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Base Price (MSRP):$31,400.00 / As Tested (MSRP): $39,510.00
2011 Nissan Maxima
View The 2011 Nissan Maxima Specifications
Review by: New Car Test Drive
A four-door sedan with sports-car performance. 

Model Lineup
Nissan Maxima S ($31,400) comes standard with cloth upholstery, eight-way power driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, four-way power front passenger seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, interior air filter, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, trip computer, power moonroof, cruise control, intelligent key and starter button, eight-speaker AM/FM/MP3 sound system with six-disc CD changer, auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth wireless cell phone link, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, theft-deterrent system, and P245/45VR18 tires on alloy wheels.

Nissan Maxima SV ($34,100) upgrades with leather upholstery, nine-speaker Bose sound system with speed-sensitive volume control, driver's seat with a thigh extension and power lumbar, compass, fog lights, HomeLink universal garage door opener, turn signal repeaters in the mirrors, and XM Satellite Radio.

Options for the SV: The Sport package ($2,100) features a sport-tuned suspension, P245/40VR19 tires, rear spoiler, HID xenon headlights, upgraded leather upholstery, heated front seats, heated leather steering wheel, power tilt/telescoping steering column, paddle shifters, automatic entry/exit system (with two-driver memory), driver-side memory (driver's seat, outside mirrors, steering wheel), rear bucket seats, rear-seat trunk pass-through, large rear-seat fold-down center armrest, heated outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature and auto-dimming on the driver's side, and metallic-link trim.

The Premium package ($3,300) features rear air conditioning controls, premium leather upholstery, heated/cooled driver's seat, heated passenger seat, power tilt/telescoping heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, memory system (driver's seat, mirrors, steering wheel), rear bucket seats, trunk pass-through, Eucalyptus woodgrain interior trim, heated mirrors with driver's side auto-dimming and tilt-down back-up aid, dual-panel moonroof, seven-inch color monitor, rearview camera, USB port, 9.3-gigabyte Music Box hard drive, power rear sunshade, xenon headlights.

The Technology package ($1,850) adds the hard drive Navigation system with voice recognition and XM NavTraffic and XM NavWeather, 9.3-gigabyte Music Box hard drive, and seven-inch touch-screen color monitor. A Monitor package ($700) comes with the seven-inch color monitor, rearview camera, USB port, and a two-gigabyte hard drive.

Stand-alone options include the Cold package ($400) with heated front seats, outside mirrors and steering wheel; HID headlights ($400); and a rear spoiler ($375).

Safety features on all models include dual-stage frontal, side-impact and side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes with brake assist; Vehicle Dynamic Control (electronic stability control); Traction Control; tire-pressure monitoring; and active front head restraints.


Walkaround
The Nissan Maxima has an attractive, shapely look that fits with its sporty character. Brand styling themes are evident, but the look is unique in Nissan lineup.

Every exterior body panel on the car shows adventurous and modern design and shaping. The fenders bulge at the wheelwells front and rear, 2011 Nissan Maxima accented by character lines along those bulges. The hood has similar bulges, and they all lend a sporty appearance. On each side, the door skins are pulled in from the fenders and flattened out so that the whole body has what the designers call a Coke-bottle shape, with a short nose, a short deck, a long, sloping roof and a BMW-style C-pillar curvature. The grille, headlamps, and 12-LED taillamps are large and fit well into the whole exterior design.

The Maxima is a great looking, assertive sedan with high style and fine detailing, and it doesn't look like anything else in the Nissan lineup.


Interior Features
The Maxima's place at the top of the Nissan lineup is most evident from the driver's seat. The design, materials, and execution of the interior are top-notch.

The interior features of the Maxima are all about concentration of controls and information around the driver. The interior includes a few items right out of the Nissan parts bin. The radio and navigation control panel sit at the top of the center stack, backed up by lower controls with large, very readable labels and markings. The instruments are black with white numbers that are lit even during daytime driving. The hefty three-spoke steering wheel has redundant controls for the audio system, and is available with huge paddle shifters that will never be out of reach for a quick shift. The floor shifter is 2011 Nissan Maxima located to the left of the center console, for those who want to shift via the stick instead of the paddles.

