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Maxima: Sports Car As Daily Driver

When engineering the seventh-generation Maxima, Nissan personnel were faced with (1) addressing the needs of an aging Baby Boomer who still likes to get on the throttle every now and then and (2) creating a car that credibly belongs in the same showroom as the GT-R. And they did it.

This, the 2009, is the seventh-generation Nissan Maxima. That's counting the first, the rear-wheel-drive sedan launched in 1981 designated the "Datsun 810." The first "Maxima"-branded Datsun became available in calendar year 1985 (and the brand "Datsun" went away in 1986). With the third generation in '89 the company started referring to the Maxima as the "4-Door Sports Car." Despite things like the availability of bucket seats in both rows in the six-generation Maxima (assuming that buckets signify "sports car"), with this latest 2009 Maxima Nissan is announcing "the return of the 4-Door Sports Car." *There are no buckets in the rear. And while sports car partisans may be appropriately pleased with the 290-hp engine, they might point out that sports cars generally have an available manual transmission. The '09 Maxima doesn't have one. The reason for this is rather simple. According to Mark Perry, director, Cross Carline Product Strategy, Nissan North America, the take-rate for the manual had been on the order of 5%. What's more, he points out that the three-mode Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) has been calibrated with more than 700 shift logic algorithms, that it offers a manual mode, that there are optional paddle shifters, and that Nissan engineers developed the "Ds," for "Drive Sport," electronic logic mode for the transmission which, for example, holds engine speed during cornering for a more, well, sporty driving experience. So there's a bit of the sports car for you.

But then one might point out that the Maxima has a front-drive arrangement, and sports cars have rear- (or all-wheel-) drive setups. Perry says they thought about that. It's not like Nissan doesn't have rear-drive in its lineup: think only of the 350Z and the GT-R. But they opted for using the company's D-platform, which finds use in other products, including the Murano and the Altima. Not only does this provide the advantage of parts-sharing, but the platform is said to be comparatively light weight (3,556 lb. for the Maxima S model; 3,579 lb. for the SV model) and provides the kind of roominess that a empty-nest Boomer would be interested in as a daily driver (96.2-ft3). (Remember: This is a four-door sports car.) This is not to say that they simply took the D-platform wholesale. Rather, they provided improvements. Such as the use of aluminum suspension links, revised suspension geometry, and a lower engine mounting. And for those selecting the Sport or Premium package for the SV model there is a panel fitted behind the rear seat that provides a 15% increase in body rigidity and a 17% improvement in torsional rigidity.

Yes, and as is seemingly obligatory for vehicle manufacturers nowadays and a boon to the economy of the Ahrweiler district, engineers went to the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit during vehicle development. It is, after all, a sports car.

There is a contemporary concern vis-à-vis sports cars, especially of the daily-driver variety. It is one thing to have the exhilaration of planting the throttle down and feeling the inertial forces of 261 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm and the acceleration of the 290 hp @ 6,400 rpm. It is another thing to pull up to the local gas station and select "Premium." Nissan engineers went to work on the 3.5-liter VQ35 traverse-mounted V6 used in the Maxima and produced at the company's Decherd, TN, powertrain plant. Not only does the '09 Maxima have 35 more hp, 9 more lb-ft of torque, but it actually gets one additional mile per gallon in highway driving (26 mpg) than the '08. The 19 mpg for city driving remains the same. There are various factors contributing to this. Among them are the use of C-VTC, or Continuous Valve Timing Control, NICS, or Nissan Variable Induction Control System, and, of course, the CVT. In addition to which, the crank journals and cam lobes are microfinished and the pistons are molybdenum-coated. Engineers worked at increasing the air intake (as in the NICS), increasing fuel-burn efficiency through increasing the compression from 10.3:1 to 10.6:1, and reducing exhaust back pressure.

But even standing still, the Maxima has a sporty look. The design theme was "Liquid motion," and while there is a flow to the formed sheet metal, and while the hood has a nautical catamaran-style shape, what is most striking is the low and wide stance, which is particularly manifest in the way the headlamps wrap back into the front fenders and the substantial rear fenders. Dimensionally, this car is lower and wider than its predecessor, with a width of 73.2 in. and a height of 57.8 in., compared with 71.7 in. and 58.3 in. for the '08 model. The '08 and the '09 are the same width at the doors; the '09 has the additional dimension when you measure out to the fenders.

This is, after all, a sports car, right?

*Note: This look at days gone by is relevant for another reason, too: apparently, some 4 out of 5 Maximas sold during the last 15 years, or ~1.7 million of them, are still on the road.