• Jun 20, 2008

2009 Nissan Maxima – Click above for high-res image gallery

The latest Nissan out of the gate - the sixth model to wear the "Maxima" designation - gets a significant redesign for 2009. Launched in 1985, the first Maxima was a praised departure from its predecessor, the rear-wheel-drive Datsun 810. Reconfigured as front-wheel-drive, the newly-named sedan foreshadowed the arrival of Nissan's "4-Door Sports Car" or "4DSC", a name aptly-coined for the 1989 model. While each subsequent generation seemed to soften (much to the lament of enthusiasts), the automaker claims this ground-up remake once-again earns the 4DSC moniker. Follow the jump to see if Nissan succeeded.



Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

Compared to the outgoing model, the new Maxima is shorter (in height and length) and wider (in both track and width) with a wheelbase reduced by two inches. Built on the D-platform that's shared with the Altima and Murano, the Maxima's styling is designed to exude sport over luxury-and it does so with more than a hint of the Nissan GT-R in the front end.



The most controversial styling element is found on the headlamps with their quirky trailing hook. In person, they are hardly noticeable as your eyes are instead immediately drawn to the muscular rear flanks that make the greenhouse appear much smaller than it truly is. With a subtle power-bulge in the hood and just enough chrome to soften the rough edges, the Maxima maintains an aggressive, if not polarizing, posture.



Nissan is offering the Maxima with several different packages and a treasure chest of options oriented toward both sport and luxury. You can seriously load it up with enough fluff to compete head-to-head with the Infiniti M. Without hesitation, we grabbed the keys to a Sport Package model, visually differentiated by its 19-inch wheels and rear spoiler.



Justifying the claim as a reincarnated 4DSC, Nissan fits the Maxima with a powerful adaptation of the now-familiar VQ powerplant. Still displacing 3.5-liters, the engine is now rated at 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque. Horsepower is up 35 over the last model, while torque increases 9 lb-ft. Even with the boost in power, Nissan is claiming fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city. On the highway, the new sedan is rated at 26 mpg (1 mpg better than before). Nissan's Xtronic S-CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the automaker's alternative to the traditional stepped transmission, is again the only transmission available on the Maxima. In addition to the standard "D" mode, Nissan is now touting a new "drive sport" ("Ds") mode for enthusiasts designed to increase acceleration feel and maintain engine speed during cornering.



From a driver's standpoint, Nissan nailed the cockpit (let's hope the same team is putting the final touches on the next-gen Z due due out in November). The adjustable steering wheel offers the proper diameter, the perfect thickness, and a pleasantly tactile texture and grip. The HVAC primary controls are round dials, and the NAV screen is easy-to-read. Settling into the cabin, the driving position is near optimal. Our six-foot two-inch frame found plenty of leg, shoulder, hip, and headroom in the generous front seats (embarrassingly a bit wider to fit American derrières). Our prototype had lumbar support and an adjustable thigh booster, too. If you can't get comfortable in the front seats of this car, make an appointment with a chiropractor.



Nissan's goal was to make the Maxima the best front-engine, front-wheel-drive sport sedan in the world. To prove their point, the planners charted our driving route to include stop-and-go city traffic, long freeway stretches, and plenty of back roads canyon-carving through the mountains of Southern California. With a press of the "start" button, it was time to see what the engineers had delivered...



Fighting LA traffic as our departure from the hotel, we immediately noticed the improved chassis. Regardless of the potholes and expansion joints, the cabin was free from bothersome NVH irritations. Another observation... from the driver's seat, the exhaust signature from the dual tips is inaudible. The intake roar, to which Nissan paid special attention, is very apparent under nearly all throttle increases. Hit the gas, and the engine roars. It is satisfying, even if the noise is coming out of the wrong end of the car.

