2011 Nissan Maxima
Base price: $30,810
As tested: $38,060
MPG: 19 city/26 highway
- Great-looking, high-quality interior
- Excellent iPod integration
- Nice mix of sport and luxury
- Front seats actually hurt the keister
- Dreaded torque-steer
- G37 a better car for the same money
By Jim Prueter
Maxima a Family Sedan, But a Blast to Drive
(This review was written in July 2009 about the 2009 Maxima. Since little has changed, the review has been updated to include model years 2010 and 2011)
One thing you can say about the newly redesigned 2009 Nissan Maxima is that it’s trying hard. I’m just not sure what it’s trying hard to be, a near luxury sedan or what Nissan is calling it: “The four-door sports car.”
The seventh-generation Maxima definitely has improved itself by becoming both more luxurious and more sporting and is overall an exceptionally nice car with few flaws.
For starters, Nissan has done something almost unheard of in the world of automobile manufacturing. They’ve actually made the Maxima smaller than the previous generation by reducing the overall length by nearly four inches and the wheelbase by about three inches. Nissan did this by building the new Maxima on the smaller Altima platform that also underpins the Murano crossover. With Maxima, though, the chassis has been stiffened to give it sporty handling.
But even at a reduced size, Maxima, at nearly 3,600 pounds, is no lightweight, which becomes evident as the front-wheel drive sedan plows through corners.
Most noticeably, the new Maxima has dumped the frumpy-looking sheet metal of the previous model and now sports lines that are sharper. The front-end design is terrific with hints of Infiniti’s FX model. From behind the wheel, the sporty side of Maxima is apparent through the visual bulges of the hood and fenders. The effect is similar to sitting at the wheel of a Corvette.
The fender bulge suggests a muscular look. There’s a small spoiler on the trunk lid and large LED tail lamps wrap around to the corner of the car. Dual exhaust pipes further enhance the sporty look.
Inside, improvements abound and the interior looks more like an Infiniti than a Nissan, except for the unfortunate Altima-like gauges and missing analog clock. All operating buttons and knobs are well placed, intuitive and easy to find.
One thing we didn’t like that the dash lights were too bright and couldn’t be dimmed enough before going completely dark. And while I’m griping, the heavily bolstered front bucket seats were the most uncomfortable we’ve sat on since the BMW X3. These seats almost pinched my rear and it felt like we were sitting on a couple of steel cables. I was testing a Toyota Venza at the same time and chose it over the Maxima for all but the shortest trips, just to avoid the painful seating.
We did like the iPod integration, which was the best we’ve seen in any vehicle at any price. It plugs into a USB port in the center console bin and is thereafter fully operated via the multipurpose knob and LCD screen that mimics the iPod’s actual controls. Redundant operation can also be found via controls on the steering wheel. Dash, doors, center console are all covered in top-quality soft-touch materials. And we liked the subtle red stitching on our black leather seats.
Under the hood is Nissan’s ubiquitous and excellent 3.5-liter V6 with 290 horsepower, up from last year’s 255, and mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). We’ve never been a fan of CVTs, but Nissan does it better than anybody and the Maxima now holds more power under full acceleration for sporty driving. There are also paddle shifters behind the steering wheel in a modest attempt to convince the driver the Maxima can perform like a six-speed manual shifter.
Maxima always suffered from severe torque-steer (that heavy pull to the right while steering under full throttle) and unfortunately it’s still there. Why can other manufacturers get this right while Nissan cannot? And an even bigger question: why wasn’t it built on Infiniti’s rear-drive G37 platform rather than Altima?
For 2011, there are four trim levels for the Maxima: the base Maxima S with a starting price of $30,810; it comes with cloth seats, power sliding moonroof, push button ignition and dual zone automatic temperature control. The SV ($33,530) adds things like leather-appointed seats, BoseÒ audio system, fog lights, outside mirrors with LED turn signals and HomeLinkÒ Universal Transceiver. The SV with Sport Package ($35,610) adds a sport-tuned suspension, 19” alloy wheels with larger tires, a rear spoiler, paddle shifters, xenon headlamps and a darkened grille and headlamps.
Finally there is the SV Premium Package ($36,760) that includes a dual pane moonroof, rear-window sunshade, mood lighting, eucalyptus wood-trimmed interior, a 7-inch display monitor with RearView monitoring and a 2GB Music BoxÒ for 800 MB music storage and USB connectivity.
Standard safety features include frontal, side-impact and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control and tire pressure monitoring. The 2009 Maxima earned the highest possible 5-star crash test rating for front and side impact crash test results from both the U.S. government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Besides the front seats, which are a deal breaker for me, there is much to applaud and few flaws to cite here. We loved the way this car drove and even didn’t mind the improved CVT. But given the price, there’s cause to wonder why in the world you would opt for the Maxima when you can own a much better Infiniti G37 with more features, horsepower and rear-wheel drive for about the same money?
The only changes for the 2010 model were the addition of a few new exterior color choices.
For 2011, Maxima adds a few new touches, such as a more finely tuned color palette and available Sport Package option. Revisions include a new rolled-edge tailpipe finisher, new smoked headlights (Sport models), new dark chrome grille (Sport models), and unique shiny gray interior stitching (Sport models). Also new are two exterior colors: Brilliant Silver and Metallic Slate.