According to Nissan, the 2009 Maxima almost didn’t happen. That would have deprived the world of a sensational looking automobile with performance enhancements to match its seductive shape.
Apparently, Nissan’s original plan was to modify the existing sedan and introduce a few upgrades. At some point, though, the designers determined that a makeover just wouldn’t cut it. After all, the Maxima is Nissan’s top-dog car and laurel resting is the surest way to wind up shuffled to the that’s-so-yesterday back lot.
In an about-face that, Nissan claims, was inspired by the forthcoming GT-R supercar’s development, the designers started over with blank computer screens and with considerable encouragement to inject “emotional engineering” into the project.
Emotions were clearly running at a fever pitch since the new car is downright spectacular. The Maxima really looks like a premium automobile instead of a plumped-up Altima, even though both share the same frontwheel-drive platform. Where once there were simple, rounded contours extending the length of the vehicle, there are delicate “shoulders” extending along all four doors and fenders. Elsewhere, neatly formed creases and bulges are displayed, along with a restrained chromed grille flanked by oddly shaped headlight pods and taillamp lenses that, from certain angles, resemble shark fins. Different for sure, but it all works in an eye-catching mix that exudes sophistication and agility.
The car is four-inches shorter overall and the front and rear wheels are now a couple of inches closer together, but width and stance have been marginally increased. The slightly shrunken body structure is now 15 percent stiffer and places where the front suspension struts attach to the body are twice as rigid as before. Premium- or Sportpackage-equipped models receive a support brace running widthwise behind the passenger compartment that promotes flatter cornering, but the cargo-extending fold-flat back seat disappears in the process.
The cabin rivals Nissan’s upperlevel Infiniti models for upscale attractiveness. There’s plenty of space and comfort for five people, but the semibucket rear-seat design on the Sport package is an acknowledgement that there are rarely more than two people aboard back there.
Perhaps the Maxima’s biggest surprise is under the hood. Instead of installing the larger 3.7-liter VQ-series V6 engine employed in the Infiniti G37 coupe, a 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 keeps the Maxima on the move. The fact that it’s more powerful by 35 horses than the 2008 car, yet is expected to produce similar fuel consumption stats, is nothing to sneeze at.
Back for another term as the VQ’s running mate is a continuously variable transmission, now with more responsive (quicker) built-in “steps” that can be orchestrated using the optional steering-column-mounted paddle shifters. Drivers can also engage the transmission’s “Ds” (for Drive sport) mode that allows for higher engine revs between steps, maintains engine speed while cornering and generates automatic engine braking when decelerating.
The drivetrain and revised suspension components were thoroughly tested on Germany’s famed Nürburgring race track, lately a favorite of many manufacturers, to ensure the car would pass muster as a sports tourer. The standard-content highlights include dual-zone climate control, moonroof, power-adjustable front seats, keyless remote entry with push-button start and an eight-speaker audio system.
From that point, the sky’s the limit, with heated and cooled leather sport seats, dual-panel moonroof, navigation system, rearview monitor, 19-inch wheels (18s are standard) and a premium sound package available.
By making all the right moves in creating the new Maxima, Nissan has proven that it can still come up with a league-leading — and perhaps confidence-inspiring — design that should pave the way for more exciting products to follow.