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2013 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV Review By Steve Purdy

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Nissan Maxima

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Nissan Maxima

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Since its earliest days the Nissan Maxima, a conventionally structured, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan has claimed a sporty character going so far as to call it a 4-door sports car. At times it has modestly justified those claims with better-than-average handling and performance as well as design and style innovations. The current generation dates from the 2009 model and is a bit more conventional than its predecessors but still maintains some of that sportiness.

Our Maxima 3.5 SV test car shows a base price of $35,080. That includes the V6 engine 18-inch alloy wheels, CVT (continuously variable transmission), power seats (8-way on the driver’s side and 4-way for the passenger), leather seats and trim, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power sliding moon roof, and all the other stuff we expect in a mainstream car like plenty of airbags, connectivity options, chassis dynamics. We also have a few options on this car like the $1,800 SV Technology Package (hard-drive based navigation with Sirius XM audio, Bluetooth, traffic and weather monitoring), Bose premium audio system, a 7-inch color screen with rear-view camera and HID headlights. The options, along with a $780 destination charge bring the bottom line on the sticker to just over 40 grand.

Maxima is one of the few cars to earn the highest rating (five stars) in the NHTSA’s rollover crash rating. It’s also one of the few to earn only two stars for passenger crash protection. Overall it gets a four-star rating. A full compliment of airbags and dynamic controls round out a competitive array of safety features.

Built in Smyrna, Tennessee, the -5-passenger, front-wheel drive Maxima is a mid-size sedan by DOT and EPA criteria. We normally think of Altima as Nissan’s mid-sizer. This feels more like a full-size sedan one step larger and more expensive than that mainstream Altima although it actually beats Maxima in cargo and interior space. Cargo capacity is 14.2 cubic feet. Not especially capacious for this size of car but adequate. Interior volume is 110.0 cubic-feet. That’s a bit bigger than a Malibu and smaller than the new Accord. Having lived with it for a week I thought it felt larger than that number would imply.

Style and design break no new ground either inside or out. While attractive and imminently functional it will turn few heads while some of its competitors – particularly the new Chevy Impala, Hyundai Azera, and Toyota Avalon are real eye-catchers. Those are also a tad bigger. There was a time when we could count on Nissan for some outside-the-box design, particularly interior designs. Maybe we’ll see that with the next generation.

This version of Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 engine is a charmer. With 290 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque we have enough power for as thrilling a launch as we need but the CVT tends to suck some of the thrill out of it, at least for me. We must give it considerable throttle to get that roaring launch, but without actual gear changes it feels sort of wheezy. You can get paddle shifters if you like that will simulate gear changes, but it’s not quite like the real thing. Nissan has been a pioneer in CVT development and that trans makes for good fuel economy as well as being a bit cheaper to manufacture.

The EPA rates this V6 Maxima at 19-mpg in the city, 26 on the highway and 22-mpg combined. Nissan recommends, but does not require, premium fuel. We managed 23.5 mpg this week in our mixed use without making any effort to maximize efficiency. Freeway speeds in this part of the country run at just about 80mph and the weather is mighty cold right now. On a nice, warm day in summer on a freeway drive at the speed limit, we would expect to get at least the indicated 26 mpg. With a 20-gallon fuel tank we can expect a cruising range around 450 miles or better.

Suspension is of conventional design with McPherson struts in front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear. Though I did not push it particularly hard this week it felt a bit soft compared to other mid-size and full-size sedans we’ve driven lately under normal conservative driving. If we flog it, however, its charm comes forth. Steering is crisp, cornering tight and overall ergonomics satisfying. While certainly not a sport sedan we can easily call it sporty.

Nissan offers a warranty near the bottom end of its competition with 3 year or 36,000 mile coverage on the whole car and 5 years or 60,000 miles on the drivetrain.

One of our cronies bought a new Maxima when this generation was introduced because it was one of the only sedans of its size that would accommodate his 6’7” frame and could be had with a manual transmission. Well, they no longer offer a manual, so there goes one measure of sportiness, but they’ve maintained most of the rest.

In that $35 to 40,000 price range, though, you’ll find some surprisingly powerful, agile, stylish and upscale full-size sedans. The Maxima has tough competition.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved