2010 Nissan Maxima Expert Review:Autoblog
Front-wheel drive is a funny thing. When originally introduced during the Thirties in the Cord 810 (then later in the awesome supercharged 812) and the Citroën Traction Avant, FWD was hailed as a major breakthrough, a wondrous technological innovation that allowed for lower ride height and greatly increased passenger space. Postwar consumers got a taste of the wonders of FWD with the iconic Citroën DS. At the top of its game in the Sixties, General Motors reintroduced FWD to American consumers with two remarkable luxury coupes: the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. Come the Seventies, Citroën produced what is arguably the greatest GT coupe of that decade, the impeccable (and FWD) SM.
Roll the clock forward to the Eighties and suddenly everything was being tugged around by its front wheels. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all jumped head first onto the FWD bandwagon and, for the most part, they haven't looked back. Granted, Cadillac has rethought which wheels get driven, but with the exception of a dinosaur livery-mobile, there isn't a single rear-wheel-drive Lincoln to be found. Even Volkswagen got in on the transversely-mounted engine madness. This left only the Germans – namely Mercedes-Benz and BMW – to seriously carry the rear-wheel drive passenger car torch for nearly a decade. Sure, Lexus and Infiniti brought out some heavy hitting RWD sedans along with a raft of FWD offerings (
The average gearhead hates FWD for all the right reasons (weight distribution, steering feel, the front tires being asked to both propel and turn, etc.), and during a recent discussion we had with a half-in-the-bag PR guy, [NAME REDACTED] exclaimed, "Front-wheel drive sucks!" So, how can a technology go from the penthouse to the doghouse like that? One answer (of many) comes from the Minnesotan economist/social philosopher Thorstein Veblen and his book The Theory of the Leisure Class. Here's a quick, ten-cent Cliff Note version: When electric lighting first appeared, only the rich could afford electric lights. As such, electrically lit dinners were considered romantic and desirable. However, once electrification trickled down to the unwashed masses, only the rich could afford both bulbs and candles. Hence, candlelit dinners became en vogue. Which – believe it or not – leads us very nicely to the 2010 Nissan Maxima SV Sport and its $38,384 asking price.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
One justification for the Maxima's pricey sticker is that lump of VQ goodness found under the hood. Heaping praise upon Nissan's wonderful V6 is like calling firefighters heroes – you just do it, and only the crazy will argue. Still displacing 3.5-liters – unlike the Z, G, M and FX, which have jumped up to 3.7-liters – the VQ35DE produces a whopping 290 horsepower and a stout 261 pound-feet of torque, more than enough to scoot the fairly big boy (190 inches, 3,565 pounds) to 60 mph in less than six seconds. In terms of potency, those 290 horsies are more than you get from 3.5-liter V6s found in the Accord (271 hp), Avalon (268 hp), Taurus (263 hp) or Mercedes-Benz E350 (268 hp). And way more than you get in a 211 hp turbocharged Audi A4. But none offer a CVT... (Note: FWD Audi A4s have a CVT)
Granted, you can get a new Maxima for less scratch. The base car starts at "just" $30,460. But the car Nissan provided us has a price tag of nearly $40,000. You do get a lot car for that money, but at the end of the day, $38,384 is a big chunk o' change. So big, in fact, that you might be tempted to choose an Infiniti G37 sedan (beginning at just over $33,000), or even a Cadillac CTS (starts at $37,000). Two similarly-sized cars that are, as it happens, rear-wheel drive.
The Maxima's shape is one thing it has going for it. When the third-gen Altima was introduced in 2002, suddenly the once lofty Maxima looked an awful lot like its lower-priced platform mate. Then the Altima was redesigned and placed on Nissan's new D platform in 2007 and it still resembled the more pricey (and very long-in-the-tooth) Maxima. Finally, last year, Nissan brought us an all-new Maxima that didn't resemble anything.
A quick poll of the Autoblog staff reveals that almost all of us like the shape. From the blunted front end to the deeply sculpted sides to the fat, sexy haunches, there is little question that design-wise Nissan's biggest sedan has got the look. Though admittedly strange at first, the harpoon/fish hook head and tail lamps look sharp (no pun, no pun), especially when set off against a dark color. And these are some of the finest looking wheels we've seen on any car, let alone a big FWD sedan.
The interior's nearly as good as the exterior. First and foremost is that thick (we're talking BMW-thick) leather-wrapped steering wheel that is mercifully (nearly) free of button clutter. While all Maximas now ship with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), the large, almost oversized aluminum flappy paddles behind the wheel feel great. The seats are also thick, many-way adjustable and comfy. Though we'd like some more leg and hip bolstering – the seat bottom is a little flat – rear seat customers will enjoy their spacious perch. The instrument binnacle is intelligently designed and filled with big, legible gauges, exactly what one would need if you were to take Nissan up on its renewed 4DSC (Four-Door Sports Car) boast.
