Nissan Maxima is all-new for the 2009 model year, and this seventh-generation model marks the return of the four-door sports car.
The 2009 Maxima was deliberately built, tuned and aimed at drivers who prefer sporty handling and a firmer ride as opposed to the softer, more luxurious ride associated with many cars in this class.
The Maxima four-door sedan has been part of the Nissan lineup dating back to 1981. Maxima was kicked up a notch when the Altima took over the role as the mainstream sedan and it became the Nissan flagship. This new Maxima now competes directly against sporty upmarket sedans. Among them: Acura TL, Infiniti G35, Chrysler 300, Cadillac CTS, and Toyota Avalon, as well as deluxe versions of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
The all-new 2009 Nissan Maxima shares its D-platform chassis and underpinnings with the other cars and SUVs mounted on the Nissan front-drive platform, including the Murano and Altima. The new Maxima is close in physical measurements to the Altima. This seventh-generation Maxima is deliberately shorter by a couple of inches in wheelbase and four inches shorter overall, but is slightly lower and wider than the outgoing (pre-2009) model. The track measurement, the width between the tires, is an inch and a half wider, so that the chassis is better able to handle the corners on its big, fat 18-inch tires.
Nissan has modified the platform and body of the Maxima extensively, with one additional stiffness package for the S and SV models, and additional rear reinforcements for the Sport and Premium package versions that uses a large steel panel behind the rear seat to connect the floor, walls and package shelf into a single, much stiffer unit that Nissan says is up to 17 percent stiffer than the base model. The 2009 base model is, in turn, 15 percent stiffer than the outgoing 2008 model. Sport versions add a tower brace across the front suspension towers for greater stiffness and steering precision.
The 2009 Nissan Maxima range consists of two models, the S and the SV.
Maxima S ($29,290) comes standard with cloth upholstery, dual-zone air conditioning, power windows, locks, mirrors and driver's seat, trip computer, power moonroof, cruise control, intelligent key and starter button, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 eight-speaker sound system with an auxiliary jack.
Maxima SV ($31,990) upgrades with perforated leather upholstery, a nine-speaker Bose sound system with speed-sensitive volume control, subwoofers and RDS, leather, a driver's seat with a thigh extension and power lumbar, a compass, fog lights, HomeLink, and turn signal repeaters in the mirrors.
Options for the SV: The Sport Package ($2,300) features a sport-tuned suspension, 245/40VR19 tires and 19-inch aluminum wheels, XM Satellite Radio, rear spoiler, HID xenon headlights, premium leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, premium leather steering wheel, power tilt/telescopic steering column, heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, automatic entry/exit system (with two-driver memory), driver-side memory (driver's seat, outside mirrors, steering wheel), rear bucket seats, rear-seat trunk pass-through, large rear-seat fold-down center armrest with finisher, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature, heated outside mirrors, auto-dimming driver-side outside mirror, metallic-link trim, cargo net.
The Premium Package ($3,450) features the Dual Panel Moonroof with power retractable sunshades, power rear-window sunshade, premium mood light, front and rear power windows with one-touch auto-up/down feature, HID xenon headlights, premium leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, premium leather steering wheel with stitch and dimple, power tilt/telescopic steering column, heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, automatic entry/exit system (with two-driver memory), driver-side memory (driver’s seat, outside mirrors, steering wheel), rear bucket seats, rear-seat trunk pass-through, large rear-seat fold-down center armrest with finisher, rear-seat audio and HVAC controls, XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System, outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature, heated outside mirrors, auto-dimming driver-side outside mirror, Eucalyptus wood-tone trim, cargo net, seven-inch color monitor, RearView Monitor, Interface System for iPod, iPod net in center console, auxiliary audio/video input jack.
The Tech Package ($2,400) features the Nissan Hard Drive Navigation System with Voice-Recognition, 9.3GB Music Box Hard Drive, XM Satellite Radio, XM NavTraffic, seven-inch touch-screen color monitor, RearView Monitor, Interface System for iPod, iPod net in center console, auxiliary audio/video input jack. Similar packages allow buyers to mix and match these features and prices according to desired equipment.
Options include the Cold Package ($400) with a climate-controlled driver's seat; HID headlights ($400), the Bluetooth hands-free phone package ($300), a rear spoiler, and 19-inch high-performance summer tires.
Accessories for both models include floor mats and a trunk mat, splash guards, and a trunk sub-floor organizer with first aid kit and emergency kit.
Safety features include frontal, side-impact and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, yaw control, and tire pressure monitoring.
The all-new 2009 Nissan Maxima is smaller on the outside than the 2004-08 models of the previous generation. The new Maxima is shorter in wheelbase and overall length and lower to the ground, with a wider track for better handling.
Very much on purpose, the Maxima doesn't look anything like the Altima anymore.
