– Attractive exterior styling
– Upscale cabin ambience
– Solid engine performance
– Average handling dynamics
– Faux CVT sport mode
– Steering feel of a camel
Two decades ago, choices for sports sedans were limited to either expensive German models or unreliable Aussie-American ones. There was a huge gap in the market for an inexpensive dependable four-door that could hang with sports cars, even if largely in a straight line. And as far as we could remember, only the Nissan Maxima managed to fill that gap, even if it wasn’t much more than a typical family car with a strong engine. By the time other manufacturers caught up, the Maxima name had already established some notoriety.
Promoted back in the day as a “Four Door Sports Car” complete with “FDSC” stickers, Nissan has revived that moniker for the new-generation Maxima, even in the face of strong competition. The fact that it is wrong-wheel-drive and CVT-driven makes matters more cloudy, but maybe it could surprise everyone. It certainly looks the part, with bulging front and rear fenders, angry headlights, rear lip spoiler, dual exhaust tips and big 19-inch wheels.
The interior immediately gives off an upscale vibe, thanks to adequate use of soft-touch materials and creamy leather surfaces, alongside bits of fake metal and wood trim. It also helps that there was a big LCD computer in the middle of our tester’s dash, lifted straight out of the Infiniti parts bin. It can easily take on the Lexus ES in ambience.
Based on the same platform as the Altima, the American-built Maxima therefore has exactly the same wheelbase as its cheaper cousin. This also means rear legroom is the same, which is wholly adequate but not as much as in midsizers like the Accord or Camry. However, thanks to its beefier styling, it has more rear headroom than the Altima. The power-adjustable front chairs look thick, but have almost no bottom side-bolstering. The rear bench is shaped for two, but can fit three. Luggage trunk space is expectedly immense, with a full-size spare wheel underneath and a split-folding rear seat with pass-through feature to carry long items. At least four covered cup-holders and a few storage cubbies are spread about the cabin.
There is enough tech in the top model to pass of the Maxima as an entry-level luxury car. The LCD touchscreen includes button controls as well as a rotary selector, and it controls the navigation, stereo, a/c, Bluetooth and other settings. The strong dual-zone automatic a/c does have its own separate buttons up front, with simple vents in the back. The stereo, which also has the main functions as separate buttons, performs rather decently and also offers USB connectivity. The DVD changer is in the boot. All the usual accessories are there, including a sunroof, HID headlights, LED tails, rear camera, powered rear sunshade, cruise control and a multitude of airbags. Only the driver’s seat has ventilation fans and an extendable thigh support in the top version.
The Maxima’s crowing glory is the 3.5-litre V6, as seen in the host of other Nissan models. Tuned for 290 hp at 6400 rpm here, it offers 350 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm, channelled to the front wheels via a gearless CVT transmission. Pounding on the throttle pedal results in the revs hitting redline and staying there until you let off, although there are two big paddle-shifter to “shift” gears with if you’re really bored. Leaving the shifter in “Drive” resulted in a 0-100 kph time of 7.5 seconds during our April tests, with no wheelspin due to the revs being limited to 2000 rpm on idle. Ironically, slipping the shifter into “Drive-Sport” mode resulted in half-a-second longer times because the computer throws in fake “shifts” to simulate the shocks between gear changes. Our tested fuel-economy average of 13.2 litres per 100 km is on par with most Vee-sixers.
But the Maxima actually feels like a fast car thanks to solid mid-range power, which is what really matters. When already cruising at 80 kph, jumping up to 140 kph offers a satisfying surge under full throttle. It also rides comfortably, with a mild firmness that keeps Toyota-like floatiness at bay over dips and bumps. Road and wind noise aren’t class-leadingly subdued, but the cabin is reasonably quiet at 120 kph. And parking is made easy with sensors, rear camera with guiding lines on the screen, and light steering. It really is a rather decent luxury car.
And that really is the problem with this car. It should be marketed as a luxury car, not a sports sedan. It does fine around corners, but only compared to other midsize family cars. There is limited, but noticeable body roll, and it is eliminated immediately after leaving the turn and straightening the wheel. Understeer also makes the front tyres squeal when pushed hard on tight curves, but grip levels are rather good from the 245/40 tyres, so it can hold on longer than many other cars in this segment. The power steering is slightly more weighted compared to the regular Altima, but still on the light side and with very little feel. The ABS-assisted disc brakes do fine in any situation, with good pedal feel and stability-control nannies keeping the car straight. The parking brake is a foot-operated affair.
That said, we actually came to like this car. In traffic, it felt like driving an Infiniti. On the highway, it is comfortable and powerful, which is usually the only criteria for segment buyers in this region. Nissan is really pushing the boundaries on its upper-level cars, fitting them out to be a luxury range unto itself. Between the new Murano and the new Patrol, the new Maxima rounds out a trio of cars that could’ve simply been badged as Infiniti, and none would’ve been the wiser.