I always thought of Maxima’s as the Impala that Chevy should have built. From the get-go in the ’70s (when it was called the 810 ) the “big” Nissan sedan has always been built upon the bones of the previous-generation Z-car, and as such, Nissan began nicknaming its’ sedan as a “4DSC”, or “Four-Door Sports Car”.(By the late ’80s, Maxima’s even had a decal in the rear window that read “4DSC”). A little bit of hubris, I used to think– after all, the car IS front-wheel driven, which automatically disqualifies it from a “sports car” category, but overall the Maxima’s have tried mightily to live up to their name, nearly succeeding. The new one, now cleverly referred to in the marketing campaign, is nicknamed “4DSC”. Ah, nostalgia…
The card that I drew was an SV model resplendent in a muted silver, and it is a large car –Big-Lexus-sized. It has a droopy nose-grille, a humpy hood and headlamps that look like arrowheads or the Nike “swoosh”. The car has chunked up a bit from the previous model, and has a nice, swoopy roofline and a miniscule rear deck. The butt reminds me of the small Lexus .The rear quarter window is clearly a “Hoffmeister kink”, as used on all BMWs from time immemorial. It’s a good-looking design, like an S-Class Benz or a Bimmer 5.
It’s probably the biggest automobile Nissan has mass-produced, and it’s made here in the USA, at the Smyrna, Tenn. plant. As we approached, the saleslady gave me a small card rather than keys and told me to put it in my pocket, then showed me how to enter a locked car and start the motor with NOTHING in my hands.
You punch a code into the door to get in, then push a red “start” button to go somewhere. (You push the red button to “stop”, as well). The little radio beacon on the card in your pocket is talking to Max’s computer –starting from about 20 feet away– and the car is yours alone. It will unlock the door, adjust the seat, find your favorite music, put the pizza in the oven, anything you program it to do for you. Just like a BMW 5-Series. The potential for screw-ups emanating from THAT system around the year 2013 is mind-boggling, but hay, it’s the Twenty-first Century, right???
Inside it’s spacious and comfortable. The dash is dominated by a large telescreen, and there are 4 silver paddles behind the wheel. (More on half of those later). Main dials are clustered under a hemispheric hood that is fixed, rather than the pods in the Z and G that move with the steering wheel. Nissan engineers missed something cool there, I think…
The dash is rather simple, with logical HVAC and radio controls, but the telescreen controls are a reach with a belt on and would be a definite annoyance on the road. The interior was a nice place to be. The rear seating area is immense and the seats look like buckets. The fronts are muy cozy and adjust about twenty different ways. There are TWO full-sized sunroofs, really impractical in Florida where the hot sun would LOVE to shine through TWO holes in the roof at one time, but a neat touch anyway. It also had a roll down rear-window shade, like on a Bentley.
I punched the red button in the center of the dash. The 3.5 litre VQ35, the same motor owned by the 350Z before it goes to 3.7, let loose it’s 290 ponies as it roared to life. Now came the surprise.
The Maxima doesn’t have a transmission!!! I always thought joining the Sports car Club meant you should have a tranny. Ha, just kidding, sort of. The Maxima trans is actually a CVT ,a Continuously Variable Transmission, a freakin’ BELT!!! There are no pesky gears, no useless synchromesh or overdrive gears, no granny gear or crunchy shifts, no slippage of planetaries or whine of turbines. The computerized belt controls all, and the silver paddles that I mentioned??? …well, they provide the ILLUSION of actually selecting gears, giving the driver a diluted sense of control–also an illusion.I hear Nissan has NO plans to offer a conventional 6-speed, so CVT is it.
The car handles well, earning sports car points in a number of places, and the 4-wheel independent suspension plants the car firmly. Nissan seems to have worked out the pronounced torque steer that Maxima’s are famous for, because the one I had was evermore smooth upon takeoff, no matter how violent it may be. Which brings me back to the “trans”. It’s eerie how silently the car shifts. It seems to spool out power giving you a seamless gathering of speed. (I began wondering if it would do the same thing in reverse, allowing you to go, say, 80 backwards, but I never asked the question). A gear change is actually a command from a computer somewhere to tighten (or loosen) the belt, resulting in a lower (or higher) rotational input. The computer actually programs a little shift sensation into the drive train when you leave it in automatic mode, just to make the driver of an old-style car comfortable, I guess…
But it seems to do it well, down-and-up-shifting at proper times in curves and gliding downward through several “gears” when you punch it. Using the paddles actually puts a little “pop” into the shifting experience. I just wonder how well it will perform at, say 60-70 thousand miles, when the belt is old and frayed, the paddles are bent inward and rust is eating at the computer.
The one I drove cost 34K, got 26 MPG.
Overall, a good car if I ever had a hankerin’ for a FWD sedan with a belt for a transmission.
Give the NEXT Maxima rear-wheel drive and a real transmission, and just maybe, but not right now.
The sales person offered to notify me when their tiny allotment of GT-R’s begin to drift in. I REALLY want to drive one of them!!! They only get 5 for the year, and 4 have been sold–WITH a $10,000 premium attached to List Price. Some Dealers are marking their GT-Rs up 20K!!! Just because they can, I suppose.
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