There was a time not too long ago when each and every iconic Nissan Maxima SE sedan sold in this country came equipped with its very own special sticker that spelled out the true intent and nature of this “4.D.S.C.” What did that tiny little sticker mean exactly to driving enthusiasts? Well, for anyone who took it for a test drive - especially after a visit to see the 3-series from that era - it quite obviously stood for “4. Door. Sports. Car.” Yes, the Maxima SE committed the heretical act of being front wheel drive in a world where rear drive meant sporty.
The DNA of each one of the early Maxima sedans came naturally imbued with an inspiringly sporty sounding, reliable and fast V6 engine that had in another life been honed in Nissan’s own Z sports cars. Now, if you take a gander at what Honda was doing at the same time it is easy to see that they didn’t really have anything to truly compete with the Maxima as only their luxury brand Acura boasted V6 engines. But still, Honda was selling Accords in record numbers and no one could deny how expertly the engineers linked bomb-proof and rev-happy 4-cylinder engines with some of the slickest manual transmissions on Earth. Sadly, the only Accord rival Nissan had was the Stanza sedan which stands as one of the laziest family sedan styling jobs from any automaker even during an era when barely making an effort was still considered fashionable (hint: think Courtney Love).
Sadly it took Honda until 1995 to debut a V6 engine in the Accord family sedan by borrowing a 2.7 liter engine from the previous generation Acura Legend. The Honda’s V6 was smooth enough but as for brute strength it was no match for the Maxima with its rather brutal and hairy chested acceleration characteristics. Not only was the Maxima a powerhouse in its day but it sometimes also liked to pull at the steering wheel right in the direction of random roadside shrubbery. This problem, known as “torque steer,” afflicts many front drive cars and to this day can be experienced in pretty much any turbocharged Mini.
Fast forward to 2012 and hop into either the Honda Accord EX-L V6 with its 271 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 or the latest Maxima 3.5 SV which pumps out 291 horsepower and you will find these two not only afford family sedan buyers with plenty of addictive engine power but also demonstrate none of the old high powered front wheel drive family car demons. They manage all of this while still providing occupants with enough cubbies and cup holders to store smart phones, pens, spurious unnecessary junk, red bulls, Dr. Pepper fountain drinks or even the occasional bottle of water.
Not only that, these near identically powered front drive sport sedans are also positively huge inside making them perfect for commuting, family/grocery hauling duties as well as keeping the main driver very happy behind the wheel. Simply put, the Maxima and the Accord both share a history in which they have proven to be not only reliable family transport but also two of the most entertaining choices in that vehicle class. So which one did we like best? And do models like the turbocharged 4-cylinder Optima SX, the 2012 Passat VR6 or the new Toyota Camry SE-V6 cause any sort of ripple in the family car pond that the Maxima and Accord once owned?
But that is neither here nor there because we road tested these V6 family sedan icons back to back so thanks to this serendipitous occurrence we will subject them to a comparison test to see who truly is the reigning champion. At least for a few more months, anyways.
Exterior Styling Comparison
Now, no one is going to accuse either the Maxima or the Accord of being too sexy looking for the faint of heart as they are both conservatively handsome with secret powers that enable them to blend into most any parking lot or street. If you buy a new Accord no one will ever claim that your new ride is ugly, just be prepared that no one may ever comment on how it looks. Part of that is down to the fact that there are so many Accords on the road as Honda sells them in ridiculously large numbers each year.
On a more personal note, we won’t mention the Accord’s average sales figures as big numbers have caused us to curl up post-traumatic stress disorder style in a corner due to an especially painful High School Algebra experience. Just 15 more years of aversion therapy and we should get past it so, fingers crossed! When equipped with the responsive and sonorous V6 engine however, owners will find that the Accord sedan’s relative visual anonymity minimizes run-ins with traffic school.
Nissan recently performed some slight nips and tucks to the front and rear of the Maxima and the result was quite an improvement over the way this latest generation model looked at launch. True, at first blush the Maxima did sort of remind us of a flat-billed Platypus but now, thanks to some artfully aggressive headlamps and character imbuing chrome trim, the Nissan Maxima SV does look more special and sporting. Just a bit more special than the Accord in this case. (Winner: 2012 Nissan Maxima)
Interior Design Comparison
While some have found the dashboard design of the latest Accord to be a bit too dependent on similarly sized buttons, we happen to really love the center mounted knob that easily controls the navigation unit, audio system and other systems without the driver having to take his or her eyes off the wheel. While the Maxima’s navigation and audio system were both exemplary in how well they functioned, the knob and buttons that control it are nearly on top of the dashboard and are located directly out of your line of sight. Those who own the car long enough can memorize which buttons do what but it does not detract from the fact that this particular design is inferior.
Trunk space in the Accord maxes out at a very useful 14.7 cubic feet while the Maxima is just a smidgen smaller at 14.2 cubic feet. While those figures are not noticeable, it is pretty clear that for family comfort for up to five people it is the Accord that is the clear winner here. Admittedly, the Maxima SV does have heavily contoured and deeply bolstered leather seats front and rear that eat up much of the leg and knee room in back but they do hold you in place nicely. As long as there are only four of you, that is. (Winner: 2012 Honda Accord EX-L V6)
Value, Features and Fuel Economy
EPA fuel economy estimates for the Accord V6 are 20 city/30 highway and the Maxima’s estimates run at 19 city/26 highway. In real world testing, the Accord returned 24.8 miles per gallon with us and the Maxima also did pretty well over the week with 22.3 miles per gallon. The Maxima has a 20 gallon fuel tank while the Accord has room for 18.5 gallons with both able to run on regular unleaded.
