The 2011 Nissan Maxima has a difficult task, as it's meant to be a premium luxury sedan at the same time that it offers affordable family-sedan utility. It's no wonder that this car is a good-news, not-much-bad-news proposition.
First the good news. This is a very nice car with powerful, refined performance, a well-trimmed cabin and plenty of high-tech luxury features. Sporting nearly 300 horsepower, the Maxima can show its taillights to pricier, entry-level luxury cars while its well-developed chassis offers a nice balance between sporty handling and a nice ride.
Within the cabin, you'll find a well-designed interior with excellent materials. The optional, easily mastered navigation system is virtually identical to what you'll find within various models offered by Nissan's upscale Infiniti division, and the iPod integration is one of the best ones out there. With pricing in the mid-$30,000 range for a fairly loaded example, the Maxima gets you a lot of car -- in some cases, more than you'd get from luxury sedans costing thousands more.
The semi-bad news? You're not going to get the prestige that some people want when they're spending $30-40K on a car, even if it's just a base model of a premium brand nameplate. Other choices you might want to consider include the Acura TSX and TL, Hyundai Genesis and Volkswagen CC, which are all in the Maxima's price range. Like the Maxima, they have nice interiors and a good value proposition, yet they mostly lack the Maxima's fun-to-drive nature. And of course you could also look at base versions of models like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G37 and Lexus IS. They deliver the performance and prestige expected, yet lack the Maxima's long list of features.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2011 Nissan Maxima is a midsize entry-level luxury sedan available in S and SV trim levels.
The base model S comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, cruise control, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control and a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, along with eight-way driver and four-way passenger power front seats. Also standard in the S are a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a trip computer, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth and an in-dash six-disc CD-changer with an auxiliary audio jack.
The Maxima SV adds integrated turn signals located in the exterior mirrors, foglamps, a driver-seat manual thigh-support extender, power lumbar support, leather upholstery and a nine-speaker Bose stereo upgrade with satellite radio.
The SV can be optioned with either the Premium or Sport packages -- both of which add shift paddles on the steering wheel, xenon headlights, a driver-side auto-dimming outside mirror, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, driver memory functions and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column. These packages also include a heated steering wheel, upgraded leather upholstery and rear bucket seats with a center trunk pass-through in lieu of the 60/40-split seats.
The Premium package differs by adding a dual-panel sunroof, a rearview camera, a 7-inch LCD screen, a ventilated driver seat, rear-seat audio and HVAC controls, automatic up/down rear windows, a power rear sunshade, wood trim, an RCA auxiliary audio-video jack, a 2GB music server (replacing the six-disc CD changer) and an iPod interface. The Sport package features a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, smoked headlights, dark chrome grille, gray metallic stitching accents, a rear spoiler and metallic-look interior trim. High-performance summer tires are an added option with the Sport package.
The Technology package adds a voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic, a 7-inch LCD screen with DVD playback, a single in-dash CD player (which replaces the six-disc version), streaming Bluetooth audio and 9.3GB of digital music storage. The Monitor package includes the color monitor, 2GB music server, auxiliary audio-video jack, rearview camera and USB port. Finally, the Cold package adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and heated outside mirrors.
Powertrains and Performance:
Powering every 2011 Nissan Maxima is a 3.5-liter V6 producing 290 hp and 261 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that can be overridden by six simulated "gear" ratios selected via shift paddles on the steering wheel (if optioned on SV models).
In testing, the Maxima SV accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, which is in line with the acceleration times of many entry-level luxury cars. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Standard safety equipment for every 2011 Nissan Maxima includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and front active head restraints. A rearview camera is optional on SV models. In Edmunds brake testing, Maximas with both the Premium and Sport packages came to a stop from 60 mph in 128 feet -- a bit longer than average for this price range.
In government crash tests, the Maxima scored a perfect five out of five stars sweep for frontal- and side-impact protection for all occupants. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Maxima its highest score of "Good" for frontal-offset and side crash protection, but got the second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
Interior Design and Special Features:
The 2011 Maxima's interior is as upscale as you'll find in the Nissan lineup. The cabin is understated and surrounds passengers with high-quality materials worthy of the sedan's luxury-car price tag. When combined with the Premium or Sport packages, the cabin is on even footing with its pricier Infiniti G37 cousin. We're especially fond of the Maxima's optional iPod interface, which is one of the best.
Within the ample, adult-size cabin, the front seats blend support and soft cushioning. The executive-style rear bucket seats are comfortable and stylish just like those in the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Volkswagen CC, but the small center position is understandably all but unusable. The standard 60/40-split rear seats can fold down for bulkier items, but the optional bucket rear seats offer just a center pass-through for longer objects.
Nissan calls the 2011 Maxima a "four-door sports car," but no one is going to mistake this large sedan for a 370Z. Yet it's still a very good sport sedan and it should please the vast majority of drivers. The Maxima's steering is exceptionally nice, boasting light effort, plenty of communication and spot-on precision. For the money, though, we would forgo the optional Sport package, which stiffens the compliant ride without any appreciable performance gains.
It used to be that when we'd encounter a vehicle fitted with a CVT, we were filled with a combination of dread and loathing. But that's not the case with the 2011 Nissan Maxima, as its CVT is well-suited to the strong V6.