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Thread: 2009 Nissan Maxima

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    2009 Nissan Maxima

    I'm not sure what to think about the just-redone '09 Nissan Maxima.

    One the one hand, it is now more powerful than ever - its standard V-6 engine pumped up to 290 hp (from 255 previously). It has perhaps the best CVT transmission on the market, too.

    But it's also more expensive than ever.

    For the first time, the Maxima's base price is now more than $30k. My test car was almost $40k. That's serious money. BMW and Mercedes money.

    But is it Nissan money?

    WHAT IT IS

    The Maxima is a mid-sized, front-wheel-drive sport sedan that seats 4-5 (depending on whether you order the optionally available rear bucket seats).

    Historically, it has been the middle-priced, middle class alternative to more expensive German sport sedans like the BMW 3-Series - offering the enthusiast driver similar performance and handling for a lot less money.

    But that's been changing... .

    WHAT'S NEW

    Everything. The '09 Maxima has been totally re-styled and completely updated. So has the price - which now starts at $30,160 for the S and $32,860 for the SV.

    Last year's Maxima began at $28,630.

    The new MSRP puts the Maxima well ahead of cars like the $24,130 Mazda6 V-6 and the $24,605 Honda Accord EX V-6 - which can now be considered the value leaders in this segment - and in pretty close competition with entry-luxury sport sedans like the BMW 3-Series ($33,600), Acura TL ($34,995), Lexus IS 350 ($36,605) and Cadillac CTS ($36,265).

    ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

    Someone's been working out.

    The Maxima now boasts some of the biggest biceps in its class - in the form of a standard 290 hp 3.5 liter V-6 (a gain of 35 hp) that is very close in spec and output to the engine that powered last year's 350-Z sports car.

    Performance is comparable, too - with easy 6 second 0-60 runs and "right now" passing power.

    Nissan's 3.5 liter V-6 is a superb engine, the recipient of several industry awards. It is also much stronger than the BMW 3-Series' base engine (a 3 liter six rated at 230 hp) and only 10 hp off the mark of the BMW's optional twin-turbo, 300 hp six.

    It also easily outguns the Cadillac CTS, which comes with a standard 258 hp 3.6 liter V-6 - and offers about 20 hp more than the six-cylinder versions of the Accord or Mazda6.

    Only two entry-luxury sedans pack a heavier punch - and only one of them with its standard engine.

    The Lexus IS is the big Kahuna here, with a standard 306 hp 3.5 liter six. Acura's just-redone TL sedan also offers a 306 hp 3.7 liter V-6, but it's optional. The TL's standard engine is a 280 hp 3.5 liter V-6.

    So, power/performance is where the Maxima still offers a lot of value relative to the entry-luxury sport sedans it now swims with in terms of pricing. And it pretty much dominates anything under $30k (cars like the Honda Accord and Mazda6) when the gas pedal goes down.

    There is only one transmission choice this year - a CVT automatic that can be operated in manual mode via the console-mounted gear selector or steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It is a well-sorted transmission that easily transitions from high-winding/high RPM screamer to docile commuter (more on this below). But a Maxima without a true manual transmission - at least as an available option - is missing something in my book.

    Amazingly, the much stronger '09 Maxima's EPA mileage numbers are slightly better than last year's - 19 city/26 highway vs. 19 city and 25 highway. I suspect that Nissan under-rated the power output of last year's Maxima, because gaining 35 "real" - vs. on-paper - horsepower without any loss of fuel economy seems improbable. Or miraculous.

    Still, no complaints.

    RIDE & HANDLING /DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

    Despite being FWD (and not offering a manual gearbox) the Maxima is a very credible sport sedan that will impress you with its ability - and enthusiasm - to dive into the corners. The steering feels very light, even over-boosted at first - but it is precise and the light effort means its easy to flick around without manhandling. Think Hunter Thompson holding a glass of Chivas... .

    There's no torque steer violence, either; just a very light and almost imperceptible left-right wig-wag of the steering wheel when you really hammer it off the line. But this does not translate into any wig-wagging of the front wheels themselves, which always track straight even when every one of those 290 hp is trying to bust loose through them.

    In a straight-up drag race, the Maxima's a hard car to beat - if you're driving anything that costs less than $30k.

