- Precise steering
- Strong acceleration
- High-quality interior with high-tech features
- Excellent iPod integration
- More features than similarly priced luxury sedans
- Lacks the brand cachet its price tag implies
- Optional equipment stuffed into expensive packages
In these economic times, showing up to work in a new car with a fancy luxury badge may raise some eyebrows around the water cooler. Perception counts for a lot, so finding a new car that straddles the tricky divide between practical family cars and upscale luxury models would seem to be a good way to enjoy your success without flaunting it. The 2012 Nissan Maxima is one way to do so.
To put it simply, Nissan's flagship sedan offers much of the same performance, luxury and features as the company's upscale Infiniti brand, but with a less flashy badge and better value. Topping the Maxima's list of strong points is a very likable driving experience. The 290-horsepower V6 gives the Maxima enough acceleration to outsprint almost all competitors, while a well-tuned suspension manages to deliver a nice balance between athletic handling and a plush ride. An attractive passenger cabin featuring top-quality materials and the availability of many luxury features is another plus. In a way, the Maxima is an analog clock and some fancier gauges away from being an Infiniti.
However, the Maxima isn't the only stealthy luxury model. The Chrysler 300, Hyundai Genesis and Volkswagen CC are all essentially luxury cars without a traditional luxury badge. The Chrysler and Hyundai, in particular, offer significantly more interior room than the Maxima.
Of course, if you're actually looking for the cachet that comes along with a luxury brand, the Maxima obviously can't deliver. Even though you won't be getting as much equipment for your money, the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G Sedan, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Volvo S60 are all in the same pricing ballpark. They also offer a greater degree of driving and interior refinement.
That makes the 2012 Nissan Maxima an intriguing alternative for two types of luxury cars. If you're OK with that Nissan badge, or are even seeking out something less ostentatious, it's definitely worth a close look.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2012
The 2012 Nissan Maxima gains a Limited Edition package that adds some of the SV Sport's features and flashier styling to the base model. This year's model also has freshened styling (grille and taillights) and updated interior trim.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2012 Nissan Maxima is a midsize entry-level luxury sedan available in S and SV trim levels.
The standard equipment list for the base S model includes 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, power front seats (eight-way driver and four-way passenger), 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Also included are an auto-dimming rearview mirror, trip computer, Bluetooth phone capability and an eight-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack. The new Limited Edition option package for S models includes a unique grille and 18-inch dark silver alloy wheels, HID xenon headlights with smoke-tinted lenses, foglights and a rear spoiler.
Moving up to the SV adds to the base S equipment foglights, leather upholstery, a driver-seat manual thigh-support extender and power lumbar support, and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with satellite radio. The Monitor package adds a 7-inch touchscreen electronics interface, 2GB of digital music storage, an RCA auxiliary audio-video jack, a rearview camera and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Cold package adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and heated mirrors. Xenon headlights are also available separately.
The SV can also be equipped with either the Premium or Sport packages. Both add the xenon headlights, heated mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, upgraded leather upholstery, the heated front seats and steering wheel, driver seat memory functions, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with paddle shifters. Rear bucket seats with a center trunk pass-through also replace the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.
The Premium package goes on to include a dual-panel sunroof, a rearview camera, the 7-inch touchscreen, a ventilated driver seat, rear-seat audio and climate controls, automatic up/down rear windows, a power rear sunshade, wood trim, RCA auxiliary audio-video jacks (replaces standard aux jack) and an iPod interface. The Sport package adds instead a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, smoked headlights, dark chrome grille, gray metallic stitching accents, a rear spoiler and metallic-look interior trim. High-performance summer tires are an added option with the Sport package.
The Technology package can be added to either of the above option packages. It adds a voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic and weather, DVD playback and a single in-dash CD player (which replaces the six-disc version), Bluetooth streaming audio and 9.3GB of digital music storage.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
Inside, the 2012 Nissan Maxima features a decidedly upscale cabin with a sleek design and top-quality materials. Add an assortment of available luxury features and you have an interior that looks as if it was lifted out of a more expensive automobile. Really, there's very little separating the Maxima's cabin from that of an Infiniti.
Front and rear seats offer a nice blend of comfort and support, though the more supportive bucket-style backseats found in the SV Premium and Sport make the center section all but unusable. Out back the Maxima's trunk offers a healthy 14.2 cubic feet of cargo room. Base S models gain some added cargo-carrying flexibility by virtue of their 60/40-split-folding rear seatbacks, while the top-of-the-line SV makes do with a pass-through that allows longer items like skis to extend into the passenger compartment.
Standard safety equipment for every 2012 Nissan Maxima includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags that cover both rows and active front-seat head restraints. A rearview camera is an option on SV models. In Edmunds brake testing, a Maxima SV with the Sport package came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet -- an average distance for both entry-level luxury cars and family sedans.
In terms of crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Maxima its highest score of "Good" for frontal-offset and side crash protection and a second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Under the hood of every 2012 Nissan Maxima is a 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 290 hp and 261 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels though a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
In Edmunds performance testing, the Maxima SV accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is quicker than almost every other entry-level luxury sedan (with a base engine). The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
It doesn't take a lot of time behind the steering wheel of the 2012 Nissan Maxima to realize this is a very competent sport sedan. In its standard form, precise steering and a well-tuned suspension make it a good bit of fun to drive. With that in mind, we'd recommend skipping the Sport package, as the firmer suspension makes for a harsh ride with no appreciable improvement to the car's handling.
The Maxima's powertrain is a good one, with strong acceleration from the 3.5-liter V6. Even the CVT is a positive -- something we can't say for a lot of CVTs we've driven -- with good performance in automatic mode and an entertaining manual shift feature that allows you to run up and down through six simulated "gear ratios" for a sportier feel.
The 2012 Nissan Maxima serves as an appealing alternative to many entry-level luxury sedans thanks to its engaging driving dynamics and high-quality construction.