1.24.2011

2011 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV Review



Side view of 2011 Nissan Maxima in desert

About 20 years ago, before my TireKicking days, I worked at KTVK in Phoenix with a reporter named Jay DeDapper. Jay seemed even in those pre-cyber days to have his own Bluetooth and Twitter connections in his brain. He'd know about the best new restaurant in any major city 30 seconds before it opened. He'd have read the latest book about...well, anything...cover to cover while the Barnes & Noble staff was unpacking the boxes.

Needless to say, I listened.

So when I found out that Jay refused to rent anything on out-of-town assignments but Nissan Maxima SEs from 1989 until he went to WABC, New York in 1992 (a refusal that was so vehement that on one occasion the Hertz crew at LAX surrendered and gave him one with a bashed-in trunk because it was the only one they had), I figured I should see what was so great about it. Having had the previous generation '88 as a rental, I couldn't imagine.

Well, Jay (no surprise) was right. Hertz now had two finicky reporters from Phoenix to deal with.

Nissan called the Maxima "The Four Door Sports Car" or "4DSC" in those days. And they were very nearly right. For the times, nothing came close, unless you wanted to up the ante to maybe a 5-series BMW. And our expense accounts, even in those free-spending days for TV news, had limits.

Nissan wandered away from that very successful formula after 1994. It's been 15 years of Maximas that really were just big Nissans: "The Four Door Car" could have been the ad campaign, if Nissan had put any promotional clout behind them (they really didn't).

2009 brought a new Maxima (the top of the line is now the SV instead of the SE), and the return of the "Four Door Sports Car" label. And while size, weight and complexity (find a car that hasn't added all three in the past decade and a half), it's very close to the old one in spirit.

A 24-valve V6 makes 290 horsepower, but with a Continuously Variable Transmission, manages to get 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway. It rolls on 18 inch alloy wheels. Moonroof, fog lights, leather, power everything and a nine-speaker audio system are all standard.

Interior view of 2011 Nissan Maxima

Base price: $31,990. The tester I drove for a week added only a cold package (heated front seats, steering wheel and outside mirrors), Bluetooth, floor mats and a rear spoiler...resulting in a bottom line with destination charges of $33,900. A real bargain for what you get.

Is it as good as the '89-'94? Not in terms of sheer driving pleasure. But it's a great base to work from. If Nissan's engineers are allowed to evolve and refine it, this one could be even better.

UPDATE: Everything above still applies, except the base price...now up to $33,530. And the most recent tester sent our way was much more highly optioned...a rear spoiler ($370), floor and trunk mats ($180) and the Premium Package ($3,230), which adds a dual panel moonroof with power sunshades, HID Xenon headlights, premium leather-appointed seats, a climate-controlled driver's seat, heated front seats, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, which is also heated and wrapped in leather, paddle shifters, an automatic entry/exit system, driver's side memory for seat, mirrors and steering wheel, an auto-dimming driver's side outside mirror, heated outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down, rear bucket seats, eucalyptus wood-tone trim, a 7-inch color monitor and rear camera, AUX, USB and iPod jacks and a 2.0 GB Music Box with 800 MB of storage.

Bottom line (after $750 destination charge): $38,060.  If it were my money, I'd probably go with the more lightly optioned one from before and, even with the base price increase, come in at or under $35K. But the loaded one is so well equipped and so nice to live with, that I wouldn't talk you out of going for it. This sedan, this well done, with this much equipment at under $40,000 is one heckuva deal.

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