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Mike Stevens | Aug 20, 2009 | 3 Comments

2009 Nissan Maxima 250 ST-L and 350 Ti Road Test Review

NISSAN HAS HAD A BUSY YEAR with new model launches in 2009. This year TMR has road tested the new 370Z, Micra, Dualis, Navara and face-lifted Murano, all with positive results.

Now it’s the turn of one of Nissan’s more venerable model lines, the all-new Maxima sedan.

The Maxima model line has always been a solid performer for Nissan. The new model impressed us with our First Drive on release, let’s see if the gloss is still there.

The question, then, is: does the 2009 model live up to the Maxima’s solid reputation as a competitively priced, well-equipped and competent mid-size sedan?

We drove both the 250 ST-L and more upmarket and potent 350 Ti to find out.

 

Styling

For 2009, Nissan has taken a definite step forward with the design of the new Maxima. Compared to the previous model, the face of the new model makes a bolder style statement with its raked-back xenon headlights and large front grille.

At the rear, Nissan has employed a sleeker roof line and sloping boot to give the Maxima a more coupe-like appearance. This distinctive shape is further emphasised by the placement of additional rear quarter windows, adding extra balance to the car's overall proportions.

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Minor styling accents around the body such as chrome trimming, LED taillights and indicator door-mirrors add a welcome touch of class, thankfully without making the car look tacky.

To complete the luxury styling theme, all models in the Maxima line-up ride on a set of elegant ten-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.

It’s fair to say that previous versions of the Maxima are hardly what one would call ‘exciting’ in the design department. The latest Maxima however will turn a few heads while not scaring away repeat buyers with any over-the-top styling changes.

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A minor gripe is that there is no easily discernible way to tell the 250 ST-L apart from the more expensive 350 Ti, aside from some badging and a subtle boot spoiler on the upper range 350 STS and 350 Ti models. All models also share the same paint schemes and wheel designs.

If you’re buying the top-deck model, you might want it more easily picked than having to search for the badge.

 

Interior

Interior wise, it’s a mixed bag. Highlights include a tidy instrument cluster and excellent leather seats (standard on all Maxima models) that are comfortable for long trips, but also have firm side bolsters holding you securely through the corners.

Interior space is another area where the Maxima shines. There’s ample space all round, offering decent leg room for the tallest of rear passengers and a high ‘ceiling’, even on the sunroof equipped Ti model.

While the boot looks small from outside, it’s a pleasant surprise that it offers 506 litres of stowage space and can easily swallow enough luggage for a family weekend away.

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The leather multi-function steering wheel is comfortable to the grip and with all steering wheel controls logically and easily used.

Unfortunately, wheel adjustment is restricted to tilt only and not reach. We also found the steering wheel size – it’s a tad big - a bit cumbersome when executing tight turns quickly.

It’s also a letdown that the Maxima suffers from a very plain-looking centre console and gear surround.

A spongy gear shifter button and some afterthought design decisions, such as having the heated seat controls placed inside the central armrest compartment, leaves us wondering if Nissan could have done a better job here.

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On the higher-spec models such as the Ti, the navigation and display screen is recessed into the dashboard with the controls sitting below the screen.

While there is nothing wrong with the way it works, it’s not as elegant a solution as BMW's iDrive system, which positions the controller at easy reach ahead of the central armrest.

 

Equipment and Features

The base level Maxima 250 ST-L comes with a number of standard features, including dual zone climate control air conditioning and a six-stacker CD player with AUX-in and MP3 compatibility.

The driver also gets an eight-way power seat with lumbar adjustment (four-way power adjust for the front passenger) and pushbutton engine start.

The top of the line Maxima 350 Ti offers an even more impressive equipment list - coming standard with an entire in-car entertainment package including a BOSE audio system with 11 speakers, DVD player and video/audio auxiliary jacks.

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Disappointingly the Maxima does not offer a dedicated iPod connection - even as an option – although, on the plus side, the auxiliary jacks are compatible with most portable audio players.

Mobile communications are taken care of by the Bluetooth hands-free phone system. With the steering wheel controls, the hands-free is very easy to use, pairing with a variety of phones without fuss while also offering crystal clear voice quality.

Another Ti exclusive feature is a GPS voice navigation system. This system is identical to that found in its 370Z and Murano siblings.

It’s fairly intuitive and the only drawback with the navigation is that when searching for a destination, the driver is forced to specify an exact numbered address – a ‘general direction’ navigation to a particular street or suburb will not suffice.

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Additionally, the same navigation screen becomes a reverse camera when reverse gear is selected, giving a clear view of exactly where the car is heading.

Nissan also includes its 'Predictive Path' technology with this system, which shows the projected reversing path of the car with the current steering angle. Theoretically, it should make parking easier, but proves to be fairly unnecessary in reality.

For passive safety, the Maxima comes with driver and passenger front and side airbags and curtain airbags front to rear.

 

Mechanical Package

One of Nissan’s clear objectives when designing the new Maxima was to maintain the comfortable and refined ride of the previous model.

To achieve this, Nissan has adopted an X-shaped cowl top-structure to increase the new Maxima’s stiffness and to reduce vibrations.

There has also been extensive use of ultra-high tensile steel throughout the body, further increasing structural strength. The result of all these changes is a 40 percent increase in torsional rigidity.

The suspension is revised with Macpherson struts at the front and an independent multi-link system at the rear. The dampers are also new, both front and rear, and now incorporate built-in rebound springs to further enhance the ride and handling balance.

