2008 Nissan Maxima Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

The 2008 Nissan Maxima is a bit more aesthetically appealing than a top-of-the-line Altima or Accord, but it doesn’t perform any better.

As the experts at the TheCarConnection.com put together this review covering the 2008 Nissan Maxima, they incorporated opinions from a number of reviews and their differing viewpoints. And to make this especially useful, TheCarConnection’s editors included their own experience driving the Maxima.

The flagship sedan of the line, the 2008 Nissan Maxima, carries over with few changes after a major update for the 2007 model year. In that update, the Maxima received a new front end and grille, new headlights, a restyled rear end, and a freshened interior layout with a new design center stack.

The 2008 Nissan Maxima is powered by the 255-horsepower, 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine, which ranks as one of the smoothest and most responsive engines its size. All Maxima models now have a "gearless" CVT automatic, with a manual gearbox no longer offered. The CVT works very well with the V-6, with plenty of power on command, and it has a manual mode with simulated gears, but the omission makes the Maxima feel like less of a sport sedan. Otherwise, the Maxima handles crisply and is quite entertaining to drive on a curvy road, while the ride is firm yet supple.

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Inside is where the 2008 Nissan Maxima proves that it's a premium sedan, versus just a gussied-up Altima. The front seats are quite aggressively contoured to help hold you in place in corners, and the instrument panel and dash follow an aggressive styling theme. Trim and materials are a step up from the norm, and the interior is as hushed and refined as many luxury-brand sedans. There's a so-called Elite Package that commands dual heated sport bucket seats in back instead of the standard bench--along with a rear sunshade, upgraded sound system, heated steering wheel, xenon headlamps, and other goodies.

Nissan's panoramic SkyView glass sunroof is a standout feature of the 2008 Nissan Maxima. Though it doesn't open like a sunroof, it replaces a huge section of roof with open-to-the-sky glass, like a skylight.

There are two basic trim lines on the 2008 Nissan Maxima: the SE and the more luxury-oriented SL. The two models have different suspension calibrations, with the SL being more comfort-oriented. DVD-based navigation is available, as is Bluetooth wireless communication capability and an upgraded stereo with MP3 player.

For 2008, Nissan will offer a Platinum Edition Package on both trim levels. It features a memory function for the outside mirrors, the steering wheel, and the driver seat; lumbar support for the driver seat; xenon headlamps; auto-dimming rearview mirror; rear parking assist; a heated steering wheel; and Bluetooth connectivity. Both XM and Sirius Satellite Radio are also on the options list.

The 2008 Nissan Maxima has an unimpressive set of safety features and below-average crash-test results for its class of vehicles, which tend to do quite well. In the federal government's tests, the Maxima got four- and five-star results, but it got four stars in side impact, and in the more demanding IIHS tests, it only received "marginal" ratings for side-impact and rear tests. Front side airbags, side-curtain bags, active front headrests, and anti-lock brakes are standard on the 2008 Nissan Maxima, but stability control remains optional for '08.

8

2008 Nissan Maxima

Styling

The 2008 Nissan Maxima might appear similar to the Altima from the outside, but the interior gets a unique and appealing treatment.

The flagship sedan of the line, the 2008 Nissan Maxima, carries over with few changes after a major update for the 2007 model year. In that update, the Maxima received a new front end and grille, new headlights, a restyled rear end, and a freshened interior layout with a new design center stack.

One of the terms used most frequently when talking about the 2008 Nissan Maxima in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is "identity crisis." A major reason for that identity crisis is that the Nissan Maxima is very similar to its baby brother, the 2008 Nissan Altima sedan, at least in terms of exterior styling. However, one area where the 2008 Nissan Maxima distinguishes itself is its interior.

On all 2008 Nissan Maximas, Kelley Blue Book says that the styling is "a far cry from the boxy designs of its predecessors," thanks to "crisply-tailored lines punctuated by an expressive C-pillar and short decklid." Cars.com adds that this 2008 Nissan features many details that "mimic those on Nissan's other cars," most notably the similarly styled stablemate Nissan Altima. Car and Driver, for example, describes the Maxima as having an "overwrought-Altima exterior." Cars.com remarks the 2007 restyling gave “the car a boxier face, though the rear remains as bulbous as ever.” Most reviewers note the similarities to the Altima: “While the Maxima's arched roofline, notched C-pillar, chiseled fenders and truncated deck are reminiscent of the Altima's, if considerably more aggressive, its grille is distinctively different,” Automedia reports. However, they note, “You can see echoes of Z styling elements in the Maxima's triangular taillights, its creased hoodline, bold headlights, spoked alloy wheels, [and] 3-port gauge cluster.” Still, AutoWeek feels the Maxima is "really just an Altima XL."

Edmunds states that the "2008 Nissan Maxima midsize sedan is offered in two trims, the sport-oriented 3.5 SE trim and the luxury-oriented 3.5 SL trim," but the external differences are minor. They say that the Nissan Maxima SE comes with "18-inch alloy wheels, side skirts, [and] a rear spoiler," while the SL loses "the 18-inch wheels, sport side skirts and rear spoiler" in favor of "17-inch wheels" and more subdued styling.