Every exterior body panel on the car is new, with much more adventurous and modern design and shaping. The big metal plate out front that held the logo is gone. The grille, headlamps and 12-LED taillamps are larger and more egregious and figure more into the whole exterior design, and the fenders and hood have been given edges and bulges for a much more sporty appearance. The wheel arches are much more pronounced, and the door skins are pulled in from the fenders and flattened out so that the whole body has what the designers call a Coke-bottle shape, with a short nose, a short deck, a long, sloping roof and a BMW-style C-pillar curvature.
In other words, the 2009 Maxima is completely and totally different looking than the sixth-generation car it replaces.
The interior features of the new Maxima are all about concentration of controls and information around the driver. The new interior includes a few items right out of the Nissan parts bin that don't need reinventing, like the radio and navigation control panel on top of the center stack, backed up by newly styled lower controls with large, very readable labels and markings, daytime-lighted instruments, a hefty three-spoke steering wheel with redundant controls for the audio system, and huge paddle shifters for the CVT transmission, with very long upper and lower arms that assure you will never be out of reach of a quick shift. The floor shifter has also been moved over as far to the left as possible, for those who want quick shifts using the stick instead of the paddles).
The driver's seat is multi-adjustable, especially in the Sport package version that we drove, and very huggy and comfortable.
In the rear compartment, the seat can be ordered either as a 60/40 fold-down for cargo hauling, or as a fixed seat with a cargo pass-through in the center for occasional hauling or ski trips.
The design, materials, and execution of the interior are first-rate throughout.
The Maxima that we drove was the SV with the Sport package. Like the S model, it comes with a very strong, very responsive 3.5-liter V6 engine uprated from the previous 255 horsepower to 290 horsepower, a 35-horsepower increase with a concomitant gain of nine foot-pounds of torque and a one-mile-per-gallon increase in fuel economy. It has both variable valve timing and a variable intake system, a system that opens wide at about 4500 rpm, wide enough that you can hear the engine sound change dramatically, adding to the driving enjoyment.
At 290 horsepower, the Maxima's V6 is right at the top of the class in terms of power development for its size, but it's not peaky or cranky because the valve and intake systems keep it optimized for whatever gear and rev range.
We found the engine smooth and quiet, right up to the 6200 rpm redline, and it delivered plenty of punch throughout the rev range. A very strong, very enjoyable engine to drive, and if you can keep your foot out of it, you can get better mileage than the 26 mpg label. If you keep your foot in it, expect 0-60 mph times of 5.8 seconds or less.
The only transmission available, much to the chagrin of some critics, is the CVT (continuously variable transmission), a much-improved Nissan innovation. The software offers much quicker and more positive shifting than previous CVTs from Nissan. Maxima's CVT offers a manual mode. We found the transmission a joy to use in either mode. It is perhaps the world's second-best CVT, after the Audi. Nissan says the new CVT software contains more than 700 shifting algorithms to cope with every driving situation in every gear from idle to full-throttle and says the transmission can shift 30 percent faster than a human driver can. In the Sport Drive mode, the shifts were lightning quick, and included a very sporty throttle blip on every downshift.
The chassis and suspension under the new Maxima have been upgraded quite a lot from the previous model, with several new technologies added. The front-drive Maxima has six engine mounts now instead of the usual four, and the engine is mounted lower in the chassis for a lower center of gravity and better handling. The suspension is all new, using premium aluminum components, new shock absorbers, front and rear stabilizer bars, and new, sportier geometry. The front-drive system incorporates a new wrinkle that virtually eliminates torque-steer on full, throttle. We found the Nissan Maxima SV Sport always felt agile, glued to the road, and ready to play, with no hint of harshness in the ride.
The speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering system has been borrowed from the 350Z sports car, and it makes the driver feel like he is truly connected, truly part of the steering and driving process, never over-boosted or ropey. The front and rear ABS disc brakes have been upgraded, and the rear brakes are now ventilated, where they were solid on the previous model, for better fade-resistance and braking power under severe conditions.
The only time this Maxima gets sporty and rorty is when the engine intake system switches over into high-flow mode above 4500 rpm. The rest of the time, the car is very quiet inside, with very little intrusion from the outside world.
The all-new 2009 Nissan Maxima is one of the most fun to drive cars in the class. It's one of the best-engineered front-drive sporty sedans available, from the accurate, quick steering to the engine power to the remarkably good performance of the CVT. It isn't the roomiest car in the class, and it isn't the least expensive. Instead, it's designed as a premium car for drivers who want something sporty. And if 26 mpg isn't enough for you, you'll be able to get this sporty sedan in 2010 with a diesel engine.
Jim McCraw filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Cary, North Carolina.
Nissan Maxima S, SV, SV Sport.
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($2,300); Tech Package ($2,400).
Nissan Maxima SV ($31,990).
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