- Delicately precise steering
- Strong powertrain
- High-quality interior craftsmanship
- Tons of high-tech features
- Best iPod integration presently available
- Luxury and Sport models lack the brand cachet their price tags imply
- Mostly useless middle rear seat with Sport or Premium Packages
- Equipment stuffed into expensive packages
We can already hear the complaints: "I am not paying $36,000 for a Nissan sedan." We understand. For that kind of money, you could be driving an Infiniti, a BMW or even a Mercedes. They must be smokin' something interesting at Nissan's Tennessee headquarters, right? Well, they're not as nutty as you may think, as the all-new 2009 Nissan Maxima is a high-quality entry-level luxury sedan that is well worth the fair amount of cash Nissan's charging for it. In fact, when fully loaded, it undercuts similarly equipped luxury-badged sedans by thousands, while in some cases being dynamically superior.
While wrapped in sharp, unique styling, the '09 Maxima was put together using the best bits and pieces found in the Nissan and Infiniti warehouses. The basic front-wheel-drive architecture comes from the sporty Altima midsize sedan; however, its length was reduced and width increased to improve handling. Nissan's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 shows up yet again, in this case with an ample 290 horsepower on tap. The Altima's excellent continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the lone transmission choice, but in the Maxima's SV trim, it comes with metal paddle shifters that control artificial transmission "gear" ratios. The low-friction, high-feel power steering is similar to the Altima too, but once again, it was upgraded to provide a more driver-focused feel.
Inside, the Maxima is an analog clock and fancier gauges away from being 100 percent Infiniti. Materials and construction are thus as good as or better than those on a G35, while the same sort of high-tech and high-lux equipment is available -- from one of the best iPod integration systems available to a cooled driver seat. Interior space is actually a smidgen less than the Altima, so don't expect the range-topping Maxima to be some sort of full-size Avalon competitor.
As long as you can live without "oohs" and "ahs" from the neighbors, the 2009 Nissan Maxima should be on the must-look list of any luxury-car buyer searching for something in the 30-grand range -- particularly something that offers foul-weather-friendly front-wheel drive. Vehicles that offer a similar amount of high-tech equipment for a low price include the Acura TSX and TL, Hyundai Genesis and Volkswagen Passat. Vehicles that offer less equipment when similarly priced, but feature more driving fun and/or brand cachet, include the Audi A4, Infiniti G35 and Lexus IS. We think the Maxima stacks up well with any of these choices, but where it ultimately stands depends on your definition of a luxury car -- or in other words, how much you're willing to throw down for a Nissan sedan.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2009
The Nissan Maxima is completely redesigned for 2009, with an added focus on performance and luxury.
The 2009 Nissan Maxima is a midsize entry-level luxury sedan available in S and SV trim levels. The base model S comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt/telescoping steering column, eight-way driver and four-way passenger power front seats, a 60/40-split rear seat, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, an auto-dimming inside mirror and an in-dash six-CD changer with an auxiliary audio jack.
The Maxima SV adds foglamps, a driver seat manual thigh-support extender and power lumbar support, leather upholstery, a compass, a Homelink universal garage remote and a nine-speaker Bose stereo upgrade.
The SV can be equipped with either the Premium or Sport packages, which offer much of the same equipment but differ in key areas. Both add transmission paddle shifters, xenon headlights (available separately, but curiously, this requires adding Bluetooth, too), a driver-side auto-dimming outside mirror, heated front seats, driver memory functions with automatic entry/exit, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, a heated steering wheel, rear bucket seats with a center trunk pass-through (60/40-split feature deleted), upgraded leather upholstery and trim, Bluetooth (available as a stand-alone option) and satellite radio.
The Premium Package is differentiated by a dual-panel sunroof, a rearview camera, a seven-inch LCD screen, a cooled driver seat, rear-seat audio and HVAC controls, automatic up/down rear windows, a power rear window shade, wood trim, an audio-visual auxiliary audio jack and a dedicated iPod interface. The Sport Package features a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, a rear spoiler and metallic-look interior trim. High-performance summer tires are an added option with the Sport Package.
The Technology Package available on the Maxima SV adds a voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic, a rearview camera, an auxiliary audio-video jack, a dedicated iPod interface, satellite radio, a single in-dash CD player (which replaces the six-disc version) and 9.3GB of digital music storage. This package is cheaper when combined with the Premium Package, since several features overlap. The heated front seats, steering wheel and outside mirrors can also be had in the Cold Package.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2009 Nissan Maxima features design and craftsmanship worthy of its luxury-car price. In fact, the Maxima's cabin -- in Premium and Sport guise -- is probably a tad nicer than that of Infiniti's G35. Buttons and knobs move with well-damped precision, while the dash and door sill tops are covered in a soft-touch material. The many buttons and knobs for audio controls, climate controls and the available navigation system are well-placed and well-spaced so each function is easy to find, whether you've gotten into the car for the first or 101st time.
The dual-zone automatic climate controls are a model of simplicity, while the stereo can be controlled via dedicated buttons or (with the Technology Package) a multipurpose control knob placed below the 7-inch display screen. With that package also comes the best solution for in-car iPod control we've seen to date. Plugged into the USB port beneath the center console bin, an iPod is completely controlled via the multipurpose knob, steering-wheel-mounted toggle switch and LCD screen menus that nicely mimic the iPod's actual controls.
Space inside the Maxima is quite good, with a comfy driver seat that provides an excellent range of adjustment. The available rear bucket seats make the middle seat practically useless, but they are very comfortable. The trunk can hold 14.3 cubic feet of stuff that enters through a wide opening.
Every 2009 Nissan 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. A rearview camera is optional.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Every 2009 Nissan Maxima comes with a 3.5-liter V6 producing 290 hp and 261 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT that can be overridden by six artificial "gear" ratios selected by the driver with steering-column-mounted paddle shifters (SV trim only).
At our test track, the Maxima SV went from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Its fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
The Maxima's potent V6 feels very strong, and unlike other CVTs, the Maxima's is well-suited to the engine. Still, those who've never driven a CVT-equipped car may initially feel like the Maxima is stuck in a hopelessly tall 1st gear.
While the 2009 Nissan Maxima may not be the "four-door sports car" it's marketed to be, it can be quite a lot of fun to drive, with a competent chassis and well-sorted suspension. Although the Sport Package offers a tauter suspension and bigger wheels, we found that it offers no dynamic advantage and ruins the Maxima's otherwise nice balance between adept handling and a comfortable ride. Steering on all Maximas is excellent, exhibiting a nice blend of low-friction weighting and a high level of road feel that should satisfy both comfort-minded and enthusiastic drivers alike.
The 2009 Nissan Maxima is a high-quality, well-stocked entry-level luxury sedan with an everyday badge. Snobs need not apply, but those with a keen eye for value should take note.