2011 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SVPosted on November 19th, 2010
Premium sport sedan melds style and functionality
By Nina RussinIn a perfect world, we could drive what we desire without worrying about cost. In the real world, we look for a vehicle that holds the family plus the weekly groceries and fits within the budget. What makes the Nissan Maxima special is its ability to combine aspiration and function at an affordable price.
Nissan’s premium sport sedan comes with a standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 290 horsepower and a continuously variable automatic transmission. Eighteen-inch wheels with V-rated tires give the sedan an ample footprint for spirited driving.
There are two grades: the entry-level S and premium SV. Base price for the SV is $33,530, not including a $750 destination charge. Standard features include leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant controls, Bose audio system, Bluetooth interface, dual-zone temperature controls and keyless start.
A premium package on the test car adds a two-panel moonroof, bi-xenon headlamps, climate-controlled driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, rear seat pass-through, and a downloadable music box with iPod and USB connectivity. Formula-style paddle shifters allow the driver to manually select gears on challenging roads. A seven-inch color monitor doubles as a projection screen for the rearview camera ($3230).
Other options on the test car include floor and trunk mats ($180) and a rear spoiler ($370), bringing the price as tested to $38,060.
Extended test drive
I was happy to have the new Maxima for my annual road trip between Phoenix and Los Angeles for the auto show in November. The 800-mile round trip combines dense urban traffic with long stretches of wide-open freeway.
It is obvious from the moment one enters the Maxima that the sedan is first and foremost, a driver’s car. Power controls on the driver’s seat and steering wheel adjust for any body type and height. Side and back bolsters give the driver excellent lumbar support. Seat length is also adjustable: something I appreciate, since my legs are disproportionately longer than my torso.
The V-6 engine is peppy without compromising gas mileage. Engineers combined race car technology such as molybdenum-coated pistons and a lightweight aluminum block with variable valve timing to achieve maximum efficiency.
The reaches peak torque at 4400 rpm: about mid-pedal, for good low-end acceleration. There is plenty on the high end as well for passing slower vehicles at speed. Average highway fuel economy is 26 miles-per-gallon: pretty good for a 3500-pound vehicle.
The continuously variable automatic transmission transitions smoothly between the gears with no perceptible shift shock. A rev-matching feature blips the throttle when the driver is in manual mode to smooth out the transition between shifts.
Speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering produces ample assist at low speeds while maintaining positive on-center response on the highway. A 37.4-foot turning radius makes it possible to do U-turns on wider roads.
Large ventilated disc brakes on all four wheels stop the car on a dime.
While the high-performance tires produce some road noise, there is no noticeable wind or engine noise inside the car. Passengers in both rows of seating should have no problems conversing.
The front-wheel drive chassis is well balanced, with a high level of torsional rigidity for good steering response. Engineers used a high percentage of aluminum components in the suspension to minimize unsprung weight. The front suspension consists of a strut and coil-over spring setup mounted to a sub frame.
The multi-link rear suspension is also sub frame-mounted. The design minimizes camber change during cornering, giving the Maxima surprisingly good control for a front-wheel drive chassis.
Front and rear stabilizer bars keep the sedan flat in the corners. I took several decreasing radius cloverleaf turns at speed, and was delighted with the Maxima’s performance.
A low center of gravity and slippery profile enhance fuel economy while minimizing wind noise. Engineers achieved a .33 coefficient of drag.
The steering wheel is a small enough in diameter for a woman to find comfortable. Shift paddles are easier to reach than buttons on competitive models. Redundant audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls minimize distraction. A dead pedal reduces leg fatigue on long drives.
Controls on the center stack are accessible from both front seating positions, and intuitive to operate. The driver and front passenger have access to 12-volt power points for recharging portable electronic devices. The USB port is located in the center console bin, so the driver can keep a MP3 player hidden from sight.
The gauge cluster is easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. When the Maxima passes through a tunnel or into a shaded area, night lighting automatically brightens the display. Bi-xenon headlamps on the test car are brighter and closer to daylight than halogen to better illuminate the road ahead.
Visibility around the sedan’s perimeter is quite good. I had no problems monitoring traffic while merging onto the highway, or weaving through gridlock on the freeways around Los Angeles. Large side mirrors do a good job of minimizing blind spots in the rear corners without obstructing the driver’s view when cornering.
Passengers in both rows of seating should find the Maxima’s stylish interior comfortable. Rear bucket seats which come as part of the premium option package are as supportive and spacious as those in the front row. The pass-through allows the driver to load in skis and other long items with the rear seats in place.
The optional moonroof brings an abundance of light inside the cabin. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin.
All passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders in the doors, center console and a fold-down rear armrest.
The Maxima’s large, deep trunk can easily hold luggage, some moderate camping equipment, golf bags and the weekly groceries. Cyclists will be better served with one of Nissan’s sport or cross-utility vehicles.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control. Keyless entry and start allows the driver to enter the car and fire the ignition without having to fumble for the keys, adding a measure of safety in dark urban areas.
The Maxima received five-star crash test ratings from frontal and side-impact collisions.
Nissan builds the Maxima at its Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant.
Likes: A stylish sport sedan with excellent performance and a versatile, roomy interior.
Model: Maxima 3.5 SV
Base price: $33,530
As tested: $38,060
Horsepower: 290 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 261 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 19/26 mpg city/highway.*
Comments: The manufacturer recommends premium fuel.
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