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Avg. Price Paid:$10,301 - $11,293
Original MSRP: $28,630 - $30,880
MPG: 19 City / 25 Hwy
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2008 Nissan Maxima Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Nissan Maxima was new.

The Maxima should deliver enough power to satisfy performance-minded buyers. Automobile Magazine says "The Maxima is a great cruising or highway car, with generous power and a comfortable ride. It's less satisfying as a true sport sedan, as it tends to squirm and wallow when pushed aggressively on twisty roads."

In 2007, the Maxima's manual transmission was replaced by a Continuously Variably Transmission (CVT) that comes standard in all models. Reviewers have mixed opinions on the change, but they still like the Maxima's power-happy engine, which Kelley Blue Book says is "without question one of the best V6 engines ever produced." However, it doesn't produce the best fuel economy, a downside that several reviewers mention.

Acceleration and Power

Under the hood, the 2008 Nissan Maxima boasts the same engine that's used in the company's 350Z roadster, a 3.5-liter 255-horsepower double overhead camshaft V6. Reflecting the enthusiasm of most reviewers, U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman calls it "explosive for this class and price range. Smooth too -- there's minimal lurching even when you pound the accelerator." While the 255-hp rating is 10 hp less than the 2006 model's 265 hp, the change is due to new rules for measuring horsepower, rather than an actual reduction in power. Continuing the praise, Kelley Blue Book calls the V6 one of the best ever produced: "With such sturdy and rarely-found features as an honest-to-goodness timing chain (as opposed to a rubber belt, which will eventually require replacement) and platinum-tipped spark plugs, the Maxima's powerplant is built to go the distance."

The engine's performance in test drives matches up with the praise. The Sacramento Bee says "No wimpy run up the revs here; the 3.5-liter V-6 presses you into the seat. You would swear you have 300 horses at your command…" Likewise, the Chicago Sun-Times says the engine is "quick off the line and whisks it to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds." U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman finds the engine "does just about whatever you ask it to. While gauging the car's off-the-line acceleration, I repeatedly chirped the tires -- not an easy feat in a front-wheel -drive vehicle where the weight of the engine adds an extra bit of traction to the drive wheels."

The V6 is paired with a sport-tuned Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with manual-shift mode that replaces the former six-speed manual transmission. Many reviewers express disappointment at the change, with BusinessWeek noting "There's no 'shift shock' with a CVT, since there are no gears and so no gear changes, but the take-it-or-leave it CVT may put off buyers who consider a manual transmission the most essential component of a true sport sedan." The reviewer adds that "…enthusiast drivers may miss things like screechy burnouts and being able to bang off tire-barking 1-2 upshifts. These are impossible with the CVT."

However, another camp of reviewers is pleased with the CVT's performance. Consumer Guide finds it "seamlessly moves engine rpm to the right range and keeps it there to supply ample power at any speed." Newsday praises "The refined and efficient CVT allows the vehicle to rocket smoothly without detectable shift points." New Car Test Drive notes that, "…since it's continuously variable, and not limited to four or even six fixed gear ratios, the CVT can keep the engine operating closer to peak efficiency more of the time."

In the deep sea of praise for the Maxima's powertrain is one major gripe -- its low fuel economy. According to the EPA, the Maxima nets 19 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway. Premium gasoline is recommended. CNET notes "Over about 150 miles of driving -- most of it on the freeway -- we observed an average mileage of just 16.7 mpg: well beneath the EPA figures and well beneath our expectations from a car with such a technically advanced drivetrain." However, Kelley Blue Book is impressed with fuel economy considering the engine's tremendous power, noting "the 3.5-liter engine delivers abundant power throughout the rpm range yet sips fuel like a frugal four-cylinder."

Handling and Braking

The majority of reviewers like the Maxima's "sports car" handling, though a good number of them complain about the steering. The San Francisco Chronicle praises the sedan because "It has that quick handling that you want from a sports car, and it goes directly where you point it." U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman is also complimentary, noting the Maxima feels "smooth as tiramisu on the highway." However, he also notes a criticism: "The Maxima bites and rolls a bit on curves, the only real detraction from its sports car leanings."

The Maxima features a front independent suspension and a rear multi-link independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. The sportier SE base model features a firmer suspension and bigger 18-inch wheels, while the luxury SL has a softer suspension and 17-inch wheels. The Chicago Sun-Times is a bit disappointed in the SE's sport suspension, noting it "doesn't feel as tightly tied to the road as many sports sedans during spirited driving. But then, most such sedans have rear-drive that gives them inherently better balance because they have less weight in front."

New Car Test Drive still prefers the SE over the SL "because it feels more connected to the road yet it still rides smoothly and quietly, even on bad pavement." Likewise, The Auto Channel finds the SL's suspension "too comfort-oriented to be a proper sports sedan, but that's not its mission in life." CNET is one of the few that criticizes even the SE's suspension, commenting that it "delivers a rough ride around town and on the freeway. Uneven road surfaces are relayed to the driver via the steering wheel and are accompanied by some noticeable cowl shake."

The engine-speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is the most frequent point of criticism when it comes to the Maxima's performance. Many reviewers gripe about "torque steer," a sideways tug at the steering wheel that often occurs during acceleration in front-wheel-drive cars. Automobile Magazine says "it feels like the engine is battling the rest of the car, and it's something you won't experience in a rear-wheel-drive car." The reviewer adds that this makes the front-wheel-drive Maxima less alluring than "rear- or all-wheel-drive competitors, such as the G35, which is far more rewarding for not much more money. And some lux-minded front-drivers, such as the Acura TSX, are more nimble." The San Francisco Chronicle mentions the torque steer but also brings up another gripe -- the Maxima's "egregiously large turning radius."

But plenty of reviewers are willing to overlook the torque steer because the Maxima's overall performance is so pleasing. U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman says the steering "makes handling squishier than rear-drive sedans like the G35, the entry-level offering from Nissan's Infiniti luxury division. But I didn't really mind -- the Maxima is so smooth up and down the driving spectrum that it's hard to find much to complain about." Others don't see the torque steer as much of a problem either. Consumer Guide found it "well controlled, though steering can feel light under sustained full throttle." MSN says, "Steering is precise with nice feel."

The Maxima has vented front and rear disc brakes with an anti-lock system, Electronic Brake force Distribution and Brake Assist. Reviewers are generally quiet regarding the brakes, though the Chicago Sun-Times finds stopping distances "better than average."

Review Last Updated: 2/4/09

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