2011 Nissan Maxima Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
December 31, 2010

The 2011 Nissan Maxima is no longer primarily a sport sedan; think of it as comfortable and refined first, with its sportiness a bonus, and you’ll be happy.

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.

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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.

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2011 Nissan Maxima

Styling

With a curvy, flamboyant exterior and gorgeous interior, the 2011 Nissan Maxima is anything but boring to look at.

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.

From the outside the 2011 Nissan Maxima appears curvy and flamboyant, with just-right proportions and a low-but-upright grille, flanked by headlights that streak back to two points, with fenders that flare upward slightly, in a look that a friend described as "ready to rumble." To top it off, the Maxima comes with flared wheelwells and low-profile tires mounted on eye-catching alloys.

Interior appointments—with premium leather, matte-metallic brightwork, and "Eucalyptus Wood-Tone" trim—are absolutely beautiful, and feel like they'd be at home in one of Nissan's Infiniti luxury-brand products.

For 2011, the Maxima gets a number of minor revisions, including a rolled-edge tailpipe finisher. Sport models now have smoked headlamps, a dark chrome grille, and shiny gray interior stitching.

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2011 Nissan Maxima

Performance

The 2011 Nissan Maxima packs a punch, and will delight those who merely want a sporty feel, but serious sport-sedan enthusiasts will likely be a little disappointed.

With a strong 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine and deft continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) plus a sport-tuned suspension, as well as steering and brakes that have been tuned for sportier driving, the 2011 Nissan Maxima has the makings of a solidly performing sporty sedan. By some accounts, it can get to 60 mph in less than six seconds.

However, Nissan pins itself into a corner a bit in calling the Maxima the "4-Door Sports Car." Unfortunately, it's something that this front-wheel drive sedan just can't deliver on, for several reasons. The main one is the CVT, which is a near-ideal companion for everything but very enthusiastic driving. It comes with a manual sport mode and available steering-wheel paddle shifters to access a series of simulated gear ratios for high-performance driving, but overall the CVT simply doesn't allow the level of control in high-performance driving that conventional transmissions do.

Overall, the Maxima has a firm yet supple ride, allowing good handling response without sacrificing comfort. Stabilizer bars are included front and back, and in spirited driving, a new Twin Orifice Steering System helps provide good feedback from the road, while remaining rather light around tight corners. But the other reason the Maxima simply isn't a sports car is that it has front-wheel drive, which, even when combines with the Maxima's generally excellent suspension—with buttoned-down body motions and somewhat communicative steering—tends simply not to be much fun when driven near its limit. Stomp down on the gas, especially out of a corner, and you'd better be holding on the steering wheel tightly.

All that said, most people who want strong, smooth performance are going to be very happy with what the Maxima has to offer. The way in which it responds, steers, and brakes is quicker and more direct than most other large V-6 sedans.

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2011 Nissan Maxima

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the 2011 Nissan Maxima doesn’t boast a lot of passenger or cargo space, but it’s snug, comfortable, and attractively appointed.

Even though the 2011 Nissan Maxima comes with some performance claims, it's a pretty spacious sedan, with a mature, refined ride and a very comfortable interior. Quite possibly due to its front-wheel-drive layout, the Maxima is both roomier and more refined inside than most other rear-wheel-drive sport sedans that maintain more of a performance edge. Front occupants get great seats—especially with the Sport Package.

The sculpted interior of the Maxima is designed to seat five, but perhaps as the price of fashion—and in providing two very nicely contoured seats—seats only two average-sized adults in the back seat. And with just 14.2 cubic feet, the trunk is quite a bit smaller than other larger sedans, instead on par with compacts.

Otherwise, interior refinement, materials, and build quality are quite good. The instrument panel has a good look, with excellent material choices up close, though we weren't sure about the odd clouded climate-control display and stiff-feeling controls, which didn't seem to match anything else in the vehicle.

The 2010 Nissan Maxima isn't the quietest vehicle on the road; there's a modest amount of road noise from those low-profile, V-rated performance tires, but they somehow don't spell disaster for ride quality, as they often do. The Maxima has an excellent ride that nearly everyone but the geriatric set will like; it's excellent—on the firm side but very well-damped. Our only complaint is that, from inside the cabin, Nissan's V-6 sounds more coarse and unsophisticated than sporty.

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2011 Nissan Maxima

Safety

In a class of top safety achievers, the 2011 Nissan Maxima is merely mid-pack.

The 2011 Nissan Maxima has an impressive enough set of safety features, but its performance in some crash tests hasn't been so stellar.

If you have a lit of safety items to check off, it's all here: Electronic stability control, front side airbags, side curtain bags, active front headrests, and anti-lock brakes are all standard.

Good visibility is another positive attribute; considering its curvaceous sheetmetal, the driver has a pretty good view outward.

In crash-testing, the Maxima has a mixed record; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given it top 'good' scores for frontal and side impact, but it still receives only a 'marginal' in the seat-based rear-impact category—indicating a much higher chance of whiplash than in other vehicles—and it rates only 'acceptable' in the agency's new roof strength test.

The 2011 Maxima hasn't yet been tested under the federal government's tougher new crash-test and safety ratings system, but under former NHTSA testing, the Maxima earned top five-star ratings in each category.

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2011 Nissan Maxima

Features

With a limited number of feature possibilities, the 2011 Nissan Maxima can easily come with the tech features of premium sport sedans—but the price climbs steeply for a loaded car.

The Maxima stays true to its name and offers a tremendous list of standard features and available tech features. All considered, however, it can come at a luxury-brand price.

Two different models of the 2011 Nissan Maxima are offered—S and SV—with the SV modestly expanding the standard equipment list to include leather upholstery, fog lamps, and a Bose premium audio system, among a few other items. 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.

Tech features are all now well-represented. Bluetooth comes standard on all Maxima models, while 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. Just keep in mind that most options are only available in the more expensive SV. Separately, a 7-inch monitor system is available in the Maxima.

Especially of note is a Sport Package, which brings firmer suspension tuning, larger 19-inch wheels, paddle shifters, upgraded front seats, and a host of other upgrades. We recommend the package for enthusiasts, despite its $2,300 price, because of its superior seats and crisper handling response without significant effect on the ride.

The last Maxima that The Car Connection tested, a 2010 Nissan Maxima SV Premium Package model, stickered at $37,310. That's pricey compared to some of these rivals, but it's absolutely loaded to the gills with equipment that's optional even on many luxury-brand models—xenon headlamps, a power rear sunshade, a dual-panel moonroof, heated seats and steering wheel, a nav system with rearview monitor, and iPod/USB inputs, for example.

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2011 Nissan Maxima

Fuel Economy

There aren’t any surprises here; the 2011 Nissan Maxima is about as green as you’d expect a larger, V-6-powered sedan to be.

EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2011 Nissan Maxima are 19 mpg city, 26 highway—numbers that are a bit better than most luxurious rival models in the city but about typical for the class of large sedans on the highway.

Since fuel consumption and emissions counts for such a significant portion of a vehicle's environmental impact over its lifetime, that ranks the Maxima about average overall.

Premium gasoline is required in the Maxima. However, the EPA numbers might be slightly pessimistic; in a recent experience driving a Maxima for most of a week, almost entirely in short-trip city conditions, we easily averaged 20 mpg.

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Performance 6
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