Many of us are also fans of the very Infiniti-like nav-cluster. Overall, the quality of the materials is on par with other entry-level luxury offerings with one big exception: The area surrounding the gear selector is not only dull, but almost undesigned. And if the car's got a CVT (i.e. no set speeds), why not follow BMW's lead and move the gear lever to the column so as to free up some space? A minor quibble, maybe, but that area was beneath (again with the no pun) the rest of the rather pleasingly pleasant interior.
Allow us to state up front that when CVTs first arrived on the scene they were nasty, despicable things that were constantly whirring, wheezing and searching for who knows what every time you buried your right foot. Much like automatic transmissions – only worse. That rant out of the way, the second generation of CVTs are actually... okay.
The first good one we experienced was in the cyber barge Lexus LS600hL, though we chalked up that transmission's okay-ness to the fact that Lexus had buried the shiftus interruptus beneath the brand's requisite nine tons of sound deadening. Besides, in a $120,000 automobile, the CVT had better be good. Then we got our paws on some down market CVTs – principally in Nissans like the Rogue, Versa and Cube. And you know what? Most of us like 'em just fine. They weren't Lexus wonderful, but they were a fifth the price.
In the Maxima, the CVT experience is better than in its smaller siblings, and about on par with the big, electric Lexus. In fact, for the first 20 minutes we were behind the wheel, we were unaware (fine – we forgot) that the car didn't have a regular old slush box. As our normal testing procedure begins with jamming up the curvaceous 110 freeway to Pasadena to fetch Drew Phillips and his photographic chops, we threw the tranny into manual mode and used the paddle shifters. That's right, the Maxima (like the LS600hL) has six faker-gear ratios (though the Lexus has eight) that allow it to behave just like an automated manual. It was only on suburban streets back in regular mode that we noticed the tach needle slowly rising and falling, as opposed to a regular automatic where the needle falls precipitously with each gear change.
So, how's the Maxima drive? Well, it's very quick. Stomp the gas and this sucker just goes for it. However, due to so much power spinning the front wheels, you are very aware that you are being pulled to extra-legal speeds, instead of pushed. To be fair, this has been a Maxima trait since they first started dropping VQs into the sedan. But in the 2010 Maxima, you really do notice all 290 ponies. The sensation is like holding onto a horse's reins. And torque-steer – the engine's tendency to try and rip the wheel from your hands when you throttle out of a corner – is an all day event.
While there's nothing inherently rotten about FWD, there is something unsettling about big horsepowered FWD cars – unless they've got a fancy way of fighting back against all that power, like in the power-chopping Mazdaspeed3 (fuel gets cut early in low gears at high RPM) or the unequal-tracked Citroen DS/SM (where the front wheels extend out further than the rear ones). With the Maxima, you're just left to arm wrestle the mighty motor. We hope you've been eating your Wheaties.
When you're not shredding apexes, the Maxima is a fairly cool customer. The ride is plush and plenty comfy, while the cabin is quiet and nicely shielded from wind and motor noise. Those big, beautiful wheels do make some racket, though. Nothing fatal, but you hear 'em. Should you choose to saunter through corners (instead of play Lewis Hamilton), the well-engineered chassis can carry plenty of speed around the bends. Just watch your right foot.
Far from a four-door sports car (sorry, Nissan), the Maxima SV Sport is a roomy, nearly-luxurious, semi-athletic steed. If we woke up tomorrow and (somehow) discovered we owned a copy, we'd be happy. But would we pay $38,000 for one? Short answer: No. There's nothing really wrong with the car, save for its sticker. Who then would consider a Maxima spec'd out like our test vehicle? Best we can figure, an Accord owner who is quite happy with his/her car but just wants something a little nicer, a little quicker and a whole lot more good looking. Then again, they might not. For our money, we'd take an Infiniti G37 sedan with the six-speed manual and pocket the extra $2,000. It's not that RWD is always better than FWD. But in this case, it is.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
A four-door sedan with sports-car performance.
The Nissan Maxima, which was all-new for the 2009 model year, is one of a growing group of sedans that are becoming known as four-door sports cars. These are sports sedans, but with edgier styling and first-rate performance and handling, and the Maxima is one of the best.
The Maxima was engineered, built, tuned and aimed at drivers who prefer sporty handling and a firmer ride as opposed to the softer, more luxurious rides associated with many cars in this class.
The Maxima competes with the Acura TL, Infiniti G, Cadillac CTS, Toyota Avalon, as well as deluxe versions of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
The Nissan Maxima features a notably wide track, which helps the chassis handle the corners on its big tires. The Maxima shares its chassis and underpinnings with the other cars and SUVs mounted on the Nissan front-drive platform, including the Murano and Altima; the Maxima is close in physical measurements to the Altima. For the Maxima, the platform is measurably stiffer. Sport and Premium package versions use a large steel panel behind the rear seat to connect the floor, walls and package shelf into a single unit that, according to Nissan, is up to 17 percent stiffer than the base model, all aimed at sharper handling. Sport versions add a brace across the front suspension towers for greater stiffness and steering precision.
