2009 Nissan MaximaEnlarge Photo
The new Maxima will start at an MSRP of just $29,290 for the Maxima 3.5 S, and $31,990 for the step-up SV model.
That continues the pricing overlap that’s existed with the current-generation Altima and Maxima, such that the Altima, at the top of its range, is actually the same price if not a bit pricier than the Maxima. The top-of-the-line 2008 Altima V6 SL starts at $28,670, but it bottom-lines at $32,230 by simply adding electronic stability control—an increasingly common safety feature—and the requisite nav-system package.
In that relative sense, the 2009 Maxima stands as a value, especially considering that, according to Nissan, it returns to its heritage as “The 4-Door Sports Car,” or 4DSC, as they like to say.
The new Maxima shares the same Nissan “D” platform that underpins the new Altima, Altima Coupe, and Murano, and is actually about two inches shorter with a slightly wider track. The so-called Liquid Motion design brings a new look, even if the proportions are about the same, and in the flesh the sculpted rear fenders especially stand out.
TheCarConnection.com recently had the chance to spend a full day in the new Maxima, on some of Southern California’s best, more serpentine mountain roads between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and left the driver’s seat very impressed.
Of course we were wary; as we’ve mentioned before, the outgoing Maxima suffers from pronounced torque steer—a tendency for the steering wheel to pull to the side under hard acceleration, or for the steering to unwind in a less-than-smooth way coming out of a sharp corner and hard onto the gas. The Maxima is still a front-wheel-driver, but engineers have worked some magic underneath—in the way of revised suspension geometry and reconfigured steering—that no longer makes it an issue.
On our drive route, we especially appreciated the 3.5 SV with the Sport Package; yes, there was a little more impact harshness over bumps, but handling felt considerably more secure. And while steering effort has been reduced, the steering feels more intuitive near the limit and even communicates the road surface a bit—thanks to a new twin-orifice unit that’s vehicle-speed-sensitive and has the quickest ratio of any Nissan. For those with mostly straight roads and frost heaves, we recommend the standard suspension.
What we weren’t so enthused about—as before—is the continuously variable, automatic transmission (CVT). Nissan says that the manual transmission isn’t coming back, as only 2 percent of buyers were opting for it when it was most recently offered. The Jatco CVT, which in Drive functions shifts "steplessly" to choose the most economical ratio for the type of driving, works well during leisurely driving, raising revs a bit when accelerating and dropping them way down when cruising. But it doesn’t work so well for twisty, hilly roads where quick power or engine braking are required for the best control. That’s where a new sport mode comes in; slide the shifter to the left and it simulates the ratios of a manually controlled automatic transmission. The function works well but can be annoying as it’s not always predictable how it’s going to respond; sometimes it produced quite a bit of engine braking on downshifts, for example, and other times almost none in situations seemingly almost identical. Paddle shifters are available, and they even did it right—they stay stationary while the steering wheel rotates.