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Under the bonnet the Maxima 250 ST-L differs significantly to its higher-spec 350 Ti sibling. The 250 ST-L comes with a smaller 2.5 litre VQ25 V6 engine, offering a reasonable 134kW at 6000rpm and maximum torque of 228Nm at 4400rpm.

Drive is sent to the front wheels via a newly designed six-speed ‘X-Tronic’ continuously variable transmission (CVT), which features a pseudo-manual mode that allows you to change gears yourself, albeit via the gear shifter only. No steering wheel gear controls are available.

The 350 Ti, on the other hand, gets a torquey 3.5 litre V6 with variable-valve timing (also driving through the front wheels). This is a similar unit to the one in the last generation Maxima and 350Z sports car.

It develops a very healthy peak output of 185kW at 6000rpm and 326Nm of torque at 4400rpm. It’s mated to the same X-Tronic CVT and is an effortless, free-spinning gem.

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During our testing we observed the Maxima 350 Ti clocking up a fuel economy rating of around 12 l/100km for the mixed cycle, despite Nissan's claims of 10.2 l/100km (though we were driving a little harder than most).

Note as well that the 350 Ti only accepts premium unleaded with 95RON rating or higher, while the 250 ST-L gets by on cheaper regular petrol.

As expected, fuel economy in the smaller-engined 250 ST-L was better, with our tests returning figures of just under 10 l/100km.

Front ventilated discs and solid rear discs provided the stopping power across each model.

 

The Drive

Settling in to the Nissan Maxima is a breeze. The car automatically reverses the motorised driver’s seat back to allow more room for entry and, once seated in the comfortable leather buckets, there’s a natty keyless push button to start the engine.

The driving experience differs substantially depending on which engine is sitting under the bonnet.

That said, for both variants we tested it was clear that Nissan has family buyers in mind with the Maxima. The ride is very comfortable, with a softer suspension setup soaking up all but the biggest divots in the road.

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On the highway, road noise barely intrudes into the cabin, ensuring a relaxing journey for all occupants.

And, around town, the X-Tronic CVT ensures that shifts are smooth and barely noticeable.

If the driver chooses to manually shift ratios (gears), the shifts remain smooth and adequately quick (though it is no DSG). It essentially feels like any other semi-auto box – only a little quicker and better connected.


The power-assisted steering is light, provides ample feel and is effortless in slow tight turns such as negotiating the crush of supermarket carparks. (The only quibble, as mentioned, is that the size of the wheel won’t be to everyone’s taste.)

As a family car then, the Maxima ticks all the right boxes in terms of comfort and ride quality.

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It’s only when is pushed for performance that things start to go a bit awry.

The soft suspension that helps the Maxima so much in ride comfort works against it when pushed though corners at speed. Then, the car takes on a very disconnected feel.

With all that weight in the nose it can be a bit ‘understeery’. It leans a little heavily on the outside front wheel and can be deflected by hollows mid-turn in press-on driving.

While for normal use few will notice these dynamic shortcomings, the Maxima is a little soft down below for enthusiastic drivers. Firmer damping would certainly help here.

That said, Nissan will have done its homework on its buyers. The genuine limo-like ride the Maxima provides will appeal strongly to its family and executive target markets.

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Putting the foot down, the strong 3.5 litre V6 in the 350 Ti can really get things moving but the exhaust note is dull and bordering on annoying – so much so it proves to be a real disincentive to push the engine anywhere near to its 6500rpm redline.

The smaller engine in the 250 ST-L is not completely lacking in performance, but describing it as exciting would be an exaggeration.

Its real strength is found in its frugal thirst and low price of entry compared to its larger-engined siblings.

Braking performance across each of the variants is impressive and showed little signs of fade after moderate usage.

One of the most impressive points about the new Maxima is its blind spot visibility.

With the addition of the rear quarter windows, it gives the driver excellent vision when changing lanes. On the other hand, large A-pillars mean that the driver’s front view is slightly obstructed.

The Verdict

An improved look, long equipment list and spacious interior are among the positives that the new Nissan Maxima brings to the table.

There are some let-downs in the interior – which, although leather-trimmed throughout, is arguably trailing its European competitors - but these are easily overlooked when you are enjoying the car’s pleasurable ride, all-round performance and value.

The 350 Ti model we drove is priced at $$46,990 (manufacturer list price) and at that level it starts to battle with the big luxury brands.

For the price, however, both the top-spec Maxima 350 Ti and the lower-spec 250 ST-L are extremely well equipped.

The question for buyers is whether or not it’s worth paying $15,000 on top of the base 250 ST-L's $35,000 asking price for the 350 Ti.

Overall, the new Nissan sedan gets a solid passing grade and is a worthy addition to the Maxima nameplate. It looks and feels robust and well-built and will not only continue to attract repeat buyers but with its more stylish exterior, may attract a newer younger audience.

Targeting locally-built and imported large family cars such as the Toyota Camry, Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, the Maxima presents an interesting alternative.

It might lack a little in performance, especially the 250 ST-L, but it lacks for nothing in comfort and features.

 

Likes

  • More stylish than its predecessor
  • Comfortable leather seats, comfortable ride
  • Roomy interior
  • 350 Ti’s zesty gem of an engine
  • Long standard equipment/features list
 

Dislikes

  • Parts of the interior trim disappointing in build quality
  • Large turning circle
  • Lacklustre on-road performance (250 ST-L)
  • Dull engine sound
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