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Car reviews - Nissan - Maxima - range

Launch Story

Nissan logo20 Apr 2009

By LUCIANO PAOLINO

NISSAN will straddle the medium and large-car segments with its J32 Maxima sedan.

On sale June 1 from $33,990, the Thai-built, seventh-generation, four-door sedan retains the basic exterior dimensions of its Japanese-made, J31 Maxima predecessor, but introduces a smaller, 2.5-litre VQ25DE V6 base model (250 ST-L) to take on four-cylinder rivals such as the Honda Accord VTi, Toyota Camry and Mazda6 sedans.

Nissan has had no medium class contender in Australia since the demise of the unsuccessful U13 Bluebird in December 1997.

The new Maxima pricing represents a $1000 drop compared to the previous entry-level ST-L, despite an increase in standard specification, but power and torque levels fall with the 1002cc capacity cut in the 250 ST-L.

Meanwhile, the lauded 3.5-litre V6 engine carries over, albeit in much modified VQ35DE form in the mid-range Maxima 350 ST-S ($37,990) and luxury 350 Ti ($46,990), meaning that the cheapest Maxima that matches its predecessor’s performance abilities now actually costs $3000 more.

Nissan counteracts this by revealing that – along with a redesigned body and completely restyled interior featuring higher quality trim – the J32 Maxima’s front-wheel-drive platform is virtually all new and much improved over the J31 model’s FF-L architecture.

Shared with the Z51 Murano mid-sized SUV as well as a host of other larger models available elsewhere, Nissan’s ‘D’ platform architecture introduces a new MacPherson strut front suspension that has in-built rebound sprints in the shock absorbers for flatter cornering abilities, and a multi-link rear end with shock absorbers positioned closer to the tyres for stability gains.

Nissan says Japanese engineers accumulated data in Australia before altering the Maxima’s suspension tune to local tastes. Models benchmarked for ride and handling qualities include the Toyota Aurion.

The new Maxima boasts a 40 per cent rise in torsional stiffness properties, while front lateral stiffness is increased 85 per cent. Body rigidity improves as well, Nissan says, due to the adoption of an X-shaped cowl top structure.

The extensive use of weight-saving high-grade ultra-high tensile steel (980 MPa class) and multiple load path construction for greater absorption and dispersion of impact energy also contribute to a stronger Maxima, which also cuts noise, vibration and harshness levels. More sound-deadening material also helps here, but the engineers have managed to contain weight increases to between 46kg and 83kg.

Nissan is predicting that about 40 per cent of the 2400 or so new Maximas sold in Australia in the first 12 months will be the 250 ST-L base model.

Its 2496cc, 2.5-litre, all-aluminium, double overhead cam 24-valve petrol V6 with Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS) is part of Nissan’s famed VQ family of engines, but has never been offered in Australia in this small capacity configuration.

It produces 134kW of power at 6000rpm and 228Nm of torque at 4400rpm, and – on standard 91 RON unleaded petrol – returns 9.5 litres per 100km on the ADR 81/01 cycle, as well as 226 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions. The former, Nissan crows, is 0.4L/100km better than the Camry’s 117kW/218Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine can manage.

350 ST-S and 350 Ti models use the revised 3498cc 3.5-litre VQ35DE V6. On 95 RON premium unleaded, it delivers 185kW of power at 6000rpm and 326Nm of torque at 4400rpm. These figures represent a 15kW rise but a 7Nm fall.

The official combined fuel consumption figure is 10.2L/100km, which is a 0.6L/100km improvement, but 0.2 and 0.3L/100km worse than the Accord V6 and Aurion respectively. As expected, CO2 levels rise in the 350 ST-L and Ti, to 243g/km.

Nissan says 80 per cent of the toque output of both V6s occurs at 1600rpm, while a different engine mounting system reduces vibration.

Driving the front wheels is a revised version of the old car’s Continuously Variable Transmission dubbed X-TRONIC, gaining new software and other changes for improved shift response and quality. It also features a six-speed sequential-shift manual mode.

Other mechanical changes include a new speed-variable hydraulically powered rack and pinion steering system, while the brake system is a four-wheel disc system (ventilated up front), supported by Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC, or ESC stability control) with traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

All models include dual front and front-side airbags, and full-length curtain airbags.

Nissan believes that its goal of doubling the appeal of the Maxima with its twin-strategy positioning is underscored by higher-than-expected equipment levels.

Even the 250 ST-L arrives in Australia fitted with leather upholstery, high-intensity discharge (Xenon) headlights with auto-on function, automatic climate control air-conditioning, LED tail-lights, powered folding exterior mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels with a full-sized alloy spare, front fog lights, an eight-way powered driver’s seat and a four-way powered passenger seat, a six-stacker CD/MP3/AUX audio, push-button engine start, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson: “We are making four-cylinder large car customers an offer they can’t afford to ignore in the Maxima ST-L.”

The Maxima 350 ST-S gains the larger V6, rear parking sensors, a keyless entry system, heated front seats, rear spoiler and illuminated vanity mirrors, while the top-line 350 Ti includes a sunroof, a memory function for the driver’s seat, an 11-speaker BOSE audio system, a colour screen, DVD player, satellite navigation, reversing camera, Bluetooth audio and steering wheel controls.