2009 Nissan Maxima: An Infiniti in Disguise

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/


Nissan calls the Maxima a four-door sports car, but it really is more like a four door luxury touring vehicle. It has sharp handling, but not great, and it has a thirst for premium fuel that takes away from the fun of exploring the limits of the 290 horsepower, 3.5-liter engine. Perhaps the worst failing is that the front wheel drive Maxima costs nearly the same as the more powerful, and better handling, rear wheel drive Infiniti G37. And, they are nearly identical in interior space, with the Maxima having a larger trunk and more hip room thanks to its wider body.


Essentially, the Maxima is the flagship of the Nissan line and it looks it with a feeling of quality everywhere and, as usual for Nissan, outstanding ergonomics. The steering is well weighted, the power train responsive, and there are option packages that can help personalize this 3600-pound sedan nicely such as an exceptional iPod connection. Unfortunately, Nissan has chosen to make its option packages costly, albeit well stocked with goodies. A base Maxima can by yours for about $30,000, but a fully loaded chariot is going to mash $40,000.Again, well into Infiniti G37 territory.

Mom’s view: There is no doubt that this is a quality product, but how much demand is there for a large luxury sports sedan with front wheel drive. At present only Acura offers competition and they are having a time selling its new TL model. What is most surprising to me is that a lot of the suspension comes from the very likeable Nissan Altima, and that star even offers the same engine and just as much interior room and at less expensive.

Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 pushes 290 horsepower through the continuously variable transmission (CVT) in a frisky manner with just a touch of torque steer and a lot of audible grunt. The transmission can be controlled using paddle shifters so you don’t feel completely left out of the shifting pleasure. Nissan and Audi have the best CVT units and the one in the Maxima is no exception. Poking the pedal provokes the engine into a two-phased acceleration mode that Nissan has developed to provide more power when the engine reaches a higher rpm.

The interior looks masculine and is as good as is any Infiniti or luxury car for that matter, especially if you order the optional wood trim. There are two trim levels, S and SV, and unless you want the Bose stereo, the S is just fine. It comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way driver and four-way passenger power front seats, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a driver’s information computer, and an in-dash six-CD changer. The SV model gives you a few more toys such as leather, a Homelink universal garage remote and a nine-speaker Bose stereo. Expect to pay a few thousand dollars more for the upgrade. There are also Premium or Sport option packages that can add paddle shifters, xenon headlights, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and rear bucket seats. Curiously, if you order this you lose the benefits of the rear seats folding down to expand the cargo carrying capacity of the Maxima. You do get a ski pass through, but be warned that the wide tires on this front wheel drive vehicle are not going to be good in the snow with all the power the Maxima has and so seriously consider snow tires for those who frequently find themselves deprived of plowed byways. If you opt for the Premium Package the Maxima comes with a dual-panel sunroof, a rearview camera with a terrific seven-inch LCD screen, a driver’s seat that can be cooled, and a dedicated iPod interface. The next option to consider is the Sport Package and its sport-tuned suspension, and larger wheels, rear spoiler among others. Wait; there is more to ponder. The Technology Package adds voice-activated navigation with real-time traffic, satellite radio, and 9.3GB of digital music storage and if you go with the Cold Weather package you can even get heated outside mirrors and even more. In other words, as in the Altima, when you buy a Nissan do your homework because by mixing and matching some of the options you can save a great deal and have the Maxima that suits your needs.

Safety wise the Maxima comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front and rear outboard active head restraints. We expect crash scores to be very good.

Overall, the Maxima feels heavier than it is and despite the sharp brakes, well weighted steering feel, and eagerness of the engine, it never won me over as the less expensive Altima did. No question the Maxima is a better handling car and the interior is superb, but its wavy styling, aggressive engine, and weak fuel mileage overwhelm its beautiful interior and quality build. A pleasant car and has appeal, but a little to rough behind the ears for my tender tush.

