The Nissan Maxima is a car I hadn’t given any thought since I last saw that commercial where a father-to-be tugs the sheetmetal of a 370Z into the shape of a Maxima. Despite what the ad implies, the four-door Maxima can’t match the excitement of a rear-wheel-drive sports coupe. It is, however, a solid and competent sedan that will satisfy plenty of buyers. The Maxima does everything you ask of it without fuss, has a generously sized cabin, and is styled to neatly toe the line between looking boring and looking exciting.
Unfortunately, the Maxima errs too much on the side of caution. The car is almost fun to drive and almost attractive, but in neither category does it get a thumbs-up vote from me. I probably won’t think about the car again until the next time I see that 370Z-into-Maxima commercial.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
I also disagree with Nissan marketing the Maxima as a Four Door Sports Car. The Maxima is a fine large sedan with plenty of space and comfort, but it offers nothing in terms of driver involvement. Nissan has given us a big car that sends its ample power to the front wheels through a CVT – perfect for smoothly shuttling around four or five adults but far from the idea of a stretched 370Z. Of course a commercial showing four older men getting out of a Maxima is a lot less interesting than seeing the dad-to-be stretch out a sports car.
Once you get past the weird marketing, the Maxima is a very comfortable near-premium car. It’s still not terribly different from a V-6 Altima, but it comes across as a bit more grown up. The Maxima offers much better visibility and a nicer interior than the Ford Taurus, although a newer Taurus is on the way for 2013. Hyundai has just refreshed the Azera for 2012 and it now offers 293 horsepower as well as a much more curvaceous design – both of which directly target the Maxima.
Like Nissan’s Murano, the Maxima offers a very pleasant cabin. Buttons and knobs still reside on the center stack, which makes adjusting the climate controls or the stereo easy to do without taking your eyes off the road. This logical control layout probably does more to lure in buyers than the Four Door Sports Car commercials do.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
While we auto journalists may have a hard time categorizing the Maxima, due in no small part to Nissan’s insistence on calling it a sport sedan, buyers don’t seem all that confused. Of the several cars that might be cross-shopped with the Maxima – the Buick LaCrosse, Acura TL, Volkswagen CC, Volvo S60, Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, etc – the Maxima’s sales figures stack up pretty well (as of the end of November, Nissan had sold about 54,000 Maximas this year, putting it near the top of the pack among the aforementioned competitors).
With the premium package on this Maxima SV, one gets all the luxury amenities you expect in a $40,000 car: leather, heated seats (the driver’s seat is also cooled), an electrically adjustable and heated steering wheel, a very large double sunroof, HID headlights, navigation, and Bluetooth. As an added benefit, the Maxima turns out to be fairly satisfying to drive. Its 290-hp engine means it’s no slowpoke, and the CVT can be left in automatic or the driver can use the large, easy-to-grab paddle shifters if he wants to take things into his own hands.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The Maxima is definitely one of the sportiest car in its class thanks to the powerful V-6 engine; however, it may be too powerful given its front-wheel drive, as torque steer kicks in, especially during highway passing. What can’t be beat though is the luxurious, Infiniti-like interior. As the sales numbers show, buyers seem to like both of those aspects, despite the fact that the Maxima is also one of the most expensive cars in the large, front-wheel drive, V-6-powered class. Our test example rung in between two to five grand more than the competition when similarly equipped.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The Maxima is difficult to categorize because its entire category has disappeared. Fifteen years ago, the sporty, large front-wheel-drive sedan was a staple in several automakers’ lineups: Ford Taurus SHO, Pontiac Grand Prix GTP, Mazda Millennia, Chrysler 300M. What happened? Rear-wheel drive made a minor comeback, and all-wheel-drive proliferated across the industry. Putting aside the physical limitations of a heavy, front-wheel-drive sedan, it now just seems odd to pay $40,930 for one. Heck, even within the Nissan family the Maxima faces more appealing competitors, like the slightly smaller G37.
None of this, of course, is the Maxima’s fault. It remains reasonably fun-to-drive, handsome, and luxurious. I’d rather not have a CVT automatic transmission, but it actually performs well here. The steering is sharp and decently weighted, though it lacks much feel. Nissan’s venerable VQ V-6 provides its usual strong performance and along with its usual coarseness – the 3.5-liter in the Toyota Avalon and the 3.6-liter V-6 in the Dodge Charger are much better in the latter regard.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
As Amy suggested, if one doesn’t sit and analyze the Maxima’s purpose or place in the market — a much-loved pastime of automotive journalists — this is a very good big sedan. It doesn’t necessarily appeal to enthusiasts but for the average consumer it offers a stylish alternative to competitors from Toyota and Ford. As with the Murano, the Maxima’s interior is an agreeable place to spend time; the heated steering wheel — part of the $3300 premium package — made it that much more pleasant on the cold morning I drove it. It’s also an extremely uncomplicated place, as Nissan/Infiniti has become a master at clearly labeled, logically arranged center consoles.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
MSRP (with destination): $35,210
PRICE AS TESTED: $40,930
3.5-liter DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 261 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Continuously variable automatic
WHEELS AND TIRES:
18-inch aluminum wheels
245/45VR-18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo: 14.2 cu ft
Legroom (front/rear): 43.8/34.6 in
Headroom (front/rear): 38.8/36.4 in
Towing: 1000 lbs
Stability and traction control
Tire pressure monitoring system
60/40 split folding rear seat
Manual tilt-and-telescopic steering column
Bose audio system w/two subwoofers
Auxiliary audio input
Automatic dual zone climate control
Rear LED combination taillights
Front fog lights
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
Premium package- $3300
Dual panel moonroof w/power sunshades
Rear-window power sunshade
HID Xenon headlights
Heated front seats w/climate-controlled driver’s seat
Power tilt-and-telescopic steering column
Heated steering wheel
Heated exterior mirrors
Rear bucket seats w/trunk pass-through and armrest
7-inch monitor w/rearview camera and USB port
Premium technology package- $1850
Hard drive navigation w/voice recognition
Audio streaming via Bluetooth
Rear spoiler- $375
Floor and trunk mats- $195
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
External ground lighting- $195
The Maxima receives a mild facelift for the 2012 model year.