One badge away from the limelight
Prejudice. It seems like a heavy and out-of-place topic for the pages of an automotive website. Talk of how people perceive other individuals or groups, and the negative implications of that, belongs in other forums, discussed by greater minds.
But, this is the right venue, and we're just bright enough, to discuss the concept of car prejudice. The idea came to mind after recently driving the 2010 Nissan Maxima, a vehicle that, much like the late Volkswagen Phaeton, a luxury sedan that failed to find a broad audience because it was offered by VW, has often been overlooked or ignored. Though it has attracted its share of fans, the Maxima is not considered by premium shoppers focused on driving home an Infiniti or Acura, while the bulk of visitors to a Nissan showroom will find all they need in the hot-selling and affordable Altima.
It would seem that the Nissan's top-shelf four-door is a car without a home, but we're inclined to suggest that it's a premium sedan sans the premium badge. Savvy sport sedan shoppers will gaze past the name on the grille and check out the style, performance, and amenities offered by the 2010 Maxima.
Shoppers interested in Nissan's top-dog sedan have two models to choose from, including the 2010 Maxima 3.5 S and the 2010 Maxima 3.5 SV. The 3.5 S, starting at $30,690, is equipped with standard items such as an electrically adjustable driver's seat, Bluetooth connectivity, push-button ignition, a moonroof, and a slew of power features. With a jump up to $33,410, buyers get themselves into the Maxima 3.5 SV, which adds exterior upgrades such as foglights and signaling mirrors, while the interior is treated to leather upholstery, a Bose audio system, and a driver's seat with power lumbar and adjustable thigh support.
The 3.5 SV is also the version you'll want if any of the 2010 Nissan Maxima's major options appeal to you. Only available on the pricier trim are the Sport Package, featuring a sport suspension, paddle shifters, and more; the Premium Package, including a dual-panel moonroof and Eucalyptus trim; and others, including three different Tech Packages.
Packed under every 2010 Nissan Maxima's hood is a 3.5-liter V6 engine that directs 290 horses and 261 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels. Managing that output is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Put it all together and you have a five-passenger sedan that, according to the EPA, returns 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. We recorded 24.6 mpg in mixed driving. Nissan recommends the use of premium unleaded.
A deeper dive beneath the 2010 Maxima's skin unveils vented disc brakes on all corners, a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering setup, and a four-wheel independent suspension system.
Nissan overhauled the Maxima for the 2009 model year, so, not surprisingly, changes for 2010 are relatively minor. There are a couple of new colors and the wheels have been tweaked slightly, but more noteworthy is the standard Bluetooth, and the iPod jack that's been upgraded to a universal USB port. Also new for 2010 is a Monitor Package, available only on the Maxima 3.5 SV, that tacks on a seven-inch color screen in the middle of the dash with a rearview camera, a two-gigabyte music box in lieu of the 3.5 SV's standard six-disc CD changer, and an iPod adaptor offered in addition to the standard USB port.
Travelers in the 2010 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV will appreciate the availability of real-time NavTraffic information, provided on top of the 3.5 SV's standard XM satellite service when any of the three Tech Packages are selected.
From an outside view, the 2010 Nissan Maxima has a sleek sporty look, and to our delight, engine output was in line with that impression. Though there are a number of comparable sedans pushing at least 300 horses, the 290-horsepower Maxima delivers more than enough scoot, even for those of us with unwanted collections of speeding tickets. The continuously variable transmission, which has been vastly improved since its early days, promises the Maxima driver acceptable off-the-line response. It'll even let you chirp the tires when matting the gas pedal from a stop, something we haven't experienced with any other CVT-equipped mainstream vehicle.
At normal cruising speeds and even high revs, the Maxima's V6 sounds and feels smooth, unlike the relatively unrefined V6 application in the Nissan 370Z and Nissan Frontier pickup. The Maxima's throttle is easy to modulate, and unlike CVTs of the past, a jab of the throttle for a quick highway pass elicits the feeling of a traditional automatic's downshift.
Take a walk around the 2010 Nissan Maxima, and you might notice a sticker that reads 4DSC. That acronym stands for 4-Door sports car. We all know that car manufacturers can get a little over zealous when describing their own vehicles, but in this case, the 4DSC label is earned. During our one-week evaluation under the sunny summer skies of Maine, we tested the Maxima on a variety of tight, winding road, traveling at a healthy clip that was safely short of stupid-fast. Each outing rewarded us with unwavering grip from 18-inch Goodyear Eagle RS-A rubber. At these speeds, there was nary a bit of understeer. Crank things up a bit, and you'll start to notice some body roll, and the tires will start squealing in corners, but understeer doesn't join the party. Steering is firm and responsive at all speeds, and the brakes, which delivered plenty of feedback and never hinted at any fade or shudder, served up worry-free stopping power.
