• Dec 14th 2009 at 11:57AM
  • 84
2010 Nissan Maxima SV Sport – Click above for high-res image gallery

Front-wheel drive is a funny thing. When originally introduced during the Thirties in the Cord 810 (then later in the awesome supercharged 812) and the Citroën Traction Avant, FWD was hailed as a major breakthrough, a wondrous technological innovation that allowed for lower ride height and greatly increased passenger space. Postwar consumers got a taste of the wonders of FWD with the iconic Citroën DS. At the top of its game in the Sixties, General Motors reintroduced FWD to American consumers with two remarkable luxury coupes: the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. Come the Seventies, Citroën produced what is arguably the greatest GT coupe of that decade, the impeccable (and FWD) SM.

It's not that RWD is always better than FWD. Only in this case, it is.
Roll the clock forward to the Eighties and suddenly everything was being tugged around by its front wheels. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all jumped head first onto the FWD bandwagon and, for the most part, they haven't looked back. Granted, Cadillac has rethought which wheels get driven, but with the exception of a dinosaur livery-mobile, there isn't a single rear-wheel-drive Lincoln to be found. Even Volkswagen got in on the transversely-mounted engine madness. This left only the Germans – namely Mercedes-Benz and BMW – to seriously carry the rear-wheel drive passenger car torch for nearly a decade. Sure, Lexus and Infiniti brought out some heavy hitting RWD sedans along with a raft of FWD offerings (M30 I30, G20 anyone?), but Acura never bothered.

The average gearhead hates FWD for all the right reasons (weight distribution, steering feel, the front tires being asked to both propel and turn, etc.), and during a recent discussion we had with a half-in-the-bag PR guy, [NAME REDACTED] exclaimed, "Front-wheel drive sucks!" So, how can a technology go from the penthouse to the doghouse like that? One answer (of many) comes from the Minnesotan economist/social philosopher Thorstein Veblen and his book The Theory of the Leisure Class. Here's a quick, ten-cent Cliff Note version: When electric lighting first appeared, only the rich could afford electric lights. As such, electrically lit dinners were considered romantic and desirable. However, once electrification trickled down to the unwashed masses, only the rich could afford both bulbs and candles. Hence, candlelit dinners became en vogue. Which – believe it or not – leads us very nicely to the 2010 Nissan Maxima SV Sport and its $38,384 asking price.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

Granted, you can get a new Maxima for less scratch. The base car starts at "just" $30,460. But the car Nissan provided us has a price tag of nearly $40,000. You do get a lot car for that money, but at the end of the day, $38,384 is a big chunk o' change. So big, in fact, that you might be tempted to choose an Infiniti G37 sedan (beginning at just over $33,000), or even a Cadillac CTS (starts at $37,000). Two similarly-sized cars that are, as it happens, rear-wheel drive.

The Maxima's shape is one thing it has going for it. When the third-gen Altima was introduced in 2002, suddenly the once lofty Maxima looked an awful lot like its lower-priced platform mate. Then the Altima was redesigned and placed on Nissan's new D platform in 2007 and it still resembled the more pricey (and very long-in-the-tooth) Maxima. Finally, last year, Nissan brought us an all-new Maxima that didn't resemble anything.

A quick poll of the Autoblog staff reveals that almost all of us like the shape. From the blunted front end to the deeply sculpted sides to the fat, sexy haunches, there is little question that design-wise Nissan's biggest sedan has got the look. Though admittedly strange at first, the harpoon/fish hook head and tail lamps look sharp (no pun, no pun), especially when set off against a dark color. And these are some of the finest looking wheels we've seen on any car, let alone a big FWD sedan.

The interior's nearly as good as the exterior. First and foremost is that thick (we're talking BMW-thick) leather-wrapped steering wheel that is mercifully (nearly) free of button clutter. While all Maximas now ship with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), the large, almost oversized aluminum flappy paddles behind the wheel feel great. The seats are also thick, many-way adjustable and comfy. Though we'd like some more leg and hip bolstering – the seat bottom is a little flat – rear seat customers will enjoy their spacious perch. The instrument binnacle is intelligently designed and filled with big, legible gauges, exactly what one would need if you were to take Nissan up on its renewed 4DSC (Four-Door Sports Car) boast.

