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Nissan calls the Maxima "The 4-Door Sports Car." To some, that notion implies a lot of packaging sacrifices in the name of performance, and probably rear-wheel drive. But it's very solidly a luxury car in all but marque, with a sporting edge that doesn't infringe on passenger comfort.
The Nissan Maxima was given a redesign a couple of years ago, but it's still one of the freshest-looking sedans in this class. It's still head-turning, with curvy sheetmetal, an aggressive front-end design, and an overall stance that makes it look like it could have rear-wheel drive. The Super Cockpit instrument panel design in the 2011 Nissan Maxima especially stands out, and it resembles that offered in several vehicles from Infiniti, Nissan's upmarket brand.
The 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that propels the 2011 Nissan Maxima is extremely smooth, and it allows relaxed acceleration in normal driving with the automatic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The CVT also includes a manual sport mode and available steering-wheel paddle shifters to access a series of simulated gear ratios for high-performance driving. However, no manual transmission is offered on the Nissan Maxima, and the CVT doesn't allow the level of control in high-performance driving that conventional transmissions do. The Maxima still has one of the sportiest suspension calibrations for a front-wheel-drive sedan, and Nissan retains last year's improved suspension geometry that reduces torque steer—the tendency for high-powered front-drivers to pull to the side on hard acceleration. Overall, the Maxima has a firm yet supple ride, allowing good handling response without sacrificing comfort. Stabilizer bars are included front and back, and a new Twin Orifice Steering System helps provide good feedback from the road in spirited driving, while remaining rather light around tight corners.
Front occupants get great seats—especially with the Sport Package—but backseat occupants will likely find headroom tight. The sculpted interior of the Nissan Maxima is designed to seat five, but the interior dimensions mean that in practice, it seats only four average-sized adults. Otherwise, interior refinement, materials, and build quality are quite good.
The Maxima stays true to its name and offers a tremendous list of standard features and available tech features. All considered, however, if you want the top technology features, they come at a luxury-brand price—and only on the more expensive SV. Both models have a standard-equipment list that also would be fitting for a luxury car, including a power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, keyless entry, an Intelligent Key entry and starting system, a six-disc changer, and steering-wheel audio controls. The list of options in the Maxima doesn't disappoint either, as it includes such comforts as a heated steering wheel and cooled front seats. Other technology options include a Bose premium audio system, a navigation system with 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, XM NavTraffic, XM Satellite Radio, and iPod interfaces.
- Responsive handling and great steering
- Stylish interior
- Quiet, absorbent ride
- Excellent (optional) sport seats
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- V-6 doesn't feel sporty with CVT automatic
- Overly light steering feel
- Lacks headroom in back