Nearly an hour later, miles from downtown, we really opened it up. Touring through mile after mile of near-deserted canyon roads with our heavy lens-laden camera backpack on the rear seat, we found ourselves nonchalantly cornering hard enough to send the equipment flying to the other side of the car and back repeatedly. Wisely, we moved it to the floor... where it proceeded to easily clear the exhaust "hump" on the floor and still sail to the other side. The Maxima was performing well, very well, and without any unnecessary drama from the driver's observation. As expected, at the limit of adhesion (a tire problem-not a suspension weakness) the nose-heavy sedan will eventually understeer. On public roads, however, you'll land yourself in deep trouble with the law long before you run out of grip.



Nissan engineers also burned the midnight oil in an effort to eliminate torque steer. They apparently succeeded. On a barren road, with the car stopped and our hands in the air, we put the transmission in "D" and floored it. The Maxima accelerated forward... in a completely straight line. We tried again, and the results repeated themselves. Don't get us wrong, like all FWD vehicles you can still feel torque nudging on the front wheels under power, but Nissan appears to have eliminated the most obvious "I'm ripping the steering wheel out of your hands" sensation.

The brakes have been upgraded in the new model as well, and it shows. We slammed them hard, from illegal speeds, and they clamped down on the four ventilated rotors with pit-bull aggression. Only after repeated sadistic abuse did they start to show signs of fade. While the brakes performed admirably, the transmission seemed entirely confused by our odd driving habits. We were obviously not fitting any of its pre-programmed algorithms, and it would frequently take a few seconds to re-orient itself before resuming normal operations.



As enthusiasts, we were totally unable to embrace the CVT. It may be the perfect transmission for 98 percent of the car-buying public, but we prefer something with cogs. An enthusiast learns to drive by listening to the relationship between engine RPM and vehicle speed. A CVT-holding the engine speed steady offers none of that feedback to throttle inputs. Furthermore, we frequently found ourselves wanting a bit more power mid-corner, and the CVT was slow to respond. Even with an artificial "downshift" initiated via the paddle-shift (it wouldn't let us drop below fourth gear most of the time), the response was frustrating. We tired quickly of the "Ds" mode, and instead chose to leave it in "D" where we found power by simply flooring the accelerator and waiting for everything to catch up.



With the canyons far behind us and nothing but expansive LA freeways and surface streets in our windshield, the CVT was in its element. Seamless acceleration in light traffic combined with the VQ's big torque curve to make power delivery very comfortable. The automatic climate control kept us cool as temps blistered on the other side of the glass (a toasty 115 F. indicated on the OBC). Outward visibility was good, although the exterior mirrors with their massive plastic housings could offer a wider field of view.

The Bose audio system was a disappointment. Upgraded over the standard audio package, the sound was distant and a bit muddy. There are no tweeters mounted on the inside of the doors, so the sound is forced out of the dash-mounted speakers – way up front – and bounced off the glass. We tweaked around with it for a long time before simply giving up. With our best attempts still resulting in unimpressive sound, we simply turned it off and enjoyed the music coming from the VQ's intake for the remainder of the drive.



As we stood in the lobby of the hotel at the end of the day, the obvious question was whether or not this new Nissan was really all that different from its predecessors. Had the automaker reinvented the "4-Door Sports Car" again, or was this just another downhill slide of the Maxima legacy? The indication we were given in our 200-plus miles behind the wheel is that this car is a step forward for the Maxima. As for whether or not it deserves that "4DSC" sticker on the rear window once again, let's just say that real sports cars don't use CVT transmissions.



Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 67 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      Am I right in saying the Maxima is based on Taiwan's Teana / Hong Kong's Cefiro? Or is it the other way round?
      • 6 Years Ago
      4DSC? I don't think so Nissan. Oh, and thanks for caring enough to provide enthusiast drivers with a drive sport ("Ds") mode. Whoop dee friggin doo! What the heck is happening to the world of manual transmissions? No manual in the GTR, no manual in the soon to be released Ralliart and now no manual in the Maxima. I need three pedals not steering wheel paddles.
        • 6 Years Ago
        That sounds like a good idea for a screen T-Shirt "Pedals not Paddles" I'd buy one... lol As far as why companies are going away from manual transmissions... 1: New 6, 7 and 8 speed automatic transmissions can actually get as good or, in most cases, better economy than manuals now, sadly. 2: Americans as a whole are so f-ing lazy these days that rowing your own gears is too exhausting and interferes with other, more important things like text messaging and flipping through your iPod...
      • 6 Years Ago
      The 4DSC was just a marketing gimmick- why do all reviews focus solely on the Maxima as being THE 4 door sports car when it's never been RWD (please see Infiniti), and doesn't offer a manual?

      Looks like this is meant to go up against the FWD luxury Passat and Acura TL. Despite what some people say about the Nissan CVT (obviously not having driven one as Edmunds and the like have raved about it, and I'd say it's a better auto than what either Acura or VW Make) , it looks like this should give both a run for their money.
        • 6 Years Ago
        They didn't rave about it, they just said it was much better than the last CVT. BIG difference.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Maybe it's just the horrible front end that makes me detest this car. Some angles it's not as horrible, others, like front on is head scratching.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You might have a different opinion when you actually see the car in person. I thought the new Murano would never, ever grow on me (and I think the next FX won't), but once I saw it in person...it looks nice.

        I would personally hope and prefer that Nissan not follow this same headlight styling on the next Z and FR (concept name, right?)
      • 6 Years Ago
      I actually like the new styling. I am sure for some it will take a little getting used to, but I think it's clean and masculine looking. It is a lot more streamlined than the car it replaces. I don't know why people are hating so much on the styling. I saw it in person, and it looks rather nice.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wait... Shorter height? You have my attention. I am tired of cars approaching five feet tall, they should be going the other way. Nissan at least has some things right.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes!

        I HATE the whole trend of cars getting taller and taller. This is a most welcome change.

        I, for one, would never even consider any vehicle taller than 5 feet (and anything approaching 5 feet is seriously pushing it), and I'd always take a lower vehicle over a taller vehicle.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I remember driving a 2000 Nissan Maxima w/ 240hp & I think it was a 5spd? It was some special edition.

      Loved it, amazing car. And man could it haul ass! That engine was so smooth and torquey, doing 100mp/h was done with ease.

      So I often wonder what the new ones are like. Anybody else drove a 2000 Maxima?
        • 6 Years Ago
        I drive a 2000 GLE right now. While is has over 100k miles on it, it is still a runner.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The last good Nissan actually Datsun was the 510, after that all downhill other than the original 240
        • 6 Years Ago
        Agreed.

        Very few things will make me happier than the US government rolling back all impact standards. I despise high belt lines so much--I look at the beautiful 1989 Maxima, and it really depresses me how high the belt lines are now.

        Ultimately, these impact standards have only guaranteed that I buy used cars exclusively. The modern world, including cars, peaked in the late 80s and early 90s.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sadly--still not ready for the 4DSC moniker again. That has gone onto the G35. Yet again, the Maxima finds itself in some ugly niche. When you load this car up, you might as well get a G35, which is far more interesting and far more fun to drive. And on the lower end you can get a nicely equipped V6 Altima. I really thought they should have turned the Maxima into an Avalon and Azera competitor. Even though it would have not been the rebirth of the 4DSC at least it would have have a place to breathe. This Maxima is not a 4DSC and its stuck between a rock and a hard place. Too bad.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Seems like it's just one decent transmission away from beating the Acura TSX
      • 6 Years Ago
      as a person who sells Nissan's, it is true that the CVT when first developed had some issues, but the next gen version have the new intelligent CVT that the new Murano and Maxima will have. That make them more reliable at the same time CVT gives you better city mileage. Not by much but everything counts with the rise in gas prices.
      • 6 Years Ago
      nope, still looks like ass.

      a CVT? are you joking? my 1978 Motobecane mo-ped also had a CVT, but it only made 2HP and was a belt-drive that cost $5 to fix.
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