Many of us are also fans of the very Infiniti-like nav-cluster. Overall, the quality of the materials is on par with other entry-level luxury offerings with one big exception: The area surrounding the gear selector is not only dull, but almost undesigned. And if the car's got a CVT (i.e. no set speeds), why not follow BMW's lead and move the gear lever to the column so as to free up some space? A minor quibble, maybe, but that area was beneath (again with the no pun) the rest of the rather pleasingly pleasant interior.

In the Maxima, the CVT experience is better than in its smaller siblings.
One justification for the Maxima's pricey sticker is that lump of VQ goodness found under the hood. Heaping praise upon Nissan's wonderful V6 is like calling firefighters heroes – you just do it, and only the crazy will argue. Still displacing 3.5-liters – unlike the Z, G, M and FX, which have jumped up to 3.7-liters – the VQ35DE produces a whopping 290 horsepower and a stout 261 pound-feet of torque, more than enough to scoot the fairly big boy (190 inches, 3,565 pounds) to 60 mph in less than six seconds. In terms of potency, those 290 horsies are more than you get from 3.5-liter V6s found in the Accord (271 hp), Avalon (268 hp), Taurus (263 hp) or Mercedes-Benz E350 (268 hp). And way more than you get in a 211 hp turbocharged Audi A4. But none offer a CVT... (Note: FWD Audi A4s have a CVT)

Allow us to state up front that when CVTs first arrived on the scene they were nasty, despicable things that were constantly whirring, wheezing and searching for who knows what every time you buried your right foot. Much like automatic transmissions – only worse. That rant out of the way, the second generation of CVTs are actually... okay.

The first good one we experienced was in the cyber barge Lexus LS600hL, though we chalked up that transmission's okay-ness to the fact that Lexus had buried the shiftus interruptus beneath the brand's requisite nine tons of sound deadening. Besides, in a $120,000 automobile, the CVT had better be good. Then we got our paws on some down market CVTs – principally in Nissans like the Rogue, Versa and Cube. And you know what? Most of us like 'em just fine. They weren't Lexus wonderful, but they were a fifth the price.

In the Maxima, the CVT experience is better than in its smaller siblings, and about on par with the big, electric Lexus. In fact, for the first 20 minutes we were behind the wheel, we were unaware (fine – we forgot) that the car didn't have a regular old slush box. As our normal testing procedure begins with jamming up the curvaceous 110 freeway to Pasadena to fetch Drew Phillips and his photographic chops, we threw the tranny into manual mode and used the paddle shifters. That's right, the Maxima (like the LS600hL) has six faker-gear ratios (though the Lexus has eight) that allow it to behave just like an automated manual. It was only on suburban streets back in regular mode that we noticed the tach needle slowly rising and falling, as opposed to a regular automatic where the needle falls precipitously with each gear change.

So, how's the Maxima drive? Well, it's very quick. Stomp the gas and this sucker just goes for it. However, due to so much power spinning the front wheels, you are very aware that you are being pulled to extra-legal speeds, instead of pushed. To be fair, this has been a Maxima trait since they first started dropping VQs into the sedan. But in the 2010 Maxima, you really do notice all 290 ponies. The sensation is like holding onto a horse's reins. And torque-steer – the engine's tendency to try and rip the wheel from your hands when you throttle out of a corner – is an all day event.

While there's nothing inherently rotten about FWD, there is something unsettling about big horsepowered FWD cars – unless they've got a fancy way of fighting back against all that power, like in the power-chopping Mazdaspeed3 (fuel gets cut early in low gears at high RPM) or the unequal-tracked Citroen DS/SM (where the front wheels extend out further than the rear ones). With the Maxima, you're just left to arm wrestle the mighty motor. We hope you've been eating your Wheaties.

When you're not shredding apexes, the Maxima is a fairly cool customer. The ride is plush and plenty comfy, while the cabin is quiet and nicely shielded from wind and motor noise. Those big, beautiful wheels do make some racket, though. Nothing fatal, but you hear 'em. Should you choose to saunter through corners (instead of play Lewis Hamilton), the well-engineered chassis can carry plenty of speed around the bends. Just watch your right foot.

Far from a four-door sports car (sorry, Nissan), the Maxima SV Sport is a roomy, nearly-luxurious, semi-athletic steed. If we woke up tomorrow and (somehow) discovered we owned a copy, we'd be happy. But would we pay $38,000 for one? Short answer: No. There's nothing really wrong with the car, save for its sticker. Who then would consider a Maxima spec'd out like our test vehicle? Best we can figure, an Accord owner who is quite happy with his/her car but just wants something a little nicer, a little quicker and a whole lot more good looking. Then again, they might not. For our money, we'd take an Infiniti G37 sedan with the six-speed manual and pocket the extra $2,000. It's not that RWD is always better than FWD. But in this case, it is.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      It seems last year when the 09 came out, all the auto journalists praised the lack of torque steer for such a powerful engine. Now it torque steers too much.

