It may be hard to believe, but the Maxima has been carrying the mantel as Nissan’s premium sedan for 31 years. While that first generation Maxima bowed our after the 1984 model year, it’s interesting to note it was the first and only Maxima to have rear wheel drive. And the Maxima’s of the day were fine cars indeed, but when the third generation Maxima arrived in 1989, it carried a small sticker in the rear window, reading ‘4DSC’. Four door sports car. The car was a revelation at the time-European sport sedan performance but at a much more attainable level.
But it’s not 1989, and much has changed in the sport sedan world since then. So it was time to meet the current Maxima, which Nissan continues to bill as ‘The 4-Door Sports Car’. Is the Maxima still deserving of that title? Read on to find out.
The current Maxima has been around since 2009, but a mild refresh was done for the 2010 model year. I have never been a fan of the blunt-faced front end grill treatment, which is neither sporty, elegant or aggressive, just unattractive. Otherwise, the Maxima presents itself well with sporty, distinctive headlamp bezels, and the chromed dual exhaust hints at the performance under the hood. The Maxima is well executed with the exception of the grill, but unfortunately is sort of forgettable.
The interior of the Maxima is an extremely pleasing place to spend time, with a bright cabin highlighted by very high quality materials that were both pleasing to the touch and to the eyes. Despite a raft of high-end tech features, the Maxima’s controls were intuitive and easy to use. Exceptionally comfortable seats front and rear with plenty of room for all, I would have no reservations in recommending the Maxima for a comfortable highway cruiser.
The Maxima is offered with one drivetrain only, a 3.5L V-6 rated at 290hp, paired to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), and of course, since 1985, driven through the front wheels. And this is where I have trouble with the notion of the Maxima being called a four door sports car. Out of any automaker out there, I will credit Nissan for building what are arguably the best CVT’s available, but to an enthusiast, it literally sucks all the fun out. As recently as 2006, you could order a Maxima with a six-speed manual, but those days are long gone and do not look like they will ever return. The Maxima is quick and pulls hard, but keep your hands on the wheel, as there is some torque steer under hard acceleration. Otherwise, the car is well composed with a very comfortable ride.
The 2012 Maxima is available in either base S or SV trim. Our test car was the SV, which carried a base price of $34,450USD. For that, you get 18″ wheels, power seats, leather interior, Bose audio, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth, dual-zone auto climate control, push button start, power moonroof, and LED fog lights. Our test car included the Premium Package (dual-panel moonroof, rear power sunshade, xenon headlights, heated seats, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rear bucket seats, USB port), rear spoiler, and Premium Technology Package (Navigation, XM Traffic/XM Weather). Including delivery, our Maxima rang in at $40,930. Yes, it was optioned out to the hilt with a host of premium features, but even so, when people asked me about the cost of the car, $40,000 seemed to turn off everyone I talked about paying that much for a Maxima.
There was a time when the lines between the Altima and Maxima were so blurred, I couldn’t make sense of why the Maxima was still around. Nissan has wisely moved the Maxima upmarket, but with the upcoming 2013 Altima, Nissan has also moved its best seller upmarket as well. You may think I have an axe to grind with the Maxima, but in reality, I don’t. It does everything it is asked to do, and very well. My only complaint is Nissan lost the right to call this a 4-Door Sports Car when they yanked a six-speed manual in favor of a CVT. As such, I think Nissan should face reality and recognize the Maxima’s competition with cars like the Buick LaCrosse and Lexus ES350. Nissan diehards, do not despair. Your company still builds a four door sports car. It’s called the Infiniti G37.