Inside the short-lived exterior of the 2008 Nissan Maxima is an interior that features attractive, practical styling. ConsumerGuide says that the 2008 Nissan Maxima "has easily read white-on-black gauges" and the "audio and climate controls are large and within easy reach, but the unorthodox layout takes some acclimation." Other reviews report favorably on the interior as well, with Edmunds raving about the "sleek and modern" dashboard design and "very user-friendly controls." One slight mark against the interior styling comes from Kelley Blue Book, which comments that it features "yellow LCD display readouts that, unfortunately, can fade to illegibility in bright sunlight." However, Cars.com reports “the Maxima's cabin has an upscale, executive appeal,” and that “materials in my test car were top notch, with well-cushioned seats and high-quality leather.”

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7

2008 Nissan Maxima

Performance

It may move quickly in a straight line, but carving up twisty roads is no longer the forte of the 2008 Nissan Maxima.

The Nissan Maxima has long been marketed as a performance sedan, and while that moniker might still apply today, the 2008 Nissan Maxima is not the standout that its predecessors were.

The 2008 Nissan Maxima offers just one available engine, which Edmunds says is "a carry-over from the previous year's model," though that's not such a bad thing considering that the engine is "Nissan's award-winning VQ-series V6" that produces "a maximum of 255 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com praise the engine, with Car and Driver describing it as "powerful and sonorous," and most other reviewers agree. Reviewers at AutoWeek also write that they "can't find fault with the engine," claiming that it's "still one of the most refined mills on the road." ConsumerGuide offers some driving impressions of the engine on this 2008 Nissan, finding "acceleration is strong on takeoff and from midrange speeds."

Teamed up with the praise-winning powerplant on the 2008 Nissan Maxima is one available transmission, Nissan's "Xtronic” CVT (continuously variable transmission), according to Edmunds. Much like the engine, the CVT receives generous reviews, with ConsumerGuide claiming that the Nissan "Maxima's CVT seamlessly moves engine rpm to the right range and keeps it there to supply ample power at any speed." AutoWeek testers are similarly impressed, and they say that the transmission "feels hard-wired to the engine's sweet spots." For 2008, Nissan has done away with a manual transmission option, but for those who like to shift for themselves, Edmunds says "the CVT offers pseudo ratios for use when additional control is desired."

One of the benefits of a CVT is that, aside from maintaining optimum rpm levels, it "helps the Maxima achieve slightly better highway gas mileage," according to Cars.com. As far as expected fuel economy is concerned, Edmunds proclaims that "2008 EPA estimates rate the Maxima at 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway," respectable numbers for a sedan of the Maxima's caliber.

Despite the praise heaped upon the engine and transmission in the Nissan Maxima, handling performance simply doesn't match the underhood capabilities. Edmunds reviewers report "the suspension is tuned more for comfort than spirited road exercises, and steering feel is merely good under normal driving conditions." AutoWeek testers add that "there's little in the way of sport left" as far as handling goes on the 2008 Nissan Maxima. Furthermore, the turning radius is so large that "it can make wheeling the car in tight parking spaces a multiple shift-and-turn operation." Criticisms continue from Cars.com, which observes that "in faster corners, the chassis tends toward mild understeer and moderate body roll, and pavement grooves can quickly send the wheels skittering sideways -- evidence that no matter what it used to be, today's Maxima is no sport sedan." One area that benefits from the decreased performance is ride quality, where ConsumerGuide finds that "the suspension copes well with most bumps and ruts." Braking is "strong and stable" on the 2008 Nissan Maxima, proclaims ConsumerGuide.

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2008 Nissan Maxima

Comfort & Quality

Even though you'll sit in comfort inside the 2008 Nissan Maxima, the experience is marred by low-quality materials.

The 2008 Nissan Maxima is differentiated from the similar 2008 Nissan Altima largely by the higher-quality interior, though some reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that Nissan still has some work to do.

The 2008 Nissan Maxima seats five in what Car and Driver calls a "very roomy cabin," though that largely depends on whether you're in the front or backseats. Kelley Blue Book considers the occupant space "generous up front, even with the optional power moonroof," although Cars.com says "tall drivers may find the Maxima cramped." In order to aid driver comfort, "the steering wheel tilts and telescopes" on the 2008 Nissan Maxima, notes Cars.com, "so drivers of all sizes can position themselves a safe distance away." In the rear, "two adults is the practical limit," advises ConsumerGuide, commenting that "legroom and headroom are good, but not grand," and "entry and exit are hampered by the sloping roofline and narrow floor-level passages."

The interior of the Nissan Maxima scores well for overall usability and cargo storage space. ConsumerGuide finds "ample cabin storage," and in the trunk, "the compact strut-type trunklid hinges don't steal space or endanger luggage." Kelley Blue Book adds that the rear of the Nissan Maxima features "a 60/40 split-folding rear bench that enables increasing the usable cargo capacity." With those seats up, Edmunds writes that you still have "a 15.5-cubic-foot trunk" in which to store cargo.

