Nissan's new '09 Maxima

The completely re-bodied, restructured Nissan Maxima 2009 model just went on sale. It's visually hot and mechanically tasty. Maxima is so new, you probably haven't noticed it yet. Once you see it, you will notice the unique shape and style.

The completely re-bodied, restructured Nissan Maxima 2009 model just went on sale. It’s visually hot and mechanically tasty. Maxima is so new, you probably haven’t noticed it yet. Once you see it, you will notice the unique shape and style.

This new V6 Maxima may fit in to your families’ transportation restructuring plan. For that matter, it could fit into your business restructuring plans. Most of us know to avoid a V-8 engine unless we have a particular need or emotion that must be satisfied. You probably are developing an energy dollar saving transportation plan for the next few years. Many 6-cylinder engines like the Maxima’s achieve the horsepower like a V-8, yet get meaningfully better fuel economy.

Owner Strategy

Ideally, it’s best to keep a car a minimum of 5 years to get the best value. The present economic situation in the United States will force most of us to keep our vehicles longer in order to save money. Making a quality choice is now more difficult yet more important. Generally speaking, to save the most money, you should avoid quick emotional decisions about vehicle purchases, including boats and motor homes. Brilliantly designed, excellently economical, superiorly safe, four-door sedans can be had for under $20,000 loaded with goodies.

Toyota and other automakers have been losing sales to Nissan. Nissan sales have gone up when other automakers have dropped in sales during these tight economic times. Renault of France now controls Nissan of Japan. The French have a whole different idea on how a car should be built and how it should feel. The complete ride and experience of a French car is different…softer. The controls and the ride are not German, not English, and certainly not Japanese. It seems that American cars ride most like the French. Mechanically, the Maxima has been “Frenched,” with a smooth athletic driveline.

Fine French Styling

The styling has absolutely been “Frenched.” The classic Coca-Cola bottle has a shape like no other; many believe that it helped boost sales to the top. The shape and feel of the bottle has sex appeal and remains a success. The new Maxima doesn’t show itself well in photographs like most Porsches. Nissan first seemed timid to show revealing photographs and after seeing over 50 photos of this car, we were both pleasantly surprised to see the Maxima in person.

The new Maxima is nearly identical in size to the $46,000 BMW 528i sedan, yet will cost you only about $30,000 for this luxury sedan. The three chromed, horizontal grille bars adjacent to the wrap around headlights create the image of a strong, aggressive, yet sporting stance. The headlight is a unique cut the likes of which you’ve not seen before. The headlights wrap around the fender but not over the fender. The aluminum hood is cut differently than most any other car and the hood fit and design alone is attractive.

Photographs especially don’t do justice to the beautiful flaring of the fenders front and rear. The styling is closer to an Aston Martin coupe you would see in a Bond movie. If you were to look down the side of the car putting your eye at headlight level, you would notice how far out to the side both the left and right front and rear wheel wells and fenders are. The four passenger doors are noticeably inward of the fenders.

Standing 20 feet away, you’ll notice how the roofline and profile is much like that of many modern luxury sedans. The rear windshield creates an attractive aerodynamic fastback flowing to a rounded off trunk lid. The optional rear spoiler appears to offer no benefits other than visual gratification. The new Maxima looks strong.

Constant Flow Driveline

The majority of the time you are behind the steering wheel driving your car. So how it handles and performs for you is most important. There is only one engine and transmission available. The all-aluminum V6 engine is transversely mounted upfront, driving the front wheels. Of course it has double, double overhead cams and variable valve timing, with four valves per cylinder. The engine’s response and sound is quick and pleasing. Sadly, there is no direct injection, and this engine requires premium fuel. Engine vibration is minimal, partly because of two electronically controlled engine mounts.

Like so many cars today the accelerator pedal directly connects with the computer, which controls a motor governing the throttle. It’s an art to make a drive-by-wire system feel good. This feels good. Even the optional speed sensitive wipers are hooked to this computer.

The engine makes this car feel traditional and the transmission makes this car feel different. Constantly variable transmissions have been common for decades in Europe and uncommon in America for over a decade. Now well proven, this unique transmission has no gears, hence it is impressively smooth in sport mode. In regular driving, the transmission is allowed to slide infinitely through the ratios, always picking the best combination for engine power efficiency as well as vehicle weight and driver demand.

