Automakers are sometimes known for making outrageous claims when introducing and marketing new models, so when Nissan dubbed its all-new Maxima a 'four-door sports car,' we were a little more than skeptical about these claims. On paper, the Maxima had horsepower output close to other sports cars and its sheet metal gave it a sporty, aggressive look, but was that enough to validate Nissan's claims of it being a four-door sports car? We spent a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2009 Nissan Maxima SV to find out for ourselves.
Assembled in Smyrna, Tenn. alongside the Altima, Frontier, Xterra and Pathfinder, the seventh-generation Nissan Maxima is available in two trim levels: Maxima S and Maxima SV. In base form, the 2009 Maxima starts at $30,160 putting it up against cars like the Dodge Charger and Pontiac G8. The Maxima we tested was the sportier SV model which adds a sport tuned suspension and multiple interior upgrades starting at $32,860 - about the same neighborhood as the V-8-powered Charger R/T and G8 GT. Our car also added the optional Sport Package ($2,300) for an as-tested price of $35,130 including destination.
2009 Nissan Maxima Exterior
Before the GT-R and the 370Z, the 2009 Maxima started a design revolution at Nissan that incorporates more attention-grabbing cues such as the boomerang headlamps, an upright, rectangular front grille and extensive body creases. While the edgy design of the GT-R is in stark contrast to the curvaceous 370Z, the 2009 Maxima seemingly borrows cues from both cars to provide a stunning design for Nissan's flagship sedan. Currently in its seventh generation, the Maxima finally gets an aggressive design to help it stand apart from the lesser Altima sedan. Past Maxima designs were paled by other midsize sedans, but the styling of the 2009 is one of the car's best attributes - even when taking the 290-horsepower engine into account.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the Maxima's design is the widely flared shoulders. Looking out over the hood, the wavy hood looks similar to the Infiniti G37, but the upright front fascia and flowing front fenders give it a more menacing face. Instead of giving the sedan a simple design, the flared fenders give the 2009 Nissan Maxima more intricate detail and help to capture the sports car spirit. Accenting the car's attractive design, our test model came in a Radiant Silver hue and included the aforementioned Sport Package that added 19-inch V-spoke alloy wheels (replacing the standard 18-inch wheels) wrapped in high-performance Bridgestone Potenza summer tires, a rear spoiler and high-intensity display (HID) Xenon headlamps. Fog lamps, dual exhaust and LED taillights are all standard and complete the car's sporty look and stance.
2009 Nissan Maxima Interior
The true dichotomy of a four-door sports car is that the car must exhibit the same stylish cabin of a sports coupe while offering enough passenger space to satisfy those in the market for a four-door, five-passenger sedan. Fortunately, the 2009 Nissan Maxima accomplishes both tasks on about the same level one might expect when crossing a 370Z with an Altima. Like the exterior styling, the cabin is also a vast improvement over the previous Maxima design without completely turning a cold shoulder to the design of its predecessor. Cues such as the three-gauge instrument cluster and three-spoke steering wheel are still present in the 2009 Maxima, but the execution of these are done so with a much sportier appearance. Both front seats get enough side bolstering to make hard corners enjoyable, but the driver gets even more comfort thanks to manually adjustable thigh support. Cut outs to the back of the front seats help make rear legroom adequate, but the unique aspect of the rear bench seat is that Nissan refers to it as 'rear bucket seats.' This is due to the fact that the center seat is raised up creating minimal, but noticeable, side bolstering for both outboard occupants. The optional Sport Package also added key interior features such as leather-appointed seats and steering wheel with contrasting red stitching, heated front seats and steering wheel, power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, column-mounted shift paddles and the rear 'bucket' seats.
In place of the navigation screen, the 2009 Maxima we tested just had a large display screen with red lettering. This is done because Nissan offers a rear view camera on vehicles not equipped with navigation, so the display would also act as a rear view monitor had our car been equipped with the camera. Since our car was not equipped with Nissan navigation system, our car had the HVAC controls mounted where navigation controls would normally go. Mounted just below the display and HVAC controls, the Maxima offers easy access to the audio system controls, including the six-disc in-dash CD changer and auxiliary jack input, with volume, source and channel selection all offering redundant steering wheel controls as well.
Since the main reason of buying a sedan over a coupe is to offer more interior room for passengers, the 2009 Maxima also has generous trunk space to accommodate passenger cargo. Compared to other sport sedans such as the Cadillac CTS and Acura TL, the Nissan Maxima also offers superior trunk space with 14.2 cubic feet of space available. Although this is down compared to the Altima's 15.3 cubic feet, the sportier design and nature of the Maxima should make this a negligible concern.
2009 Nissan Maxima Performance & Handling
Sharing the same engine with previous 350Z and G35 coupe models, the 2009 Maxima finally gets the one thing a true sports car can't do without: horsepower. Although the new Maxima uses the same 3.5-liter VQ35DE V-6 engine as the previous model, the 2009 Maxima now produces 290 horsepower and (up from the previous model's 255 hp and ). Despite the increase in horsepower, fuel economy has stayed about the same with the 2009 model rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) feeds power smoothly to the front wheels helping acceleration improve by practically eliminating shift points. After testing the Maxima in each different shifting mode, we found 0-60 mile per hour times were consistently in the low 6-second range. Our fastest time was attained by manually shifting using the large paddle shifters behind the steering wheel added as a part of the Sport Package.
We tested the Maxima's performance side-by-side with a previous generation 350Z coupe. In regular shift mode, the 2009 Maxima was barely edged out by the legendary sports coupe, but in sport mode, we were surprised when the Maxima crossed the quarter-mile mark ahead of the Z car. One thing the 2009 Nissan Maxima definitely lacks that might support the sports car tagline without a doubt is all-wheel drive, but we exhibited very little understeer or torque steer that is usually the result of feeding this much horsepower to the front wheels.
2009 Nissan Maxima Safety
Without having tested the 2009 Maxima for side-impact protection as of yet, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) did give it a Good rating for frontal-impact protection and a Marginal rating for rear crash protection. It is unclear when results for side protection will be posted. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did run the new Maxima through its full myriad of crash tests and the car scored a perfect five stars across the board. Other standard safety features available on the 2009 Nissan Maxima include a full complement of airbags, active head rests, tire pressure monitoring system, four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, vehicle dynamic control and traction control.
The 2009 Nissan Maxima is the perfect car for enthusiasts of the Z car that need the added practicality of a sedan. After a week behind the wheel of the all-new Maxima, it's clear to see that with the right engine, a V-6-powered, front-wheel drive sedan is just as potent as its V-8-powered, rear-wheel driver counterparts. As for the 'four-door sports car' claim, after beating a stock 2007 350Z in the quarter mile, that title sure seems fitting.