2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Nissan made sports cars. The best-known was the Z-car, then known as the 300ZX in both naturally-aspirated and ferocious turbo form. At a lower level of performance was the 240SX, four cylinders, 2.4 liters, and still sportier by far than the average poser coupe of the day. And to back up street credibility, Nissan had serious racing programs in both SCCA and IMSA, with both modified street cars and specially-constructed prototypes.
The performance image, and substance, extended to sedans. Even to its flagship Maxima. Although a front-wheel drive car, the 1985 Maxima shared the Z's V6 engine, and had a much sportier mien than the average family sedan. By 1989 it became known as the "4-Door Sports Car", aka 4DSC. And that was not merely advertising hype.
Then times changed. The Maxima got softer, more luxury-oriented. Nissan itself went through a tough period, rescued in a deal with, of all entities, France's Renault. Any vestige of 4DSC was deeply buried. Very deeply buried.
But life is cyclical, and performance is back at Nissan, if leavened with comfort and, yes, even alternative technologies in the works. The 350Z of 2003 gave notice, and if anyone missed that, the GTR introduced last model year showcased Nissan's considerable potential. On a lower budget, the sleek Altima Coupe is a fine successor to the old 240SX.
Still, sedans are the heart of a mass-market company like Nissan. And the Maxima as 4DSC is back. The degree of performance and refinement suggested by the 2009 Maxima's strikingly-styled bodywork is delivered by its 3.5-liter, 290-horsepower V6 engine, and routed to the front wheels through Nissan's "Xtronic"(tm) electronically-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Steering, suspension, and braking are as good as the drivetrain, which is to say very good. Two trim levels are offered, the well-equipped S and premium SV, which can be made as upscale as desired with a number of option packages not offered in the S.
My week with a well-optioned Maxima SV with the Sport and Sport Technology packages followed a couple of weeks with more-expensive all-wheel drive sport-luxury sedans. It compared to them quite well, lacking only in the genuine wood interior appointment category. On the road, in everyday driving, the difference between front and all-wheel drive is minimal. And the new Maxima has a very well dialed-in FWD chassis. If it's a little widely-focused to be a true "sports sedan" in the most classic sense, it's the sportiest Maxima yet, and can hold its own against some of the best of the luxury-name cars. With a Versa left over in change...
APPEARANCE: Nissan calls the new Maxima's styling theme "Liquid Motion" and it does flow. Well. This is a car that looks like it should have an Italian designer label. (If it did, add a "1" in front of the price, or another "0" after.) It's simple in overall shape and distinctive in the details, with an area rule/"coke bottle" planform more than slightly reminiscent of the flared fenders of the IMSA glory days of the 1980s. Both the windshield and rear window are well-raked, and there is no excess fat, just healthy, toned muscle. The L-shaped headlights and taillights are distinctive. The slightly rounded tail section is the only part that has any continuity at all with the previous generation, and the Sport Package's spoiler pleasantly offsets it.
COMFORT: Inside, the Maxima is not high-euro Italian Designer Label. It is appropriate to the car's price, functional, good-looking and well-designed. Nissan calls it the "Super Cockpit" and it has all you really need, with one-touch up/down power windows, the Nissan "Intelligent Key"(tm) keyless fob and push-button start/stop and door entry/exit, "Daylight Illumination" electroluminescent instruments, power-adjustable front seats, cruise control, and plenty of useful storage spaces including a large locking glovebox even in the S model. Standard seating material is cloth, with a 60/40 split rear seat for cargo versatility. The SV adds the possibility of option packages, including Sport, Premium, and Tech. Both the Sport and Premium packages add power conveniences, leather, Bluetooth connectivity, and replace the 60/40 rear seat with a fixed bucket seats with a ski passthrough for increased chassis rigidity. The Sport package has a firmer, sport-tuned suspension calibration and metal-look trim; the Premium Package includes power sunshades, a dual-panel moonroof, wood-tone trim, and more comfort and convenience items. Tech Packages add a hard-drive based navigation system, with 9.3GB of space on the drive for music files, and iPod connectivity, XM satellite radio and Nav Traffic and a 7-inch touch-screen monitor with rear-view camera if the latter items are not part of a pre-existing package. Net result? Luxury car equipment and comfort at a lower cost. The seats are great, there's plenty of interior space (although if three in the rear is a need, forego the twin buckets as the center position then is strictly short-term, short-person), and the cabin electronics are easy to operate and give worthwhile information and entertainment.