The available Music Box hard-drive radio holds thousands of songs, and drivers can plug their iPods and MP3 players into the available USB port to listen to songs that way. Nissan also offers a smaller two-gig hard drive in the Monitor package to hold a few hundred songs.

Front and rear comfort is quite good, though not class leading. The driver's seat is multi-adjustable, especially in the Sport package version that we drove, and very huggy and comfortable. Headroom and legroom are generous for most drivers, though the very tall will want more of both.

The rear seat doesn't have as much space as we would expect for a car of this size. Legroom is decent. So is headroom for those of average height. However, taller occupants will want for more headroom due to the car's coupe-like roofline. The seats themselves are fairly supportive, though. Nissan designed the Maxima primarily with two people in mind, with the back seat designed for occasional use. The Altima is better suited for a family of three or four.

The trunk is small for the class, offering 14.2 cubic feet. The rear seat that comes standard folds 60/40, which adds considerable space. The Sport and Premium packages have a fixed rear seat with a cargo pass-through in the center for occasional hauling or ski trips. That reduces cargo capacity, but the metal plate behind the rear seat improves chassis rigidity, which is the key to sharp handling and a smooth ride.


Driving Impressions
Nissan markets the Maxima as a four-door sports car. While that may be going a bit far, it certainly is a sports sedan. Front-wheel drive means it isn't as naturally balanced as rear-wheel-drive cars such as the Infiniti G or BMW 3 Series. However, the Maxima has six engine mounts, and the engine is mounted quite low in the chassis for a lower center of gravity and better handling. The suspension uses aluminum components and a geometry chosen for handling capabilities. We found the front-wheel-drive generates virtually no torque-steer, even under full throttle, an impressive bit of tuning on Nissan's part.

We found the Nissan Maxima SV Sport felt agile, glued to the road and ready to play, with no hint of harshness in the ride. Of course, the Sport package is aided by the front crossbrace and the elimination of the split-folding rear seat, both of which add rigidity. (We're inclined to think the rear-seat brace makes the bigger difference.) The base model is likely plenty sporty, too, but not as precise when pushed hard.

The speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering system is shared with the 370Z sports car, and it makes the driver feel connected, 2011 Nissan Maxima truly part of the steering and driving process, and it's never over-boosted. The ABS brakes have vented rotors both front and rear, for superior fade-resistance and added braking power under severe conditions.

The Maxima comes with a strong, responsive 3.5-liter V6 engine. With 290 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 261 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, the V6 is at the top of the class in terms of power development for its size, but it's not peaky or cranky because the valve and intake systems keep it optimized for just about any gear and rev range. It has both variable valve timing and a variable intake system. The latter opens wide at about 4500 rpm, wide enough that you can hear the engine sound change dramatically, adding to the driving enjoyment. The Maxima is EPA-rated at 19 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway.

The engine is smooth right up to the 6200 rpm redline. The only time it gets loud is when the engine intake system switches over into high-flow mode above 4500 rpm. The rest of the time, the car is very quiet inside, with very little intrusion from the outside world. We are reminded once again Nissan builds superb V6s.

Power is plentiful throughout the rev range. This makes the car enjoyable to drive, and if you can keep your foot out of it, you can get better mileage than the 26 mpg EPA Highway label. If you keep your foot in it, expect 0-60 mph times of 5.8 seconds or less.

Much to the chagrin of some critics, the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is the only transmission available. As with a traditional automatic, the driver need do nothing to change ratios except step on the gas pedal. The CVT has a virtually unlimited number of gear ratios, but it also includes a manual mode with six preset drive ratios that the driver can select for sportier driving. We found it a joy to use in either mode. According to Nissan, the Xtronic CVT software contains more than 700 shifting algorithms to cope with every driving situation in every gear from idle to full-throttle, and the transmission can shift 30 percent faster than a human can manually. In the Sport Drive mode, the shifts are lightning quick, and Nissan has programmed it to include a very sporty throttle blip on every downshift.


Final Word
From its quick, accurate steering to the ready power to the nimble handling, the Nissan Maxima is one of the most fun-to-drive midsize sedans. It isn't 2011 Nissan Maxima the roomiest car in the class, and it isn't the least expensive. It isn't meant to be. Instead, it is designed as a premium car for drivers who want a sporty four-door but don't want to spend the money for full-on luxury.

Jim McCraw filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Cary, North Carolina, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.

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