Changes for the 2010 model year are minor. There are new finishes for the 18-inch and 19-inch wheels, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system is standard, XM Satellite Radio is standard on the SV trim level, the previous iPod connectivity is changed to USB connectivity, and there are two new exterior colors. In addition, there is a new optional Monitor Package, which includes a seven-inch color monitor, RearView monitor, auxiliary audio-video input jack, iPod net and 2GB Music Server. The Technology Package gains DVD playback capability, streaming audio via Bluetooth, and XM NavWeather.
The 2010 Nissan Maxima range consists of two models, the S and the SV. They are powered by a 3.5-liter dohc V6 engine and come with Nissan's Xtronic CVT. The Maxima is front-drive, and has four-wheel disc brakes with ABS as standard equipment. Nissan's Variable Dynamic Control (electronic stability control) and Traction Control System are also standard.
Maxima S ($30,460) 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, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 eight-speaker sound system with an auxiliary jack, and Bluetooth.
Maxima SV ($33,180) upgrades with leather upholstery, a nine-speaker Bose sound system with speed-sensitive volume control, subwoofers and RDS, a driver's seat with a thigh extension and power lumbar, a compass, fog lights, HomeLink, turn signal repeaters in the mirrors, and XM Satellite Radio.
There are three major options packages for the SV: The Sport Package ($2,030) features a sport-tuned suspension, 245/40VR19 tires and 19-inch aluminum wheels, rear spoiler, HID xenon headlights, leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, heated leather steering wheel, power tilt/telescopic steering column, 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, heated outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature and auto-dimming on the driver's side, and metallic-link trim.
The Premium Package ($3,230) features the Dual Panel Moonroof with power retractable sunshades, power rear-window sunshade, premium mood lighting, front and rear power windows with one-touch auto-up/down feature, HID xenon headlights, premium leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, premium heated leather steering wheel, power tilt/telescopic steering column, 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, outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature, heated outside mirrors, auto-dimming driver-side outside mirror, Eucalyptus wood-tone trim, seven-inch color monitor, RearView Monitor, Interface System for iPod, iPod net in center console, and auxiliary audio/video input jack. The Technology Package ($1,850) features the Nissan Hard Drive Navigation System with Voice-Recognition, 9.3GB Music Box Hard Drive, XM NavTraffic and XM NavWeather, and seven-inch touch-screen color monitor.
Stand-alone options include the Cold Package ($400) with heated front seats, outside mirrors and steering wheel; HID headlights ($400); a rear spoiler ($370); 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 dual-stage frontal, side-impact and side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, Vehicle Dynamic Control (electronic stability control), Traction Control, and tire-pressure monitoring.
The Maxima has a distinctive look that places it within Nissan styling themes but at the same time gives it an appearance that is all its own.
Every exterior body panel on the car shows adventurous and modern design and shaping. The grille, headlamps and 12-LED taillamps are large and fit well into the whole exterior design, and the fenders and hood have edges and bulges for a very sporty appearance. The wheel arches are 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.
The Maxima is a great looking, assertive sedan with high style and fine detailing, and it doesn't look like anything else in the Nissan lineup.
Inside the Maxima, the design, materials, and execution of the interior are first-rate throughout.
The interior features of the Maxima are all about concentration of controls and information around the driver. The interior includes a few items right out of the Nissan parts bin, like the radio and navigation control panel on top of the center stack, backed up by 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 is located over to the left, 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 Nissan Maxima comes with a very strong, very responsive 3.5-liter V6 engine. 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. 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.
Maxima is EPA-rated at 19 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway. The engine is rated at 290 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 261 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The continuously variable transmission, or CVT, includes a manual mode so different drive ratios can be selected.
We found the engine smooth and quiet, right up to the 6200 rpm redline, and it delivered plenty of punch throughout the rev range. This makes the car enjoyable to drive, and if you can keep your foot out of it, you can get better mileage than the 26 mpg EPA-Highway 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. Maxima's CVT offers a manual mode, and we found it a joy to use in either mode. According to Nissan, the Xtronic CVT software contains more than 700 shifting algorithms to cope with every driving situation in every gear from idle to full-throttle, and the transmission can shift 30 percent faster than a human. In the Sport Drive mode, the shifts were lightning quick, and included a very sporty throttle blip on every downshift.
The front-drive Maxima has six engine mounts, and the engine is mounted quite low in the chassis for a lower center of gravity and better handling. The suspension uses aluminum components, and a geometry chosen for handling capabilities. The front-drive system has virtually no torque-steer, even 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 is shared with the 350Z sports car, and it makes the driver feel truly connected, truly part of the steering and driving process, and it's never over-boosted. The ABS brakes have vented rotors both front and rear, for superior fade-resistance and added 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 Nissan Maxima is one of the most fun-to-drive cars in the class, and one of the best-engineered front-drive sporty sedans available, from its 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.
Jim McCraw filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Cary, North Carolina.
Nissan Maxima S ($30,460), SV ($33,180).
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($2,030); Tech Package ($1,850), HID headlamps ($400), Monitor Package ($700), Cold Package, Premium Package.
Nissan Maxima SV ($33,180).
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