Review: 2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV, Take Two

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

While Ford and GM consider building their mid- and full-size cars on a single platform, Toyota and Nissan are already doing it. The Avalon has been based on the Camry platform since its inception and now Nissan is giving us an Altima-based Maxima. The key to pulling this trick off successfully is differentiating the resultant cars visually and dynamically and, preferably, aiming them at different market segments. Did Nissan succeed at this mission, or did they just give us an Altimus Maximus?

Previously the Maxima was Nissan’s largest car. It still is, but it’s nowhere near full-sized. Its wheelbase is the same as the Altima’s; it’s less than an inch longer and actually has less front headroom (thanks to the standard sunroof), legroom and hip room. Its track is a bit wider but overall it casts pretty much the same shadow as its lesser brother.

Fortunately it owes more of its looks to the 370Z and the GT-R than the Altima. The taut lines are creased and folded to perfection and the view from the drivers seat over the sculpted hood and bulging front fenders is almost worth the price of admission alone. The optional spoiler perched on the edge of the rear deck looks a bit out of place but it’s the only thing I could find to bitch about in the looks department

The interior is a mixed bag. The first glance takes you to Infiniti (but not beyond). However, on closer inspection you wonder if a few e-mails got lost between the design and purchasing departments. The seats are upholstered in nice leather with classy contrasting stitching but the dashboard and doors are covered with a rubbery-feeling petrochemical derivative that looks like it should still be on the dinosaur. The electroluminescent instrument cluster could have come from an Lexus while the non-nav readout for the radio and AC controls consists of orange dot-matrix letters and toothpick numbers that brings to mind the Kia Amanti. And the “Metallic Link” (silver basketweave) plastic trim that replaces the “Piano Dot” (black dot matrix) plastic trim doesn’t add anything to the equation.

I found a few loose trim pieces inside and outside. Admittedly, they were small things but still totally inexcusable on a car that’s billed as the brand’s flagship sedan and can cost $40K when fully optioned.

Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5L VQ V6 resides under the hood, pumping out 290 hp in this application (20 more than in the Altima, but requiring premium fuel to do it). As always, it’s smooth and pulls readily to the rev limiter. As good as it is, you can’t help but wonder what the Maxima would be like with the 328 hp 3.7 from the Infiniti G37. It’ll probably never happen, though because of that pecking order thing.

Why they chose to saddle the Maxima with a CVT escapes me. Nissan’s is arguably the best CVT in the industry and is great in their mass-market-mobiles. However, a car with sporting pretenses needs something with real gear ratios (and preferably a third pedal). While you can put the CVT in “manual” mode and shift it with the obligatory paddles, all that does is jump the CVT abruptly between pre-programmed settings. It doesn’t really do much to help the performance and you always feel like there’s something between you and the fun, kind of like hugging Scarlett Johansson while you’re both wearing rainsuits and hockey masks.

Fortunately the transmission doesn’t affect the handling, and oh, can this baby handle. The family connection to the 370Z is readily apparent, even if it is being pulled along by the front wheels instead of pushed by the rear. Nissan’s engineers worked some kind of magic with the front suspension that totally negates torque steer and makes you forget every bad thought you ever had about front-wheel-drive handling. Just point it and it goes, with no fuss, no muss and no plowing.

The down side is that when you’re not channeling Jack Baruth, the ride with the optional sport package ($2300) is a little on the harsh side. OK, it’s a lot on the harsh side, with plenty of road noise to boot. It was so bad I actually visited my local Nissan dealer to drive a Maxima without the sport package and 19-inch high performance summer tires to see if that was the problem. The ride is quieter and much more compliant without the hoonery gear. You give up a little crispness and road feel but it’s a lot more comfortable for daily use. Unless you feel you absolutely have to wring every last g out of every corner you come to, you’d be better off leaving the box next to the sport package unchecked. (And a big thanks to Jeff Lanier at Town Center Nissan for providing a comparison car.)

The Maxima is a great road car. But is it worth $10K or more than the similarly-sized Altima? If you’re just looking for a family car to schlep groceries and the kids, the Maxima isn’t for you. But if you want a reasonably-priced mid-sized sports sedan that handles like it’s on rails it’s worth a look. Just don’t take the name literally.

(Nissan provided the car, gas and insurance for this review.)

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

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  • Andre Zelenkovas Andre Zelenkovas on Sep 22, 2010

    If this car had a 6-speed manual, I'd buy it tomorrow.

  • Ttchiu Ttchiu on Feb 20, 2012

    I just bought a brand new 2011 Maxima SV Sport. For a FWD car it handles great but then again I don't corner that hard. As for power sure it's 290 hp vs 328 hp but the G37 is about 200 pounds more and is only slighty faster. I'm comparing automatic transmissions. The CVT is not as bad as everyone says. But yes I prefer a regular automatic transmission. And yes I'm concerned about the reliability of the CVT. I didn't really consider the G37 until I read all these comments comparing the two. I was actually looking at FWD cars so I can drive in bad weather. I wasn't going to look at AWD cars because of the extra maintenace and the extra cost of them. Too late now I already bought the car. Oh the Maxima is a lot nicer than the Altima. I bought a brand new 2011 Maxima SV Sport in late January of 2012 and got a huge discount. I got $10,000 off sticker price. Yes the Maxima is kinda over priced but I feel better that I paid only $28,500 for a car that stickered just shy of $38,000 I highly doubt that Infinity could have knocked off 10 grand off the sticker price of the G37. I also looked at the BMW 328i and the Audi A4 Quattro. I was afraid of the cost of repairs for the German cars plus they didn't discount much. I like the styling of the Maxima on the outside and the inside. It was FWD and was a good deal. That's why I bought the car. Plus why do you want a manual in such a big car. I have a 1999 Trans Am pushing about 375 horses if I want to go fast and corner hard...albeit the Pontiac is mated to a 4 speed slush box:( It does pull like a raped ape and does a 0-60 in 4.8 seconds and finishes the quarter in 13.1 seconds. Pretty damn fast for an automatic. For drag racing automatic is the way to go...for curvy roads not so much. Bottom line just buy what makes you's your money after all. I'm happy about my's abig step up from the car I replaced. I had a very basic 1993 Ford Taurus with 198,284 miles on it when I traded it in for $500. did not have any major problems.

  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh WHAT !?
  • Jeff Matt--I think this is a good move for Mitsubishi to expand their presence with satellite dealers. I had a 85 MItsubishi Mighty Max and my sister had a 83 MItsubishi Starion. MItsubishi needs to add a compact pickup to compete with the Maverick and the Santa Cruz but offer it for less. A smaller more affordable truck will sell. I believe MItsubishi should still offer an inexpensive subcompact like the Mirage it will sell in a slowing car market with high msrps. Yes I know the Mirage is probably going to be canceled but I believe in these times it is a mistake and they should reconsider cancelling the Mirage. Toyota is having problems selling the new redesigned Tacomas and Tundras with the turbo 4s and 6s. Most Tacomas have MSRPs of well over 40k. There is room for MItsubishi to grow their market share with more affordable vehicles. I am not saying Mitsubishi is going to overtake Toyota, Honda, or Nissan but they should take advantage of the more affordable market segment that these companies for the most part have abandoned. MItsubishi doesn't have to be the biggest just increase sales and become more profitable.
  • Cprescott More hideous garbage.
  • Jalop1991 Mitsubishi is planning dealer expansion? What, the dealer will be adding a customer-only bathroom?
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