Maybe it’s evolutionary and maybe it’s revolutionary – but however you consider it, Nissan’s all-new Maxima mid-size sedan is a significant improvement over its predecessor.
Code-named the J32 model, and scheduled for local launch in June, the new Maxima is available with a choice of two V6 engines, highlights great new exterior and interior styling and delivers much sharper ride and handling thanks to massive improvements in chassis design and stiffness. But with pricing starting at $33,990 the accepted Maxima value-for-money position is not only maintained – it is significantly enhanced.
What You Get
Three comprehensively equipped model grades with a choice of two engines. Entry to the Maxima lineup is the 250ST-L powered by an all-new 2.5-litre V6. The two other models – 350ST-S and 350Ti - are both powered by an improved version of Nissan’s multi award-winning 3.6-litre V6. No sign yet of a diesel-powered Maxima in Australia.
All drive the front wheels via Nissan’s very impressive new 6-speed M-Mode X-TRONIC continuously variable transmission.
The Maxima shares Nissan’s global ‘D’ platform with the new Murano SUV. There is a new multi-link rear suspension, new-design dampers and new speed sensitive power steering.
Combine that with massive improvements in chassis rigidity – the torsional stiffness 40 per cent better and lateral stiffness 85 per cent better – and the result is a huge improvement in driving dynamics.
Under The Hood
For the entry-level Maxima model, Nissan Australia selected a new V6 – the 2.5-litre member of the VQ family. Maximum power is 134kW at 6,000 rpm and peak torque is 228Nm at 4,400 rpm.
STS and Ti models maintain the 3.5-litre V6 albeit with improvements that take maximum power up to 185kW and torque up to 326Nm.
The VQ has been a consistent winner in the American Ward’s awards for the world’s best engines…so you know it’s good.
For the new Maxima, Nissan’s Japanese engineers developed a six-point mounting system as part of concerted efforts to reduce NVH.
Nissan’s X-TRONIC CVT transmission has gained ASC (Adaptive Shift Control) which alters the shift timing according to driving style and the driving environment for optimized power and fuel economy. A 6-speed manual mode allows for self-shifting when required.
This is simply one of the very best CVTs Car Showroom has tested. It’s sharp response in rural overtaking moves was a delight during our day driving all new models around Victoria’s Daylesford spa region.
All three models are comprehensively equipped inside with beautiful leather seats, a nice leather steering wheel (but no reach adjustment) and dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning. The seats are a major improvement over the superseded model – the fronts offering great support during our test route’s numerous sweeps and undulations.
All models also have 8-way power adjustment for the front seats but only the range-topping Ti has a two-setting drivers’ seat memory. Ti also gains a BOSE surround sound audio system with 11 speakers incorporating a DVD, Satellite Navigation and Bluetooth interface. All models do offer AUX-in and MP3 compatibility.
Nissan’s stylists did a great job with the new dashboard which features curves, soft padding, and a three dimensional look for the instruments plus a new center console design with air-conditioning and audio controls.
350ST-S and Ti models gain keyless entry and push-button start.
Exterior & Styling
At a quick first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that the new Maxima is little changed from its predecessor or that its changes are at best evolutionary. But a closer look reveals a totally new, bold look that is actually quite revolutionary and contemporary…but will not offend traditional repeat Maxima buyers.
The front Xenon headlights blend with a bold new grille and bumper design that flows to a sweeping bonnet and flared side panels.
There is some familiarity about the 6-window side profile that Nissan says gives the Maxima a coupe-like profile.
The distinctive LED tailights and rear guard flares give the new Maxima a much more beefy rear appearance than its somewhat dowdy predecessor.
Nissan Australia’s engineering and product planning teams worked closely with their colleagues in Japan during development of the new Maxima and its specifications. The standard 17-inch alloy wheels and bootlid spoiler for ST-S and Ti models are unique for our market.
On The Road
Car Showroom was able to put all Maxima models through their paces during the new model preview and to be honest, the drive experience was a revelation. Whereas the superseded Maxima was comfortable enough and reasonably refined, it ‘underwhelmed’ on curvy rural roads – let down by soft, unresponsive suspension, a loose chassis and resultant heavy understeer.
The new model is taught, precise, responsive and a delight to hurl into a series of bends. Acceleration from both engines is brisk and the CVT delivers torque immediately.
With extensive work on increased sound deadening, refinement levels are high and NVH is low.
In short, this is the Maxima that Nissan enthusiasts have been waiting for almost 20 years for.
Marketing experts say: “Timing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. In that context Maxima’s launch timing – into the midst of the GFC and a local new car market that’s already down by 20 per cent – isn’t perfect.
Nissan says while large rear-wheel-drive vehicle sales have fallen since 2003, sales for mid-size front-wheel-drive vehicles have remained very consistent. The company claims front-wheel-drive vehicles have outsold rear-wheel-drive vehicles in the local market since 2006 and in the private buyers segment, front-wheel-drives outsell rear-wheel-drives by two-to-one (in other words fleet/commercial customers are the mainstays of Commodore and Falcon sales).
Against that fickle background, Nissan hopes the new Maxima will have broader appeal than its predecessor and reach a customer base aged below 50 (currently Maxima sells predominantly to 55+). Nationally Nissan plans to sell around 250 new Maximas per month.
Nissan’s engineering and product planning teams obviously respond well to feedback because the all-new Maxima has addressed all of the areas where the previous model range was below par.
The Maxima nameplate has always stood for ‘affordable luxury’ and that tag has stuck with the newcomer. What’s changed is the driving dynamics (now amongst the very best in the segment) and exterior/interior looks (now contemporary and stylish if not ‘edgy’).
This is where things get interesting with Nissan’s switch to two engines. While the 350ST-S and 350Ti Maximas line-up against the Toyota Aurion and Honda Accord, the likely rivals for the 250ST-L will be the Honda Accord Euro, Mazda6 and Toyota Camry.