New Maxima SV not as sporty as advertised

The 2009 Nissan Maxima SV is advertised by Nissan USA as the return to Nissan’s past, with the reinvention of its four-door sports car concept. This is a much needed change as the past few editions of the model have simply been large, soft and alloy Altimas. This was Nissan’s shot at fixing this problem, and it has still missed the mark. I could sit here and ramble on about the features it has or needs, but, really, the problem is simple.

The car lacks focus. It is too soft and smooth to be a sports sedan, but is still to sporty to be a true luxury car. It is like Nissan had all the parts and criteria to make the car a four-door sports sedan, and then could not be bothered to do anything with them.

For instance, examine the new exterior. Although I love the new aggressive lines and stance, as well as the hints to the GT-R and upcoming 370Z. Nissan drops the ball with the car’s hideously chromed front grill. The only company that tends to get away with that is Mercedes-Benz, and the Maxima’s lines to not lend well to that chrome piece. Instead, Nissan should have taken a page out of Audi’s book and made a black mesh grill or something a little less gaudy.

However, Nissan, in trying to keep the traditional luxury feel of its past Maximas, had to make several sacrifices, which all detract from the sporty nature of the vehicle.

First is the gearbox. Nissan USA, in several interviews, has stated its intentions on adopting the CVT gearbox to most of its models, as a way to increase overall fuel economy. This adoption is a good thing, increased fuel economy in this time of high oil prices, and upcoming government regulations is essential to the success of any automaker. However, a CVT gearbox is exactly the opposite of sporty. They are smooth and brilliant machines, making for an uneventful drive everywhere you go. In a sports car or sports sedan though, you do not want that. Instead, a sports car should occasionally just turn around and smack you or maybe even punch you in the face, and this will never happen in the Maxima. Taking the a car up to its redline to shift is an event, and that’s why nothing will ever truly beat a manual for a true driving enthusiast.

Nissan recognizes that most people interested in a Maxima probably do not want a true manual, which is correct but the answer is not found in a CVT. Instead, like almost every other maker of sports sedans, Nissan should have used a double clutch gearbox, perhaps one similar to the one found in the brand’s own GT-R. These gearboxes maintain the sporty feel while still allowing the driver to just leave the car alone if he or she is in traffic, and does not want to deal with the constant shifting from a manual.

Then, of course, you get to the rest of the interior which is on the whole very good. However, in a few little places, it really gets on my nerves.

First off is the center trim, the standard model without any packages has a “graphite” trim which looks modern and contemporary, sort of carbon fibre-esque. But then when you add the sports or premium packages, it switches this trim out for a cheap looking wood. When I think modern sports car, I do not think wood trim; I think brushed aluminum or carbon fiber, not cheap wood.

Then, of course, you get to the shifter itself which is so small it looks like Nissan realized right before production that it forgot about it and then just threw something together. As a part of the driving experience, a shifter is an important link between the driver and the car. Thus, it should have been designed to be a more integral part of the car. Thankfully, though, after you switch the car into drive you can use the far more sporty paddle shifters, which allow you to manually swap the cogs in a car that does not have any cogs and is faster in its automatic mode.

Now this may all seem like a boat load of criticism toward the new model, but really it’s more of a shot at the marketing team that tried to force the four-door sports car concept. Instead, why did they not just advertise the Maxima as what it is? The Maxima is a very comfortable luxury sedan that has a little bit of go to keep things interesting. While its constant mesh (CVT) gearbox is poor for feeling like a sports car, it is great for making you be utterly comfortable in everyday traffic, and the supple leather seats just absorb your stress, not your body during high G turns.

In all the Maxima SV is good; but the vehicle is just not the product that is advertised – it’s like getting Lucky Charms without any marshmallows. It is simply not what was expected, and is no four-door sports car. If you had expected a good luxury car with a little flavoring to keep things interesting it would fit the bill quite well and is certainly a good rival to its competition as a four-door sedan in the $30,000 price range.

Final thoughts: If you want a sports sedan, the BMW 328i and the new Audi A4 are far more of what your seeking. However, the Maxima is still quite good, and is a very good rival to the Honda Accord V6 for just a comfortable car with some pizazz.