    The CVT transmission may be the best such transmission on the market. It translates the engine's 290 hp into immediate thrust, without the "wait a second until I find the right gear" hesitation of a conventional automatic.

    With a CVT, you are always in the right gear because there are no gears - as such. Just a single, continuously variable forward speed that adjusts constantly to load and speed. This part isn't new; all CVTs do this. But the Nissan CVT is one of the first CVTs that is also quiet. Early CVTs could sound like something just broke whenever you floored the gas pedal. This one doesn't. It may be because the V-6 is so powerful that even full throttle acceleration is totally unstressed - or it might be due to refinements Nissan has made to the CVT. In any case, the package works - beautifully.

    On a purely personal and subjective level, I'd prefer a six-speed manual - with a real clutch to play with. But the reality is fewer than 10 percent of cars like the Maxima that even offer a manual come equipped with one. Most people simply prefer the convenience of an automatic, whether conventional or CVT.

    Overall, despite going up against cars that are mostly (with the exception of the Acura TL) rear-wheel-drive - and some of which that offer a clutch - the Maxima puts on a very impressive show. It's quicker off the line than a BMW 328 or base model TL and CTS - and anyplace other than an all-out race track, it'll keep up in the corners, too.

    STYLING & UTILITY

    This new Maxima is much more stylistically daring than the previous model. From the driver's seat, you look out over an undulating hood that's almost Batmobile-like, with "wings" that arch up on either side to meet the A pillars. The windshield seems to be sunken into the metalwork - and swept back at a steep angle. There are hips and haunches, Z-car swept-back asymmetrical headlights and a very fast fastback roof.

    The new Max is also physically smaller than the previous one - and actually has less interior space than the current Altima.

    Nissan chopped the '09's wheelbase down to 109.3 inches (from 111.2 previously) and the car's about four inches shorter, nose to tail (190.6 inches vs. 194.4 previously). The swoopier exterior design has cost some headroom (down to 38.5 inches up front from last year's 40.1 inches - and 36.4 inches in back from 37.3 inches previously). The shorter wheelbase (and fastback rear glass) meanwhile, has cost back seat occupants about 2 inches of legroom (down to 34.6 inches from 36.5 in '08). This is a difference taller people will immediately notice. The back seats are not serviceable for drivers much over six feet tall. Your knees will hit the front seatbacks and your head will graze the roof - especially if the car is equipped with the optional sunroof.

    Trunk space is down, too - to 14.2 cubic feet from 15.5.

    These changes have made the '09 Maxima look - and drive - more like a sport sedan, but the loss of space inside may cost Nissan some taller/longer-legged buyers.

    One very cool feature the Maxima offers is an over-sized, two-piece sunroof - with the only downside being that it's packaged with the premium-priced Premium Package. On the upside, this includes a rearview back-up camera with LCD display in the center stack, heated and cooled driver's seat, backseat AC and audio controls, HID headlights, leather seats and trim and about a dozen other upgrades. But the price - $3,450 - is either a bargain (lots of stuff for not that much) or a bridge too far (maybe you just want one or two options - and a lower price). Nissan won't let you buy most of the available options on a piece by piece basis - or even packaged one or two together. It's the whole enchilada - or nada. This can boost the Maxima's price to nearly $40,000 (my test car's MSRP was $38,500) which, again, is a lot of money for a FWD Nissan sedan.

    A similarly pricey Technology Package is also available. It offers techno goodies such as voice-activated GPS navigation, dedicated iPod hook-up in the center console and 9.3 GB music storage hard drive. You can combine this with the Premium Package, which will save a few bucks.

    QUALITY & SAFETY

    Safety's almost not worth discussing anymore. Things like ABS, multiple air bags, crumple zones, traction and stability control are virtual givens, especially at this price point. You have to go way down the food chain to find a car that can be fairly described as less than crashworthy - let alone unsafe - and the Maxima's far above such vehicular riff-raff.

    The Maxima's FWD layout can be considered a safety advantage in the sense that it makes the car much less apt to skid out of control or lose its footing on rain-slicked or snow-covered surfaces. Of its main competitors, only one - the Acura TL - offers AWD.

    As far as quality: My tested Maxima had magnificent paint - even in areas such as the door jambs, which you don't normally see - and which some automakers don't clear coat to save a few bucks per car during assembly.