While reviewers praise the interior of the 2008 Nissan Maxima for comfort and space, many find that materials quality is a letdown. Edmunds in particular slams this 2008 Nissan for its "mediocre materials quality," epitomized by "too many low-grade plastics and fit and finish miscues." ConsumerGuide reviewers are less harsh, declaring that the interior "strikes an acceptable balance of hard plastics and padded surfaces." AutoWeek aptly summarizes reviewer impressions with the interior, saying that "thirty-five grand is Audi territory, and this Maxima isn't in that league."

Despite some build quality complaints, ambient noise in the Nissan Maxima is comfortably controlled. ConsumerGuide says that although the "V6 emits a constant snarl at full throttle," other sounds such as wind noise are "well-tamed, but tire thrum intrudes on some coarse pavement."

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2008 Nissan Maxima

Safety

Below-average crash-test ratings and impeded driver visibility are real safety concerns on the 2008 Nissan Maxima.

Large cars, such as the 2008 Nissan Maxima sedan, usually look safe thanks to their dimensions and construction. Unfortunately, crash-test results don't always support this impression, and the 2008 Nissan Maxima is a prime example. On the positive side, for 2008, Nissan's flagship sedan redeems itself somewhat in terms of safety features.

In both National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) independent crash testing, the 2008 Nissan Maxima exhibits some structural integrity issues that hurt overall crash-test performance. After throwing the Nissan Maxima into barriers from several different angles, the NHTSA awarded this 2008 Nissan a perfect five stars for front driver-side impacts, but in every other category, it earned a less-appealing four stars. This includes four-star ratings in front passenger-side impacts and all manner of side impacts. The IIHS, with its tougher standards and higher-velocity tests, finds even more flaws in terms of passenger protection on the Nissan Maxima. While the IIHS awards the 2008 Nissan Maxima its highest rating, "good," for frontal offset impacts, the Institute also tags the Maxima with its second-lowest rating of "marginal" for side impact protection. Cars.com explains that "despite the side airbags, IIHS said the Maxima did not offer adequate protection for the driver's midsection."

While the crash-test results are unimpressive on the Nissan Maxima, it does offer an acceptable range of safety features to help avoid that crash in the first place. Edmunds reviewers state that standard safety features include "antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction control, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side-impact head curtain airbags." For those who prefer an extra measure of safety, Kelley Blue Book says that Nissan offers an optional "rear sonar backup warning" and "Vehicle Dynamics Control" stability system on the 2008 Nissan Maxima.

A key piece of the overall safety puzzle is driver visibility, and here the 2008 Nissan Maxima encounters another problem. Although ConsumerGuide testers find that "the roof shape and rear-end styling" are only "slight impediments to visibility aft and over the shoulder," other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that driver visibility is worse than they claim. In particular, Cars.com says that "the low rear window significantly cuts the view in back, and the side mirrors do little to remedy things," as their "tapered borders suggest they were designed for aerodynamics, not visibility."

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9

2008 Nissan Maxima

Features

The 2008 Nissan Maxima easily meets price-range expectations when it comes to features, but the nature of the packages can be frustrating and confusing.

The 2008 Nissan Maxima is the flagship, upscale vehicle in the 2008 Nissan lineup, and its features list reflects its position. The 2008 Nissan Maxima comes well-equipped as standard, and the move to either the higher trim level or to add optional equipment brings this car toward the top of the class in terms of features.

Standard equipment on the Nissan Maxima is at least what you would expect on a car in this price range, if not significantly above. Kelley Blue Book lists some of the standard features on both trim levels as including "numerous power assists as well as keyless entry and start, steering-wheel mounted audio and cruise control switchgear, dual 12-volt powerpoints and Homelink." Edmunds reviewers add that all 2008 Nissan Maximas feature "a fixed SkyView glass-paneled roof, a power driver seat, tilt-telescoping wheel steering wheel, [and] dual-zone automatic climate control," along with "an eight-speaker stereo with CD player and an auxiliary jack." Moving up to the SL trim of the Nissan Maxima brings even more standard features, which ConsumerGuide says include "leather upholstery, heated front seats, 4-way power passenger seat, heated power mirrors, [and] Bose AM/FM radio w/in-dash 6-disc CD changer."

The 2008 Nissan Maxima also offers an extensive list of options, though for the most part, they are available in packages instead of as stand-alone features. New for 2008, Nissan offers a "Platinum Edition Package" that Motor Trend says "brings eponymous exterior paint and other trim bits while the leather-and-more Sensory Package adds XM to its Bose-based Premium Package audio gear." ConsumerGuide notes that the none-too-cleverly-named Option Package 2 contributes a "rear-obstacle detection system" to the Nissan Maxima, while a "navigation system" can be tacked on as well, provided you have either the Platinum Edition Package or Option Package 2. For those who want their SkyView roof to move out of the way on warm days, ConsumerGuide points out that a "power sunroof" is available as a $900 option.

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7.8
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Styling 8
Performance 7
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Features 9
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