      I do own an 09 Sport/tech package which I bought fully equipped for just under 39k. The equivalently optioned G37 was 46k and was smaller inside (as well as the trunk). There wasn't enough performance disparity to pay the extra money. AWD would be nice, but then the car would be heavier and would lose its big car/small car dynamics.

      Those of you who have not driven the CVT, are simply out of touch, it is the most direct way of getting power to the wheels and keep the car in its torque curve. The flappy paddles are great for mountain blasting when you want to hold a ratio (don't use the word gear).

      I drove the Audi A4 (too much, too loud, too slow), the Volkswagen CC (low on power, high on style), the G37 (too much, too small), the Pontiac G8 (dead brand, nice car),the Acura TL (too ugly, too ugly, too ugly) and the Taurus SHO (too heavy, uncomfortable seats, no headroom).

      I think the Maxima is a good choice and would recommend a test drive of the sport model with the tech package.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well - one other way to think about the value of the Maxima... Lease payment. Even with the high sticker price, if you negotiate a good deal, the nice high residual gives you a great payment out the door. Better than the G37 and the CTS, both of which I cross shopped. So - you take a nice fat residual, an aggressive out the door price, and the less expensive maintenance costs, and you end up with a total cost of ownership that is considerably less than the competitors mentioned in the article. I'm just sayin.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I haven't had a chance to drive it, but I've checked it out in the showroom while my coworker was signing his papers for another vehicle. I actually thought the interior was very nice - the Infiniti center console and extensible thigh supports being the two things I noticed. I don't like Nissan/Infiniti leather and perhaps more materials were hard touch than I would've expected, but design and comfort was not a problem. The vehicle seemed much more solid and "grown up" than the maxed out Mazda 6 on the other side of the showroom - that said, the 6 was stickering for $6k less.

      As for outside appearances, all of you who're staring at the headlight thing haven't seen this car in person - the headlights may not work, but they're such a small piece of a relatively dynamic looking vehicle. The front overhang's uncomfortably long looking for the rest of the car though.

      As for fwd vs rwd... fwd isn't the natural enthusiast choice, but it has a huge benefit in terms of packaging. This vehicle has about the same exterior dimensions as a G37, but bigger on the inside (with a bigger trunk). That may not be a big deal in suburbia, but if you have to park in an urban environment, you definitely want a car with a smaller footprint. My GTI can barely fit into some parking spots...
      • 5 Years Ago
      For all of you all who doesn't like the Maxima you'll love it dressed in a tuxedo and goes by the name Infiniti M57 which is RWD and producing 400+ horsepower check it for yourself @ Infinitiusa.com
      • 5 Years Ago
      Its a great car, with the same steering wheel as the Z and really comfy seats and cabin. But, almost 300 HP to a front wheel drive big sedan doesn't sound fun. I wish they would bring out a AWD version, they the price and power would be worth it.
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Nice car. But will face stiff competition from the Taurus and LaCrosse.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The only thing that would make 7th Gen Maximas acceptable to a true sports-sedan owner would be a manual transmission. Paddle-shifting a CVT is so stoopid, it's insulting.

      Gorgeous, comfortable and handles exceptionally well... I'll give it those props. But without the 6MT, the car fails.

      • 5 Years Ago
      ...And the Maxima is sold next to the cube and versa...
      • 5 Years Ago
      I just purchased a 2009 Maxima SV loaded with the premium package including the paddle shifters, dual moon roof, etc. My wife and I love it! The great price the dealer gave us, $34K, along with 0% - 60 month financing made it a smart choice for us. We test drove an Audi A4, Volkswagon CC, and even considered a 2007/2008 used Lexus E450 in the mix. The Nissan gave us the best styling (in our opinion) and room (much more than the Audi and VW) for the money. The Taurus styling and interior layout prevented us from even wanting to test drive it. Have it for about a month... NO regrets!
        • 5 Years Ago
        WTF is a Lexus E450????????
        JDM Life
        • 5 Years Ago
        This Max is soo weird looking it kills me...seriously...what is up with that headlight design??