    There is some iffy hard plastic trim - especially on the upper door panels and the trim pieces around the steering wheel hub. It doesn't look bad; it's just something you notice- and begin to question - after you notice the Maxima's MSRP. This is another small example of where the Maxima's price tag comes close to over-reaching. It's not a big deal - or even a deal-breaker.

    But it is something you can't help questioning.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    If you're careful with the options and keep the price under $35k - which should be doable in this economy - the Maxima can still be considered a good value - though it's not the great deal it once was. The new Mazda6, especially, is a very tough "side by side" for the Maxima. For an incredible $24,130 sticker, you can get a V-6 that's nearly as strong (272 hp) with a six-speed manual transmission, too - and comparable features and equipment.
    Last edited by Eric; 01-28-2009 at 07:13 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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  3. #3
    I really like the new Maxima - it is a very good looking car
    '06 Lotus Elise, '07 Saturn Sky Redline

  4. #4
    Senior Member Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by damen View Post
    I really like the new Maxima - it is a very good looking car.


    OK, looks cool, but, who had the drawings the wrong way up and put the steering wheel on the wrong side?

    Ken.
    Die dulci fruimini!
    Ken.
    Wolds Bikers, Lincolnshire, England.

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by damen View Post
    I really like the new Maxima - it is a very good looking car
    I like aspects of it. The price is getting a bit iffy. $40k? Even well-equipped, that's a bit more than I'd be willing to spend on a FWD Nissan when I can get a RWD BMW or Audi or Lexus for about the same money. What are your thoughts on that?

  6. #6
    well, the best BMW you're going to get for that price is a 135i (optioned, anyway) - which I would fully agree is a better car all around (though I'm not 100% sure which cars looks I like better in this case).

    The audis in this price range (the A4 and TT) doesnt even come close in horsepower (80 less!) unless you bump up to the more expensive models, and even then is still less until the S series or looks - though the recent facelifts have been excellent. AWD rocks though, no question.

    Lexus... the IS350 isnt bad. much more comparable on power.. similarly priced. I'd only consider the Lexus over the Nissan because of the RWD layout - aside from that, the Nissan wins out in my book
    '06 Lotus Elise, '07 Saturn Sky Redline

  7. #7
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by damen View Post
    well, the best BMW you're going to get for that price is a 135i (optioned, anyway) - which I would fully agree is a better car all around (though I'm not 100% sure which cars looks I like better in this case).

    The audis in this price range (the A4 and TT) doesnt even come close in horsepower (80 less!) unless you bump up to the more expensive models, and even then is still less until the S series or looks - though the recent facelifts have been excellent. AWD rocks though, no question.

    Lexus... the IS350 isnt bad. much more comparable on power.. similarly priced. I'd only consider the Lexus over the Nissan because of the RWD layout - aside from that, the Nissan wins out in my book
    Nissan's main issue with this car is it's becoming a luxury-priced car even though Nissan's not a luxury brand.

    Certainly, it has the hp (equal or better than the cars you mention). But even with the power - and the luxury equipment - it's still not a luxury brand.

    No disrespect intended toward Nissan. It's a great brand; they make great vehicles (I own one myself). But why push the Maxima into competition with Lexus, BMW and Audi?

    A very big part of the reason most people spend luxury car money is to get the prestige of owning a high-end branded vehicle. "I own a Nissan" just doesn't come off in the same way as saying "I own a BMW."

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Considering how long this car has been on the market, I'm still surprised when I occasionally see one.

    And since every one I've seen has been black, for all I know I could just be seeing the same one every time.

    It's one of the most unspeakably ugly pieces of rolling stock to hit the streets since the bustle-back Seville. Particularly from the firewall forward, every single detail is horribly wrong. It looks like it melted in the sun.

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    Considering how long this car has been on the market, I'm still surprised when I occasionally see one.

    And since every one I've seen has been black, for all I know I could just be seeing the same one every time.

    It's one of the most unspeakably ugly pieces of rolling stock to hit the streets since the bustle-back Seville. Particularly from the firewall forward, every single detail is horribly wrong. It looks like it melted in the sun.

    Not anymore!

    See the Nissan Cube....

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