When I reviewed the ’07 Altima 3.5 SE, I concluded by posing the question, “Why in the world would anyone buy a Maxima?” Why indeed. The Pen-Altima far surpassed its big brother in power, handling and styling. Nissan had neglected the Maxima into a noisy Toyota Avalon with a cheap interior. Pity, because the nineties’ version was a sort of lower-case-m-5: Japanese bento-box-styling with three tubes of wasabi squirted under the hood. Now Nissan’s thrown the old Maxima blueprints out the window of a Nürburgring-blitzing GT-R. Four-door-sportscar? We’ll see about that.
The Maxima’s new “Liquid Motion” ethos looks fishier than cocktails at Sponge Bob’s. Except for the Audi Quattro-like haunches, there’s not a single surface where a drop of rain could tarry. The smeared mascara headlights look idiotic in press photos. They become samurai-helmet material in the flesh. The dual exhausts and [optional] rear spoiler signal sporting intent with similar subtlety.
With 19″ rims, doors the size of stainless-steel refrigerators, and a new wider track and shorter length, the Maxima offers pure, broad-shouldered aggression. Overall, the new, downsized– yes, downsized– Maxima looks like some antediluvian antecedent to the G37 coupe just got dredged up from the Marianas trench. And then ate four people.
Nissan may be eating Subaru’s lunch when it comes to performance, but the two brands are in a race to the bottom when it comes to interior quality. Even the mighty Nissan GT-R suffers from a cheapish-feeling interior. The Maxima’s cabin is as rubbery as Chrysler’s plastics are hard. If Nissan wants people to think their cars are built to last, they’re going to have understand that first impressions last.
Still, the four-door’s fat three-spoke steering wheel approaches perfection, and the ergonomics are beyond reproach. Nissan allows you to choose between “piano black” trim or eucalyptus wood. Choose the wood, at least it’s real; the piano trim wouldn’t look out of place on a Farfisa synthesizer.
The new Maxima offers an Infiniti amount of optional toys, from thermal butt management to premium mood lighting (want to drive my etchings?) to the industry’s biggest heat sink- I mean dual panel sunroof. But the view forward is the killer app, as your eyes stare down that fantastic hood with its stingray arches and central power bulge.
Fire-up the not-so-uber-anymore Nissan and it’s clear the brand’s engineers have a hotline to a dodgy Mexican pharmacy. The good ole’ 3.5-litre VQ-series V6 tells you in no uncertain terms that it’s chock-full of Vegas-grade Viagra; power is up from 255hp to 290hp. Fuel economy has also been maximized, with a single mpg added to the highway economy. On premium fuel. Oops. Anyway, it’s enough thrust to power the Maxima from rest to sixty in about six seconds.
The new Maxima comes with Nissan’s Continuously Vacuous Transmission (a.k.a. CVT). Sorry pistonheads, there’s no stick-shifting your expectations here. Saying that, perhaps it’s time to cut the transmission slack some slack. The previous rubbery isolation that interfered with driver involvement now feels merely latex-based, particularly in the sportier DS mode. Theoretical cogs swapped via the steering-column-mounted paddles aren’t quite as crisp as some of the other manually-shifted autoboxes out there, but the responses are gratifyingly rapid.
The best bit: the new Maxima’s rolling acceleration. With 261 lb-ft. of torque lingering underfoot, the Tennessee tornado is no real world slouch. Highway or two-lane overtaking is as easy as it is aurally satisfying. You’ll be able to pass most anything at its price point except, perhaps, a mirrored window.
Usually, turning-up the sporty knob on a family sedan creates the sort of discomfort Herr Mosley [allegedly] enjoys. In the new Maxima, aluminium suspension bits borrowed from the Infiniti M45 and a six-point engine mount (for reduced vibrations) deliver a ride that manages to hit a high note of communicative firmness without ever resorting to cruelty. It could housebreak a golden retriever puppy. But if you prefer a more sedate Maxima, a softer Premium trim is offered next to the Sport model.
OK, we’re here now. Is this the “world’s best-handling 290hp front-wheel-drive-car?” Surely the concept is as ridiculous as the “world’s best one-armed boxer.” Yes, the traction control steps-in when mashing the gas from a stop. But otherwise, torque steer is blessedly absent. Even better, the new Maxima corners so evenly you’d think it had outriggers. Even betterer, Nissan’s quick but unfortunately-named twin-orifice power-steering rack provides a direct connection to the front tires. There’s a feeling of slippery nimbleness that even an Altima coupe would be hard-pressed to match.
Despite sharing platforms with the Altima and Murano, the Nissan Maxima is not a super-sized something. Their new flagship- I mean, four-door flagship won’t look out of place slotted next to a GT-R on the showroom floor. Brutal styling, a snarling V6 and a sorted chassis: welcome to the Circus Maxima.