Saturday, October 31, 2009

2010 Nissan Maxima finds right mix



Nissan’s flagship Maxima sedan was completely revised last year, and if it wasn’t already reviewed by two of our writers I would have covered it as well. You see, I was totally impressed with the 2009 model I drove at that time, and now once again thoroughly satisfied with the 2010.

The 2010 model is a near duplicate of the 2009, which was expected. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m hoping Nissan doesn’t change a thing for a long time, at least when it comes to styling. The Maxima had been an oddball design for decades, opting out of the mainstream since the beautiful 1989 through 1994 third-generation sedan exited stage left and the less appealing 1995 through 1999 fourth-gen car appeared. It got weirder in its fifth iteration, somewhat ovoid and bulbous, while the sixth-generation Maxima, sold from 2004 through 2008, was probably Nissan’s strangest offering, but pretty cool in its own right, with a uniquely shaped corporate grille, vertical headlamp clusters, teardrop taillights, and an otherworldly narrow, vertical glass fixed sunroof the spanned the full length of the cabin. With the 2009 and current 2010 Maxima, Nissan got styling very right. It’s totally unique, unlike anything else on the road, but it’s proportionally right and 100% attractive from nose to tail. Of course, not everyone will agree with me, although if everyone had good taste Oscar Meyer would be out of business.

The new car offers up a radically rectangular grille opening with horizontal chrome ribs and the Nissan logo front and centre, while one of the most distinctively shaped headlamp designs graces each front corner just below Infiniti G37-like sculpted fenders. Strong shoulder lines mirror its coke bottle fender flares, giving the Max an athletic shape, while attractive taillight lenses and a bustle-back trunk with a small lip spoiler deliver a tasteful rear end treatment. My test car was finished in a new colour for 2010, dubbed Ocean Gray, while Crimson Black also joins the nine-colour palette.

One of the reasons the new Maxima looks proportionally balanced is its new tighter dimensions, the 2009 car having had nearly four inches (100 mm) of body length removed. The roof was lowered by a half inch (12.7 mm) too, giving a sleeker profile, while those coke bottle wheel flares increase the car’s width by a manageable 1.5 inches (38.1 mm) for a stronger visual presence and better road manners. The new Max’s 1.9-inch (48.2-mm) shorter wheelbase contributes to better, more direct turn-in without any noticeable loss in ride quality or rear seat legroom. At least not noticeable to me, but then again numbers don’t lie. The new Max is down some 1.2 inches (30.5 mm) in rear legroom, a significant number in some cars, but the outgoing model was a full-size sedan with a more than adequate allotment at its disposal. Believe me when I say, you’re not going to miss 1.2 inches in the new Maxima.

It’s an accommodating back seat for sure, but the driver’s seat is where you’ll want to spend your time. At first glance only the Nissan symbol on the steering wheel hub will let on that you’re not in an Infiniti, which is a good thing because the Max has to fight it out with some pretty heady competition in the full-size entry-level brand class. Toyota’s Avalon, in need of another update, isn’t quite in the Maxima’s premium-like class, but Hyundai’s new Genesis is when it comes to interior quality and surpasses the Nissan in driving dynamics, while other rivals, like Mazda’s new 6 and VW’s slightly smaller Passat will have you feeling like you’ve sprung for more car than their humble badging infers. The Max is my favourite of all, however, because it mixes extremely good quality fit and finish and high-grade materials with a truly contemporary design. There’s no gauche faux wood, sorry Hyundai, and the genuine aluminum trim and top-tier switchgear will have you wondering why you should bother with an Infiniti. In this respect the Max actually covers territory the old Infiniti I30/I35 used to occupy, a Maxima-based midsize sedan designed to fight it out with Lexus’ ultra-popular front-drive ES; and a car Infiniti dropped after model year 2004 in an effort to build a stronger brand identity based on premium level (rear- and all-wheel drive) performance.

So, why buy an Infiniti? Nissan likes to call its Maxima a four-door sports car, but sorry guys… I’m just not buying it. The Infiniti G37 is a four-door sports car in every respect, but the Max is a bit too large, too soft and its Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), despite paddle-shifters that actuate artificial shift points to mimic a torque-converted automatic, is a bit too slushy to feel sporty. Like all CVTs, wonderfully efficient transmissions that optimize fuel economy at the expense of that off-the-line and shift-interval snap we’ve all become accustomed to in modern-day automatics, the Max suffers from the rubber band effect of a transmission never really finding a specific gear.

Connected to that fuel-friendly transmission is Nissan’s award-winning dual-overhead-cam 3.5-litre VQ-series V6 making 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 261 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. It’s a large car, albeit not too heavy at 1,627 kilos (3,587 lbs) which allows for fairly spirited acceleration and reasonable fuel economy at 10.8L/100km in the city and 7.7 on the highway. I should mention that the new Max is up some 90 kilos (200 lbs) from the old one despite its smaller dimensions, which doesn’t help the situation, although the added weight helps it to feel solidly planted on the road, and more Teutonic than its predecessor all-round.

I’m a bit surprised that Nissan hasn’t adapted the all-wheel drive system used on its Murano of its top-line Maxima, as the sedan is based on the same D-platform. Of course, this would put the price up, but it would certainly make the Max more desirable amongst sport sedan enthusiasts who would rather have the rear wheels join in with a push than only the fronts pulling. The car rides on a set of standard 245/45VR18 all-season tires on alloy rims, but mine wore the optional 245/40VR19 all-season rubber, and the wheels look fabulous.

The Maxima features a full assortment of luxury features, of course, even in base guise, such as leather seats with power actuation up front, automatic dual-zone climate control, a tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated audio controls, proximity sensing keyless access and ignition, and a power glass sunroof. Four option packages are available too, named Sport, Premium, Technology and Navigation. The Sport Package adds the aforementioned 19” rims, a rear deck lid spoiler, stiffened suspension, a host of interior upgrades and other go-fast goodies, while the Premium gets a dual panel glass sunroof, rearview camera, rear window sunshade, climate controlled front seats and more. The Technology package adds a navigation system, 9.3-gig hard drive audio storage system, Bluetooth, etc, and the Navigation package includes everything the Technology package has less the rearview monitor.

Standard safety features include four-wheel discs with ABS, traction and stability control and other electronic nannies to keep this car shiny side up, while a full allotment of airbags protect both rows.

Yes, the 2010 Nissan Maxima is the revered nameplate’s best iteration yet, and certainly worthy of consideration.

source: montrealgazette