2011 Nissan Maxima SV Sport Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on April 12, 2011

Stylish from all angles, the Maxima is also a serious performance car. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Premium levels reached in interior fit and finish such as soft-touch plastics, high-quality switchgear and top-tier features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Sport bucket seats are fabulous! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Perfect grip of the perforated leather steering wheel, audio and cruise switchgear, plus two of the largest paddle-shifters in the industry... brilliant! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

The entire centre stack could be pulled from a premium-level Infiniti. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Great rear room and sculpted bucket-like seats make for an above par passenger experience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Cargo pass-through is handy, but not as functional as 60/40-split seatbacks. A stiffer body structure is much better for sports fans though! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Got to love these 19-inch rims, and they're easy to clean too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Nissan was smart to borrow cues from its flagship sports car when designing its flagship sedan. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

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Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

Published on April 12, 2011

Some cars speak to the recesses of my soul while others can't even utter a simple hello, and I suppose this is true for us all. Nissan's new Maxima is solidly in the former camp, a sport sedan that I find difficult to pull my eyes away from.

Before this new model I hadn't really liked the Maxima since its late-'80s design ended, when it redefined the Japanese premium class and became the basis for one of Infiniti's best-selling models, the I30/I35. The car itself has always been good, but the styling was bulbous and devoid of much unique character. Nissan changed all that for the 2009 model year, shortening its overall length and wheelbase while widening its stance and lowering its roofline, and now the new Maxima has become one of the most attractive four-door sedans anywhere.

The reduction in size has lightened the car up a bit, which translates into greater agility out on a winding road. Nissan kindly fitted my test model with its Sport Package too, adding 19-inch rims and 245/40VR19 rubber, some performance tuning to the aluminum-intensive front strut and multi-link rear suspension setup, such as a larger front stabilizer bar, meatier springs front and back, plus higher performance front struts and rear shocks, while big, purposeful column-mounted paddle shifters enhance the human-machine interface. Xenon HID headlamps do a better job of lighting up the road ahead despite being ensconced in new smoked assembly lenses, the latter bookending a unique dark chromed grille. At back the standard set of LED taillights sit below a special rear deck lid spoiler, exclusive to the Sport Package. Inside, the Sport gets cool metallic interior trim while gray stitching binds together strips of perforated leather upholstery.

While perforated leather is always seen as a plus, in this particular case there was a problem on the driver's seat cushion that I've never seen before in my decade-plus of testing cars. Fine strands of leather were poking through the perforations as if the tiny holes weren't punched out fully and now, after about 6,300 km, seat abrasion was causing them to pull through like snags of thread on a sweater. I'm guessing that this problem is reflective of a bad batch of leather and not an issue with the model in general.

The same perforated leather, without the pull-through strands, is in back, and in a unique fashion the rear seats are formed into buckets for two-passenger seating, although three can sit abreast if required. The rear seatback is fixed, replacing the 60/40 split-folding seatbacks of the base model, now with a big fold-down centre armrest aiding rear seat comfort and a cargo pass-through for stowing longer items like skis. And yes, it's not quite as practical, but torsional rigidity is up by a claimed 17-percent.

Other Sport Package features include a powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel, driver's side memory, an auto-dimming driver's sideview mirror, auto-tip-in-reverse exterior mirrors, and XM satellite radio, all for $2,050 over the Maxima's $39,800 base price, totaling $41,850 plus $1,555 destination.

Nissan added a $2,500 Tech Package to my tester too, which includes a rearview camera and monitor, a voice-activated navigation system, XM NaviTraffic and a larger 9.3-GB Music Box, and pushed the total price up to $42,300.

The Bose audio system is good, and thanks to that USB connection allowed me to easily download a couple of gigs of tunes that could be toggled through via a steering wheel switch. The steering wheel is a jewel, incidentally. Ideally formed for performance driving, but not overly thick either. The metallic interior trim is particularly attractive, adding to the Sport model's performance ambiance, but truly it's the well-bolstered seats that give it even greater sports car flair. Deep and supportive, the eight-way powered driver's seat won't disappoint whether stuck in city traffic, cruising down the highway or maximizing tire grip through a set of S-curves.