Moving past fuel efficiency, this is where the biggest difference between our fully loaded 2012 Honda Accord EX-L with Navigation and our 2012 Nissan Maxima SV came to light. The Maxima stickered out at an eye watering $40,930 whereas the very similarly equipped Accord came to just $31,830. That amount of money can pay for a whole lot of gas or even a fun cruise for your family—that is if you are the kind of person who enjoys being trapped with thousands of odoriferous companions whose only goal apparently is to engorge themselves until their sole wardrobe option is an XL Snuggie. But as always, how you spend your money is your call.
After poring over the price lists, we found a few discrepancies. First off the Maxima features a brand name Bose audio system with two more speakers than the Accord (9 instead of 7), cooled front seats, push button starting, Xenon headlamps, a rear seat sunshade and 18-inch alloy wheels instead of the Honda’s 17-inchers. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of gain for nearly $10,000 but maybe our math is off. (Winner: 2012 Honda Accord)
Driving Experience and Safety Ratings
As these are at their core mainstream family sedans we decided to check out the Accord and the Maxima’s safety rankings with the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). Much to our surprise the Maxima did not earn a “Top Safety Pick” ranking like the Accord due to a “Marginal” rating for roof strength in the event of a rollover.
From behind the wheel things are definitely positive for the driver of either the 2012 Honda Accord EX-L V6 or the Nissan Maxima SV thanks to the inclusion of two of the finest, sportiest and most natural steering racks in the family sedan class. Not only are they quick to make the two cars respond with agility and poise on backroads but on long desert stretches during a family re-enactment of the “Thelma & Louise” crime spree you can rest easy knowing these sedans can track straight and true for miles. As a note, we don’t recommend anyone recreate the final scene in “Thelma & Louise” in an Accord or Maxima. Only Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis know how to fly.
Speaking of long drives, despite their admittedly outwardly subtle sporting pretenses, the Maxima SV and Accord V6 EX-L are both very quiet cruisers with suspensions that rarely become unsettled by the marginal concrete laying skills of the California Highway Department. As we said earlier, both the Accord’s 3.5 liter 271 horsepower V6 and the Maxima’s identically sized 290 horsepower V6 are two of the best mainstream engines available today.
Now, this may be controversial to many as Honda has taken a lot of flak lately for sticking with its bombproof 5-speed automatic , but it proved to be quite capable of keeping our tester in its sweet spot for power and never once did we long for an 8th, 12th, 30th or 100th gear. Truth be told, Honda’s otherwise bland 5-speed is superior to the Maxima’s one sore spot—the CVT (continuously variable transmission) that ruins so many Nissan models thanks to its irritatingly noisy manners which also seem to sap power from the excellent standard 3.5 liter engine.
But we do admit that in our Maxima SV there was a way around this problem by using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters which use pre-set “faux-gears” to make the CVT feel like a regular automatic. Hey Nissan, here’s a thought. Introduce a real automatic. But at least the Maxima is not completely ruined by this gearbox like the Murano, Rogue and Sentra so we call this section a tie. (Winner: Honda and Nissan)
Now, you can’t go wrong with either of these V6 family sport sedans and the main reason we are giving the win to the Accord is the simple fact that the Maxima costs over $9,000 more and wasn’t really better equipped. We honestly don’t see why Nissan charges so much especially as our Maxima’s $40,930 as tested price can also get you in the door at an Infiniti dealer.
Other than that, we did also prefer Honda’s standard 5-speed automatic to Nissan’s power sapping CVT automatic. We hope Nissan sees the wisdom inherent in adding one of its exemplary 7 or 8-speed automatics to what once stood as its one and only “Four.Door.Sports.Car.” As it stands, the Maxima is quick, luxurious and a comfortable cruiser that could stand to get a bit more in touch with the wild heart and sporting roots of its youth.
Yes, of course, the Accord could use some updating here and there but despite being on the market for quite a few years, this family sedan still knows how to boogie and put a smile on a driver’s face.
So there you have it. There is still a lot to love about the four door V6 Honda Accord sedan. Our only hope is that when it gets redesigned this year that Honda designers inject the exterior design with just a bit more sporty sex appeal.
Other Models to Consider and Why:
2012 Kia Optima SX—This is easily the sexiest family sedan on the market today and it is affordable given how many features come along with it. There is a bit of turbo lag from the turbocharged 4-cylinder but it isn’t bad enough that it feels underpowered. The only drawback is less refinement from the engine at idle compared to the 6-cylinder competition. But if you want an Audi interior at a cut rate price, this is your only option. And a vastly superior vehicle compared to its sister the Sonata.
2012 VW Passat VR6—This superb handling, Tennessee built German family sedan is available with a 280 horsepower narrow angle V6 engine that is truly a powerhouse and a packaging marvel. The 2012 Passat is roomy, well-built and lots of fun to drive. VW also tosses in 3 years of free maintenance for all new car buyers.
2012 Toyota Camry SE-V6—Trust us that you can believe the hype because the Camry family sedan that used to serve as little more than a device the devil used to remove people’s eternal souls is no more. In its place is a sedan that may not scream excitement but if you believe it’s what’s underneath that counts you will see Toyota massively improved not only interior quality and design but they also made this V6 family sedan surprisingly spirited and fun to drive. It may not look that new from the outside but it really, really is all new.