A Victory & Reseda "Throwback Review" of the 2009 Nissan Maxima
What does 4DSC stands for? If the photo above was not obvious, a history lesson is called for.
About twenty years ago, Nissan decided to change the game on Asian four-door sedans. When they introduced the 1989 Maxima, they continued the front engine/front-wheel-drive format and concentrated on massaging the 3.0 liter V6 for performance instead of tepid luxury. Thus with the sporty SE sedan, the 4DSC was born: The four-door sports car.
Since then, the Maxima had slipped away from being the 4DSC. The last Maxima were curious mix of California-penned origami and hideous details that detracted from the 4DSC first foisted upon the market back in 1989. Nissan knew it had to compete distinctively in the entry-level premium sedan market by bringing its own sexy back.
On paper, the new 2009 Maxima had everything I like about a sports sedan: A great engine, great handling and active safety package and an interior better suited in a coupe than in a sedan. This steel-bluish 3.5S sedan, it proved not only it had the goods to satisfy my need for a sports sedan; it turned out to be a much better experience for me to enjoy it thoroughly.
The heart of the beast is Nissan's VQ35 3.5 liter V6 engine that is nothing short of the best engine in the world. Well…that was until the 3.7 liter version showed up in the likes of Nissan’s new 370Z and Infiniti's G37 lineup. I stopped myself from questioning the reasoning for not including the 3.7 liter motor in this package. I now understand the logic behind it since the Z and the G are rear-drive models, while the Maxima still drive through its front wheels. The VQ35 is attached to the aforementioned CVT transmission. After watching the tachometer for a couple of hundred miles, I figured out that the CVT will lock in the engine revs based on speed, not fluctuate as regular automatics tend to do. This is a slightly different tack than on last year's #VOTY, the Nissan Altima.
Speaking of the Altima, the Maxima is still based on the same platform, but extended for a larger footprint. However, Nissan tweaked the package beyond its unique styling and unusual details in the lights and curves, now seen on the new 370Z. Underneath is a cross between an Altima and a Z. That’s where the fun begins!
For someone that appreciates the prowess of a sports car/sedan, my fill has been met. It's taut, lithe and tracks like panther. For a supposedly heavy big sedan, it certainly doesn't feel lagged. Completely the opposite – the Maxima is a confident machine to throw around country lanes, highways and city streets. Imagine how it would do on canyon roads!
The steering felt right as does the brakes. Where it shines in how it handles – and, believe me, I can get real gushy on this subject. It just feels right to me, but I must admit that it comes with a penalty. Though the ride is smooth and taut, it can transmit road imperfections and sometimes has a tendency to bounce off-line when dealing with curves full of bumps and cracks. Sounds like a good ol' sports car to me, right? Not really. I would much rather do with a slight more dampening of the suspension and a way to absorb road imperfections without compromising its fantastic handling characteristics. Not to mention better rubber – those Goodyear Eagles are crud on the dry.
How about the experience behind the wheel? Loved it! I found a very comfortable place behind the steering wheel with large dials in front of me. I also enjoyed the huge screen in the center for the audio system and air conditioning. The seats were supportive and comfortable, which is a huge compliment for the Maxima's huge bolstered sports seats. One complaint would be a wish for better steering wheel switchgear for the audio system. I don’t understand why you would have a small volume control switch in black plastic and a couple of not so smart switches in the satin silver housing next to the airbag hub. Substance over style, please?
What kind of penalty did I incur for enjoying this fantastic sports sedan? For starters, putting in premium fuel was a requirement for this car. Sure, 20 cents a gallon won't break the bank, but it does add up. What’s the point really? Um, don't answer that – I already know both sides of the argument about the premium fuel requirement.
But one penalty I did not incur was in fuel consumption. For a loop that included a run up to St. Cloud for a ballgame and a mix of rural roads and city driving, I only achieved 24.2 MPG. That's pretty darn good for a 290 HP V6 running on premium fuel!
Sometimes, if you give something that has potential a second chance, it may come through for you. This is why I hoped the Maxima would come through somehow. It did more than that. It brought back the spirit of the original 4DSC with a huge splash of Z in the mix. It's been a long time since I captained a car worthy of heroic driving. If this was a Duluth, Iowa, Wisconsin or Fargo run, the smile I had coming out of this Maxima would be permanent.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle was rented by Randy Stern
All photos by Randy Stern
PRE-OWNED VEHICLE INFORMATION: Per a search on several car shopping sites, V&R found there were several 2009 Nissan Maximas available between $8,000 and $15,000. Mileage and condition varies, but most were found with over 90,000 miles on the odometer, the highest being over 162,000 miles. Always have any vehicle inspected before purchase.