The CVT has a different feel in the way the car accelerates. We think it takes a little getting used to, but it’s fun from the start. In sport or manual mode the transmission replicates having gears by going to preset ratios. You can buy paddle shifters for the quickest ratio change. We think it’s funny that the automaker uses software to make a newer transmission feel like an older transmission. The whole driveline is a Disneyland of entertainment.

Independent Thinking

Go ahead and get on your knees, bend down and look up under the car. What do you see? I see a subframe upfront isolating and supporting the engine, transmission, and front suspension components including the steering. The rear subframe, like the front, has some attractive aluminum components. The finest cars use cast aluminum suspension components.

The independent suspension is very competent and broadcasts pleasant feedback; the ride is German in feel. The traditional power rack-and-pinion steering is vehicle speed-sensitive and well-executed. Steering feedback is a little light.

The braking system is surprisingly competent, with big vented discs at all four wheels. Dynamic stability control is standard, as are antilock brakes and brake assist. Brake assist helps you stop your car more quickly by sensing the urgency in your foot on the brake pedal while going to maximum stopping power quicker.

Inner Beauty

When you’re operating the vehicle, you’re (hopefully!) in the car looking out, so the interior is actually disproportionately important to the exterior look of the car. The base model of the car is the 3.5S, which comes standard with a cloth interior leather is standard on the 3.5VS. The instrumentation in front of the driver is clear with the attractive daytime illumination. It’s good to see that the Maxima still has an engine coolant temperature gauge.

The shift lever is well placed on the driver’s side of the center console. In front of the center console on the instrument panel is a 7- inch screen that gives you a readout for your audio system as well as your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning controls. If you don’t add navigation for this car, the flat screen seems awkward. The whole front of the center console from the screen down doesn’t seem to come together well visually

The textures on the interior of the car are most satisfying and offer a great variety. The standard 8-way power driver’s seat with a manual lumbar support for the driver is very nice, but to get to the best luxury, you really have to buy the VS model.

The SV adds leather to the interior, a nine speaker Bose audio system, fog lights, outside mirrors with turn signal indicators, and a thigh support extension for the driver’s seat. Before you sit in the perforated leather seats, take a look at how they’re sewn and the way they feel during your driving experience. It’s a five-seater in a crunch, but really a four-seater most of the time. All four seats are very bucket-like to support you comfortably. Getting in and out is not the most comfortable, because of the side bolsters, but judge for yourself. During your test drive, stop a couple of times and get in and out see what it’s about after you’ve gotten comfortable. Get in the back seats and test for leg length and the headroom.

Most Fun

The most common model sold will be the 3.5SV, with a few option packages like the Tech Package that includes a navigation system and a hard drive music box, or the Premium Package that includes a stunning dual panel moon roof. Simply put, most every option you can get in a comparably sized Lexus you can get in the new Maxima. The Lexus ride is softer, less performance-oriented.

If you enjoy sporty driving, then order the Sport Package with a retuned suspension and large 19-inch wheels, among other luxuries. If you live in an area that has four distinct seasons you’re likely to find front-wheel drive superior to rear-wheel drive in directional stability and traction when driving around town. All-wheel drive is best for winter weather, yet uses up the most fuel. Front-wheel drive will get you most places on the road that all- wheel drive will get you. Rear-wheel drive is the most tricky to handle in wet and snowy weather.

So if you're considering buying an Acura TL, a BMW 3-Series or 5-Series, you must drive the Maxima just for the experience to see how great independent thinking can be.

2009 Nissan Maxima Fast Facts

Length 190.6 in.

Width 73.2 in.

Wheelbase 109.3 in.

Weight (lb.) 4,698

Distribution % front/rear 61/39

Passengers up to 5

Drive Front-wheel

Engine 3.5-liter, V6

Hp@rpm 290@6,400 rpm

Ft-lb@rpm 261@4,400 rpm

Transmissions Xtronic CVT

City/Hwy 19/26

Gas Requirement Premium

Built Smyrna, Tennessee

Safety Score 61* (in top 5% for ’09)

Real Price S: $28,200 SV: $30,500

Website www.nissanusa.com

*www.informedforlife.org