2012 Nissan Maxima Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 8, 2012

The 2012 Nissan Maxima is a great pick if you want a stylish, sporty, comfortable, and lavishly trimmed sedan; serious sport-sedan enthusiasts should look elsewhere, however.

When the current-generation Maxima was launched, a few years, ago, Nissan again termed it "The 4-Door Sports Car;" but we dare say that's a bit of a stretch. While the front-wheel-drive Maxima does have a sporting edge that doesn't infringe on passenger comfort, it doesn't have the packaging sacrifices in the name of performance, and the rear-wheel drive, that a certain crowd expects with that claim. First and foremost, the 2012 Maxima is the flagship sedan of the Nissan model line, offering a beautiful, finely sculpted design, plus more tech and a much more lavish interior than mainstream mid-size sedans like the Altima.

The Maxima gets a number of minor changes inside and out for 2012, but unless you're a serious Maxima geek you'd have to line the 2011 and 2012 models up side by side to see the differences. A new grille is slightly different in appearance, while the taillamp design has been tweaked and there's a new line of 18- and 19-inch alloy wheel designs. Inside, audio and HVAC knobs are new, gauge illumination is now white, and new Dark Piano and Atlantic Cherry trims have been added. The Maxima's look isn't new otherwise, but it remains 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 cockpit-style instrument panel, in fact, could be right at home in a product from Infiniti.

Smooth, quick acceleration is something the 2012 Nissan Maxima does extraordinarily well. The 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine has a relaxed demeanor in ordinary driving and works well 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 (there's no manual available), and the letdown is that this setup simply doesn't offer the same level of control as conventional transmissions.

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Overall, the Maxima has one of the sportiest calibrations of any front-drive sedan, and it's reasonably fun to drive, while the ride is firm it's supple enough for good passenger comfort. Front seats are good in base form, excellent with the Sport Package, which gets you stronger bolsters. The back seat is officially good for three, but it's really just good for two adults and headroom can be a bit tight compared to other sedans this size. The cabin is finished in soft leather, trims feel carefully chosen and coordinated, and detailing is superb. All the typical safety features are included here, but only 'acceptable' ratings in the IIHS roof strength test keep this model from being a top safety performer.

The Maxima otherwise stays true to its name in offering an impressive list of standard luxury features and optional tech extras and comforts. Our only real beef is that if you want the top technology features, they come at a luxury-brand price—and only on the more expensive SV. 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 are all standard, though, while a heated steering wheel and cooled front seats are among many options. A Bose premium audio system, a navigation system with 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, XM NavTraffic, XM Satellite Radio, and iPod interfaces. For 2012, a new Limited Edition Package combined HID headlamps, smoked lenses, Dark Hyper Silver wheels, a rear spoiler, and other appearance extras.

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2012 Nissan Maxima

Styling

The 2012 Nissan Maxima is curvy, flamboyant, and refreshingly different inside and out--compared either to mid-size sedans or true sport sedans.

It's now been several years since the Nissan Maxima got its last complete redesign;but perhaps in a testament to how forward-thinking the current design was, it still looks fresh and flamboyant today.

Nevertheless, the Maxima gets a number of minor changes inside and out for 2012, but unless you're a serious Maxima geek you'd have to line the 2011 and 2012 models up side by side to see the differences. A new grille is slightly different in appearance, while the taillamp design has been tweaked and there's a new line of 18- and 19-inch alloy wheel designs.

And there's plenty of beauty in the exterior. With curvy sheetmetal, swept-back headlamps and a profile that could be mistaken for that of a rear-wheel drive sport sedan, the Maxima has presence. And Sport models now take it a step further, with smoked headlamps, a dark chrome grille, and shiny gray interior stitching.

Inside, audio and HVAC knobs are new, gauge illumination is now white, and new Dark Piano and Atlantic Cherry trims have been added this year, and otherwise, the same rings true; the cabin appointments remain refreshingly different and head-turning. and the cockpit-style instrument panel could be right at home in a product from Infiniti.

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2012 Nissan Maxima

Performance

Most people who want strong, smooth performance are going to be very happy with what the Maxima has to offer.

Smooth, quick acceleration is something the 2012 Nissan Maxima does extraordinarily well. The 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine has a relaxed demeanor in ordinary driving and feels equally at home wafting smoothly up to speed or charging into quick two-lane passes; and by some accounts, it can get to 60 mph in well under six seconds. 