SAFETY: The new Maxima's unibody structure features Nissan's "Zone Body Construction", with a strong central structure and front and rear crumple zones. The "Advanced Air Bag System" includes seat belt sensors, the occupant classification system, and dual-stage front, front seat-mounted side, and roof-mounted side impact airbags. A tire-pressure monitoring system and the Vehicle Dynamic Control stability control system and traction control are all standard in all models.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Compared to the previous generation, the newest Maxima has a more rigid structure, a shorter wheelbase, and a wider track. Unsprung weight is decreased by use of aluminum suspension components, and the engine is mounted lower, for a lower center of gravity. Even with the sport suspension, the Maxima feels pleasant when treated gently as in regular around-town driving. Comfort is not compromised, as the fully-independent strut/multilink suspension tuning is more "sport touring" than serious sport. Still, when pushed a little harder, as with a fast pace on a pleasantly twisting road, it hunkers down quite nicely and gets to work. Steering has a speed-sensitive assist similar to that found in the Z, and is light at low speeds for easy maneuverability and appropriately firmer at speed for control and stability. Interior noise levels are low, and the `09 Maxima is a very pleasant car to drive, whether on the highway or the scenic route. And despite the 290 horsepower directed through the front wheels, torque steer is a non-issue.
PERFORMANCE: No illusions -- the power suggested by the Maxima's looks is delivered, efficiently. The engine has the same 3.5-liter capacity as before, and the same basic VQ-series aluminum alloy, dual overhead cam 24-valve V6, with variable cam phasing and sophisticated electronic controls as before. But Nissan's engineers have found an additional 35 horsepower and 9 lb-ft of torque -- now 290 hp @ 6400 rpm and 261 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm -- by improving intake and exhaust gas flow, increasing compression, improving piston design, and adding variable cam phasing to the exhaust as well as the intake cams. That power is transmitted to the front wheels through Nissan's "Xtronic" computer-controlled multi-mode CVT. In D, it's optimized for fuel efficiency, and keeps the revs relatively low. No problem there, as there is enough torque everywhere. Ds mode is the sport mode, with higher revs for greater and more quickly-available power. Both work quite well, just balance fuel economy with fun. For complete control, manual mode shifts quickly and assertively, interesting since in a CVT there are no actual discrete gears. Manual does keep the engine revs where the driver wants them, for the best control. The 21 mpg I averaged for the week compares well with other cars with similar power and intent.
CONCLUSIONS: Maximum Maxima! The Four Door Sports Car is back.
2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV
Base Price $ 31,990 Price As Tested $ 37,360 Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 with variable cam phasing Engine Size 3.5 liters / 214 cu. in. Horsepower 290 @ 6400 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 261 @ 4400 rpm Transmission multimode CVT Wheelbase / Length 109.3 in. / 190.6 in. Curb Weight 3579 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 12.3 Fuel Capacity 20.0 gal. Fuel Requirement 91-octane premium unleaded gasoline Tires P245/40R19 94W Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 26 / 21 0 to 60 mph 5.8 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Floor and trunk mats (5-pieces) $ 180 Sport Package - includes: sport-tuned suspension, 19" alloy wheels with 245/40 VR19 all-season tires, rear spoiler, high-intensity discharge (HID) xenon headlamps, premium leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, premium leather steering wheel, power tilt and telescope steering column, heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, automatic entry/exit system with 2-person memory, rear bucket seats, rear-seat passthrough (replaces 60/40 split fold-down), rear seat fold-down center armrest, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth® hand-free phone system, metallic link trim (replaces piano dot trim) $ 2,300 Sport Technology Package - includes: Nissan hard drive navigation system with voice recognition and 7" touch-screen monitor, 9.3GB music box hard drive, 6CD changer replaced with single CD, XM Nav Traffic, rear-view monitor, iPod® interface, auxiliary audio/visual input jacks (replaces aux audio jack) $ 2,250 Destination Charge $ 660