I’m pleased to again have the Maxima in-hand. For 2012, the car receives a couple of subtle styling changes and some new interior trim. In reality though, it’s the same vehicle as last year — but that’s not a bad thing by any stretch of tarmac.
Unique styling remains fresh
The Maxima is definitely eye-catching thanks to its distinctive hourglass body shape and bold design cues that include overt sculpting and dramatically cut headlights. Despite remaining largely unchanged since 2009, the Maxima remains fairly fresh, thanks to its relative rarity.
I still look twice when I spot one and admire that fact that the owner had the confidence to choose a sedan that breaks the mould of what we expect from a fairly conservative Japanese manufacturer; there’s no mistaking the Maxima for a Camry or Accord.
The appeal of the Maxima extends inward as well. Here you’ll find a cabin that’s remarkably upscale for a Nissan product that doesn’t wear an Infiniti badge. Soft-touch materials line the richly appointed cabin, which is one of the most user-friendly, logically laid-out living spaces in the mid-range mid-size sedan segment.
While I admire the straightforward approach Nissan has taken with the Maxima’s instrument panel and switchgear, it’s the vehicle’s drivetrain technology that really sets this sport sedan apart from the competition.
Sophisticated CVT maximizes performance and economy
It’s unique to find a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in an upscale performance vehicle, especially one that’s described by its manufacturer as a four-door sports car, but that’s exactly the case with the Maxima.
Most CVTs I’ve encountered have been in economy cars and hybrid vehicles. They serve the needs of plebian rides quite effectively but aren’t generally considered desirable for cars intended to deliver a high degree of performance. The Maxima blows apart that notion.
The unit connecting the Maxima’s powerful V6 engine to its front wheels is one of the best functioning CVTs I’ve sampled, and I’ve grown to like it immensely largely due to its efficiency and its ability to accurately mimic a conventional six-speed automatic transmission when operated in its electronic manual-mode.
The unique box does a commendable job of blending the best characteristics of a CVT with a normally functioning autobox. One note though: this CVT likes to keep the engine revs exceptionally low when power isn’t in demand. While this effect improves fuel economy, it tends to elicit low-resonance harmonics from the award-winning mill. I wouldn’t characterize the notes as unappealing though; the soundtrack is emblematic of economical operation and rather endearing, however, nowhere near as endearing as the response when the right foot drops.
Power and refinement
The Maxima is powered by a 3.5L DOHC V6 engine that develops 290 hp @ 6,400 rpm and 261 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. Those are decent figures by any measure but when paired with a CVT engineered to keep the engine in its power-band sweet spot when pushed, the outcome is impressive indeed.
Power is readily available at any speed, enabling the four-door Maxima to pull smoothly and smartly forth with uninterrupted acceleration. Due to its front-wheel-drive configuration, some torque-steer can occasionally seep its way in. Still, I’d be far more enamored with this car’s ability if it were configured with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.
Behind the wheel
The Maxima’s seats are delightful: comfortable, supple and supportive. I have to rave momentarily about how pleasing it is to find an extendable seat cushions built into the front seats. This is a feature that anyone with long thighs would surrender their first born to acquire. Well done, Nissan!
Once underway, the Maxima’s flat, secure cornering becomes evident. Even when pushed hard through a tight turn, the sedan remains remarkably stable, giving credibility to Nissan’s claim that it’s a four-door sports car.
My tester was equipped with the Sport Package, which enhanced the Maxima’s adroitness but also contributed to its fairly firm ride dynamics. Not harsh by any means but don’t expect Camry-like ride absorbency. And don’t expect the Camry’s tomb-like quiet operation either.
From the driver’s seat, I love looking out at the Maxima’s contoured hood, which imparts an old-time sense of realism to the drive. And really, this four-door sports car is all about the drive. Engaging the CVT’s Sport Mode revises the calibration of the autobox to favour spirited motoring by maintaining higher rpm levels to keep the car primed for action.
I enjoyed my time behind the Maxima’s wheel, and truly respect what Nissan has accomplished with this vehicle. It offers a sportier, more dynamic driving experience than Honda’s Accord, Toyota’s Camry or Chrysler’s new 200.
If a mid-size sedan is on your shopping list and you’re not an automotive milquetoast, the Maxima may be your ride. With a sticker of $37,880, it arrives with plenty of content that includes a lot of spirit and performance for the driving enthusiast in need of four doors.