While we're not a fan of most continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs), the one in the Maxima works just fine. 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 (there's no manual available); the only letdown is that this setup simply doesn't offer the same level of control as conventional transmissions.

Overall, the Maxima has one of the sportiest calibrations of any front-drive sedan, and it's reasonably fun to drive, With its sport-tuned suspension, as well as steering and brakes that have been tuned for sportier driving, it has the makings of a solidly performing sporty sedan.

But when Nissan first rolled out this generation of the Maxima it redubbed the model the "4-Door Sports Car"--which is something this model can't deliver on, for several reasons. Firstly, while the CVT works okay in real-world driving, it's not a good substitute for either a manual gearbox or a good quick-shifting automatic when the road turns mountainous or curvy. 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. Secondly, the Maxima's front-wheel drive layout, as much as it does the job, won't win any respect from sport-sedan purists.

The one other issue: Stomp down on the gas, especially out of a corner, and you'd better be holding on the steering wheel tightly; depending on the situation, there can be more than a little tugging to the side (torque steer).

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. 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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2012 Nissan Maxima

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Nissan Maxima has comfortable seating, with a refined and well-detailed feel throughout--although backseat and trunk space are limited.

In some of the Maxima's marketing, Nissan seems to highlight this sedan's performance qualities, but it's actually 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 front seats are good in base versions, but with the Sport Package you get superior seats with stronger bolsters. The back seat is officially good for three, but it's really just good for two adults and headroom can be a bit tight compared to other sedans this size--the cost of the roofline, even though seat contouring is great. One other note is that trunk space is on the small side for a larger sedan, at just 14.2 cubic feet.

Aesthetically, it's hard to fault the Maxima in any way. The cabin is finished in soft leather; trims feel carefully chosen and coordinated; and detailing is superb. Up close, you'll probably feel that you're in a luxury-brand sedan.

Ride quality further supports this impression. the 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 it rides with a firm, well-damped, and solid feel. It's a ride that nearly everyone but the geriatric set will appreciate, allowing more control but not giving up much comfort.

Engine noise is one aspect that won't be a deal-breaker, though it's worth noting; because of the way the CVT responds to the throttle, especially in hilly terrain, the V-6 sounds more coarse and unsophisticated than sporty.

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2012 Nissan Maxima

Safety

The 2012 Nissan Maxima has lackluster crash-test scores, in a class of high achievers.

The 2012 Nissan Maxima has a great set of safety features, but its crash-test scores are a bit disappointing.

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. And in federal government (NCAP) testing, the Maxima has earned just three stars for frontal impact, though a five-star side rating brings its overall rating to four stars.

But 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.

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2012 Nissan Maxima

Features

The 2012 Nissan Maxima can come loaded with the tech features of premium sport sedans, but if you want it all, you'll be paying a luxury-brand price tag.

The 2012 Maxima stays true to its name in offering an impressive list of standard luxury features and optional tech extras and comforts. Our only real beef is that if you want the top technology features, they come at a luxury-brand price—and only on the more expensive SV. So if you want a feature set that's close to that of luxury-brand models, you're going to pay nearly as much for it, in any case.

The Maxima is offered in two different models—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. But base-level S equipment is strong, with a power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, and an Intelligent Key entry and starting system all included.

A heated steering wheel and cooled front seats are among many options. So are a Bose premium audio system, a navigation system with 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, XM NavTraffic, XM Satellite Radio, and iPod interfaces. For 2012, a new Limited Edition Package combined HID headlamps, smoked lenses, Dark Hyper Silver wheels, a rear spoiler, and other appearance extras.

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.

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2012 Nissan Maxima

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Nissan Maxima is about as efficient as you'd expect for a larger, V-6 sedan with a performance emphasis.

The 2012 Nissan Maxima isn't particularly fuel-efficient, but it isn't a guzzler either; given its sporty flavor and mission of offering a little more excitement, it's no surprise that its EPA ratings, of 19 mpg city, 26 highway are about typical for the class.

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.

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.

Nissan still requires premium fuel for the Maxima.

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April 28, 2015
2012 Nissan Maxima 4-Door Sedan V6 CVT 3.5 SV w/Premium Pkg

The car is comfortable, roomy, fast, stylized very well, and I enjoy driving the vehicle.

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This car has just about everything that you would want in a car of this quality. When you want it to be sporty you can change to the paddle shifters and get a real sports car feel with a four door. It has all... + More »
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Styling 9
Performance 6
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