I found myself doing a lot of the latter in this car. Normally, large sedans cause me to drive at a more relaxed pace, but the Maxima kept on egging me on. "Honest, officer. The car made me do it!" Don't get me wrong. I spent most of my road time obeying the legally posted limit, but where other cars might have me casually cruising around a cloverleaf or lazily loping through a set of banked corners, for some reason I felt the need to attack them relentlessly in the Maxima. It's just that type of car.

And yes, I'm talking about a car with a CVT. Continuously variable transmissions are renowned for sucking the life out of the best engines, but Nissan has somehow tricked its Xtronic CVT into thinking it's a quick-shifting six-speed torque converted planetary autobox. Leave it in drive and you'll experience more of the traditional "oneness" that CVTs are often criticized for; oneness in that there is only one single gear, or more accurately an infinite amount of "gears" available as an internal belt moves between input-drive and output-driven pulleys. Without going into too much detail, CVTs work well for their main purpose, improving fuel economy, but only Nissan has chosen the system for its entire car lineup and therefore sunk in the necessary engineering dollars (or rather, yen) to make this highly efficient technology fun to drive too. Slip the gear lever into manual mode and the CVT immediately comes to life, shifting down when needed, ready to jump at the slightest provocation. Flick the left paddle to downshift and the big 290-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 reacts with enthusiasm, sending enough of its 261 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels to momentarily break traction and then pull the car forward with little hesitation, albeit some torque steer.

The small amount of torque steer wasn't much of an issue for me being that I don't drive like a teenager much anymore. When I go fast it's normally when the road opens up, not off the line, yet nevertheless I spent the majority of my week relaxed in cruise mode, enjoying the car's many luxuries, thoroughly comfortable and feeling pretty cool, I must admit.

You get a lot of looks in the Maxima, partly due to an air of exclusivity (there aren't all that many around my parts), but mostly because its edgy rectangular grille, deeply sculpted hood, radically drawn 370Z-inspired headlamp clusters, long and lean profile, wide-stance coke-bottle fender flares, winged deck lid and sweet 19-inch rims, make it look so good.

Onlookers probably weren't considering that a Maxima owner might have signed on the dotted line for other reasons than styling or performance, well at least performance in the traditional sense. It's equally deserving of praise for pump performance, achieving a rather impressive estimate of 10.9 L/100km in the city and 7.7 on the highway by Canadian prescribed guidelines. My real-world results weren't quite as good, coming closer to the more realistic U.S. EPA equivalent estimates of 12.4 and 9.0 respectively, which is still not too shabby for a near full-size luxury car with close to 300 horsepower on tap. Nissan recommends premium to get the most out of the engine, but considering the 10-percent surcharge over regular it's a decision you'll have to make with your wallet.

When it comes to the bigger decision of buying a new car, however, I highly recommend taking the new Maxima for a drive if you're shopping in the near premium sport-luxury sedan segment. It's beautifully designed, impressively put together, filled with top-tier features, and a blast to drive, while its practical attributes, such as fuel economy, a large trunk, spacious interior and renowned Nissan reliability make for a compelling package. Resale value is also higher than average, having won ALG's Residual Value Award for best full-size car three years in a row, since the redesign in 2009.

But is the 2011 Maxima truly the "4DSC" or "four-door sports car" Nissan touts it to be? While a little more snarl from the exhaust at idle or when feathering the throttle might bolster that claim, at least with the sport model I tested, not to mention the return of a six-speed manual-enhanced SE variant, the Maxima is nevertheless worthy of the term sport sedan. In the same breath, any Infiniti G37 driver could argue the point and the Maxima would be left conceding. In the end, 4DSC is effective marketing and Nissan's flagship sedan is impressive enough at thousands less than its premium Infiniti cousin that none should complain if it doesn't quite measure up to rear-drive sport sedan criteria. Truly, it measures up in other ways.

While the G is good looking, it doesn't whisper in my ear as I walk away, begging me to turn around just one more time for another glance. Yes, like I intimated in the beginning, the Maxima visually communicates to me like few others, and in the end I'm just a man, easily moved by a beautiful shape. 
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Nissan, 2011, Maxima, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999,

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