2012 Nissan Maxima: Good car seeks owner

Strong points
  • Complete equipment offering
  • Good engine
  • Comfortable interior
  • Impeccable finish
Weak points
  • Anonymous appearance
  • Bloated steering
  • Lacklustre driving pleasure
Full report

It doesn’t seem like long ago that conversations about Nissan products naturally turned to the Maxima and Pathfinder. Although the company’s other vehicles sold, these two dominated the family. But over the years, Nissan’s product line has evolved, as have buyers’ preferences. As a result, these two former stars have been relegated to the back seat and the Altima and Murano have emerged as the company’s forerunners.

Ever since it launched in 1993, the Altima has been making life difficult for the Maxima. This intermediate car released solely for the North American market is very similar to its big sister, both in terms of size and technical specs. That said, its base model features a more modest powertrain, as the Altima doesn’t come factory standard with a V6.
Faced with dipping Maxima sales, Nissan management has come out with several different trims over the last 10 years – with limited success. The problem is that the Maxima sits somewhere between the similar-sized yet more affordable Altima and the more prestigious and luxurious Infiniti.

After years of trial and error, Nissan has finally struck the right balance with the 2012 model’s style and technical features. But will it be enough to convince buyers?
Elegant but…

Nissan spent years trying to play both the luxury and sport cards – and mostly in vain. But this time, they finally got the right combination, and the result is a genuinely elegant vehicle. The front grille has been tweaked to blend better with the rest of the front treatment. The model I test drove was also equipped with a small deflector on the trunk lid, which gave the vehicle’s appearance a little extra something. I was also impressed with our test vehicle’s alloy wheels. The Sport package includes 19-inch V-rated tires. Overall, the Maxima’s exterior appearance is discreet, making it difficult for this sedan to stand out.

The interior presentation is very nice, as is the instrument layout and finish. The seats are comfortable and offer good lateral support. Depending on the trim level you choose, you can get rear bucket seats and a dual-panel moonroof that opens over the front passengers and offers back-seat passengers panoramic views. The extras you get from the Navigation, Sport and Premium packages really make you feel like you’re riding in a higher-end vehicle. Some controls, however, are tough to get the hang of – especially the sound system button. At least the sound quality is top-notch, as is the navigation system, for which the display is both original and practical.

Very good manners, indeed!

The Maxima’s mechanical components score very well. In fact, its 3.5L V6 is still one of the best engines on the market.  Over the years, upgrades have improved its output, reliability and smoothness. With 290 horsepower, it delivers good performances and can sprint from 0-100 km/hr in just 6.4 seconds. Plus, when you consider the Maxima’s size, its fuel economy is actually quite reasonable at 11 L/100 km. It is mated exclusively to a CVT. Many people have concerns about this type of transmission, but if anyone does them right, it’s Nissan. Plus, you can change gears using the paddles behind the steering wheel.

The Maxima is truly in its element out on the open road. Its directional stability is good and road handling is slightly above average. The steering, however, is over-assisted and could be more precise. Forthright accelerations always seem to cause torque steer. Nissan engineers have got it down to a minimum, but it’s still noticeable.

When all is said and done, the Maxima is a good car. Its biggest problem is a lack of personality and propensity for Sunday driving. This explains why drivers tend to migrate tower more stylish cars that are more interesting to drive. And given the price difference between the Maxima and the Infiniti G37, guess who comes out ahead?

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