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2011 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV Review

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2011 Nissan Maxima

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyers Guide


2011 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV

Nissan is an automaker that has been through more than a few changes before finding its way back to its roots, and none of its many offerings show this quite as well as the Maxima, its' flagship sedan.

First, the roots: although it had been selling cars in the US since the mid-1960s, Nissan (known here as Datsun until the early 80s) got noticed in a big way in the late `60s thanks to two cars - the 510 sedan and the 240Z sports coupe.

The 510 offered performance and handling previously associated only with more-expensive European sports sedans. The Z did the same for sports cars.

The line now known as Maxima started as the 810, with the Maxima name in use from 1982. With fully-independent suspension and the same engine as the 240Z, it had a more sport-oriented character than any contemporary mass-market mid-sized sedan. Even a 1985 change to a front-wheel drive chassis, with the V6 from the then-current 300ZX, didn't dull its sport character. That peaked between 1989 and 1995, when Nissan referred to the Maxima as the "4-Door Sports Car", or 4DSC for short. It was a fine affordable sports sedan, a rarity at the time, especially from non-European manufac

After that, and seemingly reflecting Nissan's own changes in direction, things 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.

Life is cyclical, and performance is back at Nissan, if leavened with comfort. Nothing wrong with that, why be uncomfortable? 2003's 350Z gave notice, and if anyone missed that, the GTR emphasized Nissan's potential. On a lower budget, the sleek Altima Coupe is a fine successor to the old 240SX of the '80s.

Still, sedans are the heart of a mass-market company like Nissan. And the Maxima as 4DSC came back in model year 2009. Changes have been few since, limited to color choices and option package contents. No worries as Nissan got it right the first time. The degree of performance and refinement suggested by the current 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"™ 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.

I've just spent a week with a Premium Package-equipped 2011 Nissan Maxima. As equipped, it's a fine entry-luxury sedan, with sprightly performance and driving characteristics in tune with its sporty style. Compared to the original "four door sports car", which I remember well, it's quicker, faster, more comfortable, roomier, and a perfect continuation of the legend.

APPEARANCE: Nissan calls the Maxima's styling theme "Liquid Motion" and it flows. Very 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 1980s sports and racing cars. 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 optional spoiler pleasantly offsets it.

COMFORT: If, inside, the Maxima is not high-euro Italian Designer Label, it's stylish, pleasantly comfortable, and roomy. Nissan calls it the "Super Cockpit" and it has all you really need, with the Nissan "Intelligent Key"™ 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 Premium Package includes power sunshades, a dual-panel moonroof, wood-tone trim, and comfort and convenience items including a climate-controlled driver's seat and heated (power-adjustable) steering wheel.

Net result? With the Premium Package, 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 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. The standard suspension calibration, as on my test car, is softer than the sport tuning on the Maxima I drove a couple of years ago. If you want to play harder, go for the Sport Package, as it decreases body roll with no real loss of comfort. For everyday use, and even a little backroad fun, the regular suspension tuning is fine. In both, it's a fully-independent strut/multilink design. 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 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 illusion -- 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 more horsepower and 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 22 mpg I averaged for the week compares well with other cars with similar power and intent, and a 30mpg highway reading was seen -- at realistic highway speeds.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2011 Nissan Maxima is true to its four-door sports car roots. With added luxury.

2011 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV

Base Price			$ 33,530
Price As Tested			$ 38,060
Engine Type			dohc 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 214 cu. in.
Horsepower			290 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			261 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			electronically-controlled multimode CVT
Wheelbase / Length		109.3 in. / 190.6 in.
Curb Weight			3565 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.3
Fuel Capacity			20.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P245/45R18 96V Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc all around,
				 ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 26 / 22
0 to 60 mph				5.8  sec

Floor and trunk mats				$   180
Rear spoiler					$   370
Premium Package - includes:
  dual panel moonroof with power sunshades,
  rear window power sunshade, HID xenon
  headlights, premium leather-appointed seats,
  climate-controlled driver's seat, heated front
  seats, power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel,
  paddle shifters, automatic entry/exit system,
  driver-side memory (seat, outside mirror,
  steering wheel), auto-dimming driver's outside
  mirror, heated outside mirrors with reverse
  tilt-down, rear bucket seats with 3-passenger
  seating, fold-down rear armrest with trunk
  passthrough, eucalyptus wood-tone trim,
  7" color monitor and rearview camera,
  AUX audio-video jacks, 2.0 GB Music Box®
  (replaces CD6), USB connectivity, iPod net
  in center console				$ 3,230
Destination charges				$    750