Nissan Maxima

Debut: 2008
Maker: Nissan
Predecessor: Maxima (2003)

To differentiate it from Altima, Nissan makes it feel sportier as well as higher quality...

Offered exclusively for USA and Canada, Nissan Maxima has an embarrassing market positioning. On the one hand Nissan wants to position it above the mainstream Altima, on the other hand it shall not steal sales from Infiniti G. Another problem is how close its relationship with Altima. They are built on the same platform using the same engine and assembled in the same plant in Tennessee, USA. No wonder Maxima does not depart very much from its cheaper sister in size, performance and build quality. You can imagine how difficult for sales persons to persuade customers spending more money on the Maxima. Every year Nissan sells around 50,000 to 70,000 Maximas, a sharp contrast to the 250,000 units level of Altima.

For the aforementioned reasons, in the making of new generation Maxima, job number one was to differentiate it further apart from Altima, making it feel sportier as well as higher quality in order to justify its price. Judging from looks alone, the mission seems accomplished. Forget the fat and ugly old car, here comes a sports sedan look-alike. It is wide, low and sleek, with sportscar fenders and a handsome face. Let’s call it a gentleman in sportswear. It looks handsomer than the current generation BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-class, although ultimately it lacks the attention to details of Audi or the inspiration of Alfa Romeo. One thing is for sure: Nissan Maxima has never been so stylish, so the first test has passed.


Judging from looks alone, the mission seems accomplished... Let’s call it a gentleman in sportswear.

The second test goes to the cabin. Sportiness is again the main design theme. A simple instrument pod, wide transmission tunnel, thick rim leather steering wheel, initiative controls, steering column-mounted gearshift paddles and deep leather bucket seats are what you would expect in a German sports sedan. Ditto the soft-touch plastics over the dashboard. Although other plastics at center console and door panels are less convincing, the build quality is way above the level of previous American-built Nissans. Most important, it feels more expensive than Altima.

The cabin of new Maxima is slightly smaller than the old car, mainly because its wheelbase has been shrunk by 50mm to 2775mm (the same as Altima). Absolute cabin volume is now less than Altima, but 4 or even 5 six-footers will still find it a comfortable place.

In cabin, sportiness is again the main design theme...

Nissan follows Mazda to downsize its cars, but it does that to improve agility rather than economy. The new Maxima is 75mm shorter and 12mm lower than the car it replaced yet it has a wider stance and wider tracks to benefit handling. Predictably, underneath the sheet metal is Nissan's D-platform, the same one underpinning the current generation Altima and Murano SUV. However, it differs from the mainstream model by a stiffer chassis, more NVH insulation and some aluminum suspension components that come from Infiniti M. The suspension tuning is stiffer, while sporty 245/40R19 tires are offered.

Engine is again that VQ35DE 3.5-liter DOHC with intake variable valve timing, now tuned to 290 horsepower, 20 horses higher than Altima. That is also more than what class rivals Honda Accord and Toyota Camry / Avalon offer. The only transmission available is the Xtronic CVT - again from Altima - but it is added with paddle shift to distinguish from the cheaper model. In manual mode the CVT simulates a manual gearbox with 6 fixed ratios. As we have found in Altima, this CVT is matured enough to replace a conventional automatic gearbox, but keen drivers will miss the direct response of a real manual box. Strangely, despite of its stronger sporting pretension, Maxima is not offered with a 6-speed manual box like Altima.

What Nissan claimed – “the best front-wheel drive car in the world” – is far from the truth.

Anyway, with close to three hundred horsepower under its hood, performance will never disappoint. Car and Driver found it took 5.8 seconds to go from 0-60 mph, very good for a big family sedan. In terms of handling, Maxima also feels more sporting than its Japanese rivals, Honda Accord included. Stiff suspensions, wide tracks and testing work done at Nurburgring Nordschleife (surprise !) result in flat cornering and reasonably well suppression of torque steer. However, what Nissan claimed – “the best front-wheel drive car in the world” – is far from the truth. On twisty back roads, the Maxima feels quite huge and heavy to handle. Tight body control aside, it doesn't show the balance and throttle adjustability we expected for a driver's car. It also suffers from a harsh ride on poor surfaces, blame to that stiff suspension setup. The speed-sensitive steering is not the best among front-drive cars either, being overlight at low speed and lacks feel all the time. All these shortcomings mean it is not as much fun to drive as the best European front-drive family sedans (and don't forget Mazda 6 of course), let alone the rear-drive Australian cars, Chrysler 300 or BMW 3-Series.

To be a real driver’s car, Maxima will probably need to lose some weight, conduct more testing on back roads and employ a more sophisticated front suspension than the MacPherson struts. But then how to build it on the low-cost Altima platform ? The conflict between costs and engineering excellence is always a headache to automotive engineers. As long as the Maxima is built in Tennessee alongside Altima, I don’t see any solutions.

The above report was last updated on 30 May 2008. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Maxima 3.5SV

Front-engined, FWD

Steel monocoque

Mainly steel

Length / width / height 4840 / 1860 / 1468 mm

Wheelbase 2775 mm

V6, 60-degree

3498 cc

Valve gears
DOHC 24 valves, VVT


Other engine features

Max power
290 hp / 6400 rpm

Max torque
261 lbft / 4400 rpm


Suspension layout
F: strut
R: multi-link

Suspension features

Tyres front/rear

Kerb weight
1650 kg

Top speed
132 mph (c)

0-60 mph (sec)
5.8* / 6.1** / 6.1***

0-100 mph (sec)
15.4* / 15.9** / 15.4***

Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT, ***R&T

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