        For the money theres much better cars...that perform better and look better.
      • 1 Year Ago
      CVT Nissan 2010 Maxima Problems & Issues ----These are recorded problems with Nissan's New CVT Transmission on Nissan Maxima 2010 - Sport Edition 300 horse power. The CVT exhibits Lost of power, High RPM, Loud Whining Noise, and CVT gets stuck in 6th Gear (won't down shift) in Manual and drive mode. The car will not accelerate at high speeds and gives a P1778 Code (other codes as well). These codes only occur on long drives over hilly roads on 75 MPH Highways up elevation hill climb. The problem has been getting progressively worst and did not occur when the car was new. This CVT transmission sucks. I took it to four dealerships and they gave me a hard time since the problem doesn't NOT occur on flat ground, City driving, and the Trouble Codes P1778 clear themselves from the computer eventually. I WAS TOLD NOTHING IS WRONG. The problem with NIssan's CVT transmission persisted. I had to stop once making this long 90 mile trip (at 45k miles), then i had to stop twice (at 70k miles), and last time i had to stop 3 times to let the CVT rest (85k miles). The issue does not occur going down elevation. The CVT fluid has been changed at 40,000 miles and all other maintenance is done routinely. ---- NISSAN RESPONSE UPDATE---- MY 2010 NISSAN MAXIMA CVT WAS FINALLY DIAGNOSED WITH "CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON". THE ERROR CODE 1778 &. FOUR OTHER CODES WERE PULLED IN TOTAL. THE OVERALL DIAGNOSIS IS "COMPLETE CVT TRANSMISSION FAILURE". THE RECOMMENDED ACTION IS REPLACEMENT OF THE ENTIRE VALVE BODY (SOLENOIDS) WHICH CHANGE THE GEARS AND REPROGRAMMING OF THE CVT COMPUTER. I WAS TOLD ITS BETTER TO CHANGE THE WHOLE TRANSMISSION AT COST OF $5,500.00 DOLLARS. I CONTACTED NISSAN CONSUMER AFFAIRS. THE PROBLEM CODE OCCURRED AT 44K, 65k, 85K MILES, AND 94K MILES, AND EACH TIME IT WAS UNDIAGNOSABLE SINCE THE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT DID NOT STAY ON. I WAS ABLE TO GET THIS DIAGNOSED WITH A CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON AT 124,000 MILES. AT NISSAN CONSUMER AFFAIRS I SPOKE WITH MEGAN, JUANITA AND THEN Callia from the Executive Branch (so she says - she was a telephone representative). All of these Nissan reps have no knowledge of Nissan engines or cvt's. Consumer Affairs refused to to believe that the dealers refused to acknowledge the problem exists, even despite the TSB's, Warranty Extension, Numerous customer complaints, and my numerous calls over the past two years to Nissan Consumer Affairs. All in all they did not even acknowledge the ongoing issues with the CVT. These Nissan dealers, Nissan service departments, and Nissan Consumer Affairs are crooks --- I would advise anyone to not buy Nissan Cars. Get a Honda, Acura, or other reliable vehicle with a good reputation. If you do have to buy a Nissan beware that they will try to rip you off at every diagnosis and decision point on their part. I am very sorry to say. I used to think NIssan was a good company. http://youtu.be/pd9zdcU9eYM http://youtu.be/8V9lhh8Kros http://youtu.be/bTKFBfWjlSg
      • 5 Years Ago
      This reminds me of my recent purchase for the nicest car I've ever owned. I have owned sports cars, sporty cars, complete junkers, and econoboxes.

      When giving up my last car, a Mazda 3, I had several things I didn't like and several things I wanted in a new car. These were:

      -RWD or AWD, because, well, FWD is wrong wheel drive (for an enthusiast).
      -Manual trans. Because I've never owned an auto, and hate driving them and love the perfect downshift or being able to snick-snick through the gears with one well placed finger.
      -Coupe - I came close to an Audi, or even an Infiniti (G37 coupe is ok) but in the end I really liked the design/proportions of what I finally chose.
      -Car must have a strong V6, preferably a V8 or some turbos. The G37 would be okay with over 300hp.

      All of the cars I looked at were similar in price to this Maxima. Unfortunately, the Maxima fails to meet all of my qualifications. No manual? C'mon thats horrible and the Maxima clearly loses the 4DSC with that lack of choice.

      I chose the 335i coupe :)
    • Load More Comments