Though it's very easy to drive fast, the 2010 Maxima is sufficiently comfortable while commuting or cruising around town. With its sporting intentions comes a stiffer ride than you'll find in sedans such as the new Buick LaCrosse, and you will feel the bumps in the road, but the ride isn't stiff or jarring. Consider the Maxima a sport sedan that hasn't taken sport to the extreme.
Sports cars typically cater to their drivers, something that holds true with the 2010 Nissan Maxima, aka the 4-Door Sports Car. Both front buckets are plenty comfortable, offer proper thigh support, and bolsters that are noticeable yet not as substantial as you'd expect to find in a genuine sport sedan. But the driver is treated to a manual lower seat cushion that extends for those with longer legs, an optional heated steering wheel, and a standard tilt wheel. Boosting the comfort in our tester were dual-setting heated buckets, padding on the wide center armrest and door sills, and generous overall room.
Move to the Maxima's rear seat (our test car featured a bench seat; dual rear buckets are available) and you'll find that its low position affords lots of head room. Our five-foot-eight-inch tall editor also benefited from ample leg and foot room. Taller folks - and, specifically, their knees - will appreciate the curved front seatbacks. The backrest is set at a comfortable reclined angle, the lower cushion provides adequate thigh support, and the fold-down, padded center armrest is a welcome, and expected, touch. The center hump is stiff and unsuitable for any real distance.
Amenities include two cupholders, two seatback pockets, and two adjustable air vents, but kids and far-traveling passengers might long for some power outlets and door storage.
All of the technological conveniences that car buyers have grown fond of, and increasingly dependent upon, can be a mixed blessing. On one hand, they are packed with features designed to make our lives easier, but using them can be a pain in the...neck.
Some manufacturers deliver the convenience without the headache, as does Nissan with its 2010 Maxima. Instead of burying radio and climate controls in a central screen or dial as others have done, Nissan has designed the Maxima with separate buttons and dials that may be less fancy but are more user-friendly. Rubber textures and the fluid motion of these controls also provide a quality, upscale feel.
There are certain radio-related commands integrated with the optional navigation system, including audio adjustments. A few taps on the touch screen, which is recessed and limits glare from the sun, and you're drumming up bass or trimming the treble. We used the unit to direct us from Maine to a friend's house in Boston, and though the nav system guided us to our destination without a single wrong turn, it ultimately directed us down our friend's one-way street...headed the wrong way.
In evaluating the 2010 Nissan Maxima's quality, we checked not only the bits and pieces used to build the car, but also how it was all put together. As is the case with every test vehicle, we poked and prodded our way around the interior, and were pleased to find everything solidly planted in its place, with no loose or flimsy panels to be found. Exterior fit and finish was equally impressive.
In contrast, the interior materials were less consistent. Overall, the look and feel was positive, thanks to padding and matching grains on the door sills, sections of the dashboard, and around the center instrument panel. Kudos, too, for the use of mesh fabric on the headliner, visors and upper pillars, as well as soft leather upholstery on 3.5 SV models. Less desirable were hard plastics with differing grains and finishes around the gauges, the navigation screen, and lower sections of the dash and door panels.
Despite its aggressive styling and capable handling, the 2010 Nissan Maxima exists as a four-door sedan that needs to be useful and practical. For buyers interested in maximum Maxima utility, they'll want a model like our 3.5 SV test car, which featured the standard 60/40 split rear seat. This is handy to have, given the trunk's deep but short and narrowed shape. On the plus side, the opening is wide and low, and there's space for a couple of large suitcase and a few smaller items. Folding the rear seat requires pulling release straps in the trunk and then walking around to pull the seatback forward. This doesn't create a completely flat load area, but allows for additional or long cargo. Buyers keen on this convenience will need to steer clear of the Sport and Premium packages, as they ditch the split bench to make room for dual buckets with a fixed back and lockable center pass-through.#1. The 2010 Nissan Maxima is a worthy consideration for shoppers of premium sport sedans.
Nissan is a brand that many associate with the Z sports car, muscular utility vehicles like the Pathfinder, and the ever-popular Altima. The Maxima doesn't enjoy the same recognition, but after a week behind the wheel, we believe more people should take notice. Our 2010 Maxima 3.5 SV test car was priced at just about $37,000, which seems high for a non-premium brand sedan, though it's actually a bargain when compared to comparably-equipped - and less powerful - models like the Acura TL and Audi A4. The Maxima is also less expensive than its corporate cousin, the Infiniti G37 Sedan, though that car delivers more power and rear-wheel drive (all of these competitors offer all-wheel-drive, something not available with the Maxima). Get past the badge of an affordable mainstream brand, and you find a sporty, powerful, capable, comfortable and luxurious sedan worthy of a long test drive.