2012 Nissan Maxima- Maximum Confusion

DSCI0053Parents have a habit of saying that their kids grow up way too fast.  That it’s only a matter of a short time before the little ones blossom from infancy to downright looming over their folks in size and strength.  Not to quote a famous lion, but it’s all part of the circle of life.  And it’s a harsh reality that the Nissan Maxima must face. Originally introduced in 1981, the Maxima has historically been the grand daddy of the Nissan family- being the largest, most well-appointed, and priciest of all the sedans  from the manufacturer.  But times have changed, and the Maxima is now eclipsed by its own children.

DSCI0058The first initial Maxima was intended to compete with the Toyota Cressida of the time- both were larger and more expensive than their Camry and Stanza counterparts and showcased each manufacturer’s technological attributes of the time.  The Cressida eventually evolved into the Avalon focusing less on technology and more on American-style luxury.  That left a niche for the Maxima and while still larger than the Stanza and Altimas of the past, it bravely hailed itself  as the first and only “four door sports car.”  To an extent, the claim wasn’t too far-fetched and the car did have more athletic intentions than its smaller Nissan siblings while adding an extra dose of size and luxury.  Anyone who has driven any Maxima from the past 20 years will tell you it can be a thrilling drive.  But the Maxima hasn’t grown much in size over the years and has been surpassed in girth and most dimensions by the Altima.  And more shockingly, a modern-day 2013 “compact” Sentra is longer, wider, and taller than any Maxima built before 1989.  My, how the kids have grown!

DSCI0089Nissan did coin the term 4DSC (four door sports car) on the third generation Maxima- which shared its engine with the 300ZX of the time.  In fact, the company is so boastful of the moniker that they have placed a sticker on the rear window of every Maxima since 1991 that reads “4DSC”.  The 2012 model I tested was no exception and it was proudly adhered to the glass.  It was one of the first things I noticed while approaching the car for the first time.   So does it live up to the label?  To an extent; yes.

DSCI0066Punch the accelerator and the balky looking Maxima feels as brisk as a cheetah.  Initial launches from a standstill are aggressive and the car pushes you….let’s correct that…pins you, by sheer g-force, into your seat.  It takes no time at all to hit 60mph (a brisk 5.8 seconds)  and even at highway velocities, a push on the throttle will bring forth a burst of energy to rocket well above the speed limit.  There are times that the engine feels strong enough to push a nuclear sub to any enemy port.  It’s quite a surprise that a dowdy sedan could have this much force.  The traction control tries it’s best to prevent wheel spin under a full throttle start and fails miserably every time.  Turn the traction control off, and the tires beg continually for mercy.  It is a smile inducing ride and one that your local tire shop will love you for with the added business.  The brawn behind all of this mayhem  is Nissan’s VQ35D 3.5 liter V6 with DOHC and variable valve timing that thrusts out 290 horsepower and 261 lbs. ft of torque.  Due to forged steel connecting rods, a microfinished one-piece forged crankshaft, and low friction molybdenum pistons, it’s a smooth powerplant even with the ferocity and has been used on a number of Nissan models- from the Quest to the Infiniti G35.

DSCI0046As the front wheels have the burden of applying this abundant power to pavement as well as the responsibility of steering the car, most front-wheel drive cars with powerful engines are prone to torque steer.  The Maxima is not immune in this case.  Under hard acceleration, the steering wheel does pull away from on-center and is easily influenced and thrown off by bumps in the road while gaining speed.  Firm hands are required to keep the Maxima on track when pushing the pedal to the metal.

DSCI0090Otherwise, steering feel is a mixed bag.  It felt a bit too light at any speed and didn’t provide much road feedback.  Even though the car seemed stable during cornering, the vague feel of the wheel didn’t provide much driver confidence.  Once the driver does feel like pushing the Maxima, roadholding is impressive and the car doesn’t lean in turns and there’s no body roll.  Even though it feels like the big car that it is from the driver’s seat, it comes across as agile enough on twisties to enjoy flinging it around.  It’s just a matter of getting past the numb steering feedback.

Ride is comfortable in most situations and the car’s four-wheel independent suspension with a multilink setup in the rear does a decent job of preventing road imperfections from entering the cabin.  However, larger potholes can be jarring and the Maxima’s steering had a surprising tendency, yet again, of being influenced and lead astray over larger bumps.  Not to sound like the worried mother that repeats herself over and over, but firm hands are required on the wheel at all times.

DSCI0088No manual transmission is offered on this sports sedan, and Nissan remains loyal to the CVT that is offered across most of its lineup.  Nissan’s Xtronic CVT is one of the best in the business and offers a continual band of power under all circumstances.  There’s no hesitating and no harshness due to shifting.  Only under hard accelerations while cruising, like in a passing situation, is there a sudden jolt.  But that more has to do with the engine’s power than the gearbox.  Like in the Altima, but not on some other Nissans, the Maxima’s CVT gives you the option to use the manumatic.  I tried it for a short while, and it works effectively enough with six gears, and adds some sportiness.

