July 2, 2012
Drew Dowdell - Managing Editor, CheersandGears.com
When most people think of stalwart Japanese cars, the first names that come to mind are typically the Accord and Camry. However, Nissan's had a name in the game for just as long with the Maxima. The Maxima was the first of the Japanese mid-size cars to go big, growing to 188 inches in 1988 while the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry remained decidedly more compact for a few more years. This gave the Maxima a leg up in being considered more of a luxury car than your otherwise typical Japanese sedan. The 1988 Maxima was also called a 4 Door Sports Car by Nissan in a nod to the powerful-for-time 160 horsepower V6 and a more sport tuned independent suspension. Over time, the Maxima has gained horsepower and luxury while giving up its status to the Altima as Nissan's mainstream sedan
So is Nissan's luxury sedan a master of the road?
I picked up this 2012 Nissan Maxima with just 2,600 miles on the clock at Louisville airport for a trip to Evansville Indiana, a drive of about 100 miles. As you approach the car, you notice the sporty haunches, low slung grill and aggressive stance. From the back, there is almost a hint of Mercedes S-Class in that ass. I only had roll aboard luggage with me for this trip but I immediately noticed the smallness of the trunk opening and relative lack of trunk space for a car of this size. Large luggage could be a struggle here.
Getting in the driver seat, the view is ...well.. modern minimalist. You're greeted with a large sea of nearly black dashboard that looks like hard plastic but is mostly soft touch and padded. The seat fabric is made of an almost faux suede cloth that feels very nice on the hands. The driver and front passenger seats are nicely supportive, but could use a bit more side bolstering for a car being billed as a sports car. My only big complaint with the seat was with the head rest. There is no way to tilt it forward and it sits too far behind your head to be of use while driving.
Back seat passengers will be happy with the generous legroom and headroom offered. There is a rear center armrest, but when you open the cup holder the lid blocks you from putting your hand there.
During my trip I was scheduled to be on 3 conference calls. The Bluetooth setup in the Maxima is possibly one of the easiest I've experienced. The instructions are: Press the phone button, no phone found, would you like to add?, yes, searching for phone, enter code, done. Thanks to the well sound insulated cabin, my conference calls were easy to hear and participate in.
Push button start is standard on all Maximas, and pressing that button fires up a lively, 290 horsepower, 261 ft-lb torque, VQ V6 engine backed by Nissan's CVT transmission. Some people don't like CVT transmissions because of the lack of a traditional shifting feel, but it is really their own loss. The CVT gives the Maxima a smoothness that Buick would be jealous of. Pressing the pedal firmly to the floor and the Maxima will dart to 60 in just 6.1 seconds. During such acceleration, if you keep the wheel perfectly straight everything will be fine. If you need to turn while under heavy throttle, you can get a bit of torque steer to fight. Driven lightly, the CVT can actually accelerate the car without engine rpm changing. From a dead stop, bring the engine RPM up to about 1,400 and the car can accelerate up to about 50 miles per hour before the tach needle will start to move. Nissan has programmed the CVT to give you a down-shift feel when you give it a sudden amount of gas.
Once you're on your trip, the smoothness of the Maxima really shines. The suspension soaks up road imperfections with the skill of a soft luxury car. The cabin is well insulated, but there was a noticeable amount of tire slap over expansion joints. Even at highway cruising speeds, the VQ V6 is still able to be heard under the hood giving the 4-Door-Sports-Car a bit of a muscle soundtrack to ride along with.
In my fairly base model Maxima, the radio felt a bit weak, and with no USB input for my iPod (an auxiliary input is offered) I didn't listen to the radio much.
The Maxima and I spent 388 miles together, during which I averaged 24.5 mpg, nearly all of that being highway. EPA rated at 19 city, 26 highway and requesting premium gas for best performance, the Maxima's fuel costs would be a good bit higher than similar size and powered sedans from the competition.
Another issue is price; the 2012 Maxima bases a $32,240 plus destination charge. At that price you would have needed to already pass up the less expensive, but similarly powerful and sized Volkswagen Passat V6, Chrysler 300, and Honda Accord EX-L V6... all of which get better fuel economy than the Maxima.
Is the 2012 Nissan Maxima a master of the road? It does everything well that a good road trip car should as long as you don't have a lot of junk for the trunk, but there may be better options in this size class if you are watching costs.
Higher Res Gallery:
Nissan Motor America did not provide the vehicle and is in no way affiliated with this evaluation.
Our Road Masters series is a different kind of review focusing entirely on how well the car performs on a road trip. The vehicles may or may not be provided by manufacturers and won't always be new cars.