Dad’s view: I can’t get my mind around a Nissan Maxima costing this much and I doubt I am alone. I loved the first and second generation Maxims with their available manual transmission and flingable nature. The restyled Maxima is a different animal completely. It has grow-up. The 3.5-liter V6 and its 290 hp and 261 pound-feet of torque have a more civilized approach to acceleration thanks to the CVT and the optional steering-column-mounted paddle shifters. The Maxima’s accelerator program provides instant power, but if you keep the pedal mashed the thrust slowly markedly. Keep it at legal speeds and it provides all you really need, but when loaded and going uphill the engine’s torque rubs off in a hurry. Put a turbocharger on this and you would have one of the worlds most potent sports sedans if you could control the torque steer. Fine as it is, but don’t go pestering any Infiniti G37s.

It takes awhile to get used to the CVT as it seems to lack any spirit, but it doesn’t take long to realize you are going well above the speed limit without realizing it, officer. The suspension and chassis are oriented to the fun side of sporty and the result is a remarkably capable canyon cruiser with very good handling for a sedan. The Sport Package might be too road rough for some so make sure you test cars with and without this option on familiar roads. The steering is very good, but the turning radius is on the large side at about 37.5 feet. The four-wheel disc brakes stop you quickly and can be abrupt if you’re not gentle.

I was impressed by the quality of the Maxima. It oozes excellence. The leather seats ar hip huggers and the main controls can be reached without having to remove your hands from the wheel. The horn is barely adequate and the radio reception very weak.

Young working woman’s view: Surprisingly, a hit. It has a distinctive style that has a certain eye-catching quality and the interior makes your friends question their purchase of Volkswagen Passats and even Audi A4s. The pricing is a problem for me considering the expensive option packages and the reality is that this car really isn’t as fast as it looks. Most high-end V6 engines, sans turbocharging, are its equal. And the extra you have to pay for premium fuel ruffles my financial feathers.

Driving the Maxima is interesting in that you are wearing any type of clinging outfit such as Jersey as the leather seats are rather grabby. The placement of the emergency brake near the brake pedal makes it difficult to activate as it is placed rather high off the floor. If you have long legs and sit at arm length from the steering wheel it is nearly impossible to find without looking. However, that is small potatoes when considering the difficulty of trying to get a large object into the trunk thanks to the small opening.

Strange as it may seem that Maxima’s interior is better then the Infiniti’s. The controls all feel good to the touch and can be activated without aggravation. The ancillary controls on the steering wheel take a bit of time to understand, but everything else is homey.

All told, I wouldn’t mind a Maxima if I didn’t have two rescue Mastiffs in tow. But I wouldn’t want to waste the fun the Maxima provides just commuting, for that get the Nissan Sentra or better yet, the Altima 2.5.

Young working male’s view: Simple to operate, fairly fun to drive, and with some great technology. The stereo can be operated via controls on the steering wheel and the optional Bose system is excellent. However, the radio reception is sub par so if you drive outside of larger cities keep the optional satellite coverage.


The Maxima has a 7-inch display screen and you can plug your iPod into the port in the center bin and actually control the unit through the steering wheel switches. You must see this so bring your iPod to the dealership and see the future first hand.

On the road the fact that the engine doesn’t really reach its horsepower zenith until 6400 rpm takes a little zing out of the Maxima’s stop light heroics, although maximum torque is yours at about 4500 rpm. The 20-gallon tank makes 400-mile trips easy, but despite the government’s 19/26 rating I seldom got better than 22 mpg. Another negative was the very small side mirrors and interior lighting that was far too soft. The optional xenon headlights work well, but the fog lights are ineffective.


As for a babe magnet, I would have to say barely. However, once inside they find it attractive. Since I haul equipment for http://www.eracks.com, we make really quiet and efficient open source software based computers and servers and other items that are well priced and we sell to the general public and institutions, I found that the Maxima’s trunk just wasn’t ideal. It is long, and with optional bucket rear seats you lose the ability to fold them down to make it access items that might have rolled to the front of the trunk. You either get a rake or broom or a buddy with a 40-inch sleeve to help you retrieve these lost wears. Despite this the Maxima is a fashionable plate, but not a youthful one.

Family conference: If you like its looks the Nissan Maxima is probably going to be in your driveway. There is nothing wrong with save the fuel mileage; we averaged just 22 mpg on premium, and a smallish backseat. The tidier and faster Infiniti G37 is really the only competition. Family friendly, certainly, but with a touch of fun and a hint of scandal with its fat tires and wide wheel arches. The Maxima is a good car that’s appropriate for all occasions.

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