DSCI0071The interior comes with mixed reviews.  Like the Altima, and a number of other Nissans, gauges and dials are generously sized and easy to read at a glance.   Every button and detail feels supersize.  Large, glove wearing fingers will be thankful.  The digital radio display, even in its retro 80’s orange color, features a large font that doesn’t require much driver focus and could even be read by back seaDSCI0068t passengers.  Simple twist knobs for the radio volume and tuning work perfectly and the straightforward button setup for the ventilation controls was intuitive.  The gauges in front of the driver were also large, crisp, and uncomplicated.  For a well equipped car, the Maxima is effortless to learn the controls in and Nissan should be applauded.  On a completely random subject, the glove box, like the Altima’s, is immense and deep enough to swallow an entire arm’s length, or a twelve-pack of beer! 

DSCI0075Aside from the monstrous glove box, storage space is decent with average sized door pockets and a console bin.  The rear has cupholders in the center armrest and there are also air vents for back seat passengers.  Entry and exit to the rear can be a little awkward due to a surprisingly high step over the frame and narrow door sills.  Once back there, leg room is barely sufficient for two adults but head room can be tight for DSCI0069taller passengers The primary culprit is that the Maxima lost several inches in height during the last redesign and all models feature a space-stealing sunroof.  Up front, the story is better with plenty of leg room for front passengers and ample head room. Both front seats are well bolstered and are power operated, being an eight-way adjustable seat for the driver so finding a comfortable driving position is easy. 

DSCI0076All seats are covered in a plush and rich feeling cloth.  As silly as it sounds, Nissan has applied some the nicest cloth surfaces to all of its cars, even the most basic economy models.  The Maxima is no exception and the seats feel nice to the touch.  In an age of cost cutting and some of the burlap inspired textures that are out there on other cars, it’s a refreshing change.  But even with the lavish seats, a leather-covered storage bin, and some interesting tortoise-shell gray trim in the console, the Maxima’s interior feels down market.  Most dash and door panels are cloaked in a cheap, brittle, and hard grey plastic that would even look out-of-place in the Versa economy car.  It belies the Maxima’s upscale intentions and was everywhere, making it difficult to convince friends and family that you had just purchased a premium car.

DSCI0079On a bright note, visibility is good from the driver’s seat, which feels low but whose height can be raised to compensate somewhat.  Large windows and relatively thin roof pillars make parking in tight spots easy for such a large car.

Trunk space is pretty good at 14.2 cu. ft and the shape of the cargo area makes it more DSCI0083usable.  Nissan did place gas struts instead of hinges which are more expensive but free up loading space.  Kudos are deserved!  The liftover height over the bumper is low and the Maxima does feature 60/40 split fold rear seats.  There is no release inside the cabin to fold the seats down, requiring the operator to pull a cord in the trunk and then walk back around to the rear door to fold the seat down.  A little inconvenient, but it’s better than nothing.  The Maxima also does feature a spare tire.

DSCI0050Styling is always subjective and some people have praised the latest Maxima’s looks.  I find it to look bloated and awkward in some ways.  There’s a strong family resemblance to the Altima and other Nissans, but it doesn’t translate well to the Maxima.  The headlights have a bizarre boomerang shaped swoop into the front fenders, which doesn’t blend into any other part of the car’s theme and are there for no apparent reason but to look strange.  The menacing grill is DSCI0059prominent and the bulge that leads from it dominates over the front flakes of the car.  The rear tailights seem to be drawn by a different team that designed the trunk lid and the look isn’t cohesive, makng them look like merely an afterthought.  At least the greenhouse has a clean and sporty look.  Look at the car anywhere above the cowl and it can be attractive  But overall,  this Maxima isn’t a pretty car.

The EPA rates the Maxima at 19mpg/city and 26mpg/highway.  We averaged 24mpg in mixed driving- which wasn’t too bad given the car’s power and size.  However, keep in mind that premium unleaded is recommended.

Our car had 18k miles on the clock and the only known defect was a driver’s window that would pop off its track when being lowered.  Otherwise, the Maxima felt solid.

DSCI0047Ordering a Maxima is straightforward as there’s only two trim levels and both feature the same 3.5 liter V6 and automatic transmission.  It makes the indecisive among us breathe a sigh of relief.  Prices for the Maxima start at $32,420 for the “S” trim, which ours was.  Standard equipment, which is solely what ours had, included 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.  Once the destination charge was added, ours totaled $33,200.  It’s a substantial price difference over a Ford Taurus or Chrysler 300, which are also aiming at the entry-level luxury sports sedan market and nears the asking prices of some luxury marques, such as the Acura TL and Volvo S60.

DSCI0051And there lies the issue with the Maxima- it doesn’t really seem to serve the same purpose it did before the Altima grew up and the Infiniti brand was born.  The Hyundai Genesis and Toyota Avalon are about the same price as the Maxima and both offer much more luxurious interiors and equally satisfying performance.  The Infiniti G37, for about $5000 more, is a more compelling sports sedan- featuring legitimate rear wheel drive,  a larger, more powerful engine and the name brand.  But worst of all, across the showroom floor is the Altima, which is larger, has a roomier interior, and feels more well thought out- and when equipped with the same 3.5 liter V6 as the Maxima, prices for more than $8,000 less.  The kids are all grown up and the Maxima now seems irrelevant.  The gutsy engine is a hoot, but the cheap interior and high price of admission override the joy.  An unfortunate 2.5/5.0 boomerangs

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