After some city commuting and a weekend road trip in Nissan's 2009 Maxima SV, we're sad to report that the sedan has lost direction and purpose. For one, it starts at over $10,000 more than the Nissan Altima with which it shares a front-wheel drive platform and V-6 engine. As such, it has an identical wheelbase and nearly identical interior room. (the Altima is actually bigger inside in some key dimensions). Second, the Maxima aims to do battle with sport-luxury sedans that feature balanced rear-wheel drive platforms not shared with more utilitarian economy models. Third, the Maxima's interior feels perplexingly cheaper and gloomier than the Altima's. And last, the Maxima's automatic is a maddening CVT that means a droning engine note under acceleration and a strange, non-sporting feel not in keeping with the Maxima's claimed mission.
As-tested, our Maxima rang in at $35,130. No vehicle at this price point should have an interior so bleak, dressed completely in various shades of dark gray and black. A few faux carbon-fiber pieces mark a feeble attempt at sport, but even they are little more than black-dotted, silver-colored pieces. The glaring all-red gauges fail in their attempt to crib BMW's subtle, soothing interior glow. It all reminds of a late 90s Pontiac Grand Prix, making one feel as if he's just left the Avis counter. Nissan's own Infiniti luxury brand features the G Sedan with a stunning interior and high-quality materials like genuine machined aluminum; that vehicle starts at $33,250. Even the $19,900 Altima's interior is more inviting and better styled.
Despite massive 19" aluminum wheels with 245/40WR19 summer tires, part of the $2,300 sport package, the Maxima is a front-wheel drive sedan that carries the majority of its bulk over the front axle. In concert with novocaine-numb power steering, the setup isn't sporty or communicative in the slightest. Yes, absolute cornering limits on dry tarmac are impressive, but getting there is more frightening than fun. Understeer is hardly a handling trait that whets enthusiasts' appetites. The wide summer tires began to hydroplane at highway speeds in a moderate rain. Stiff, thin sidewalls plus aggressive suspension tuning yield a flinty and uncomfortable ride.
The Maxima's look-at-me exterior is, well, menacing, but the steeply raked windshield gives the cockpit that strange, far-away utility van feel of a Honda Element or, worse, the old GM "dustbuster" Pontiac TransSport/Chevrolet Lumina APV/Oldsmobile Silhouette triplets. Sport sedans are supposed to bring the driver closer to the road, not make him feel like he's in remote control.
The one bright spot: passing power and highway operation. The CVT (continuously variable transmission) comes into its own on the open road, where the intuitive transmission always finds the perfect rpm and never has to hunt between gears. Floor the throttle and the engine shoots to redline, unleashing all of 290 hp and rocketing you from 60 to 90 mph in an instant. But the CVT is annoying in town, with non-linear responses and drawn-out visits to just one engine speed that make the capable VQ V-6 sound either labored or thrashy.
Sad to see the Nissan Maxima, a real gem in the 1995-1999 4th-generation years, lose its way. The 4th generation was nimble and quick, squirting to 60 mph in about 6.6 seconds, offering a 5-speed manual (rare for the segment), yielding better fuel economy than the '09, and striking a great balance between comfortable sedan and lithe performer.
source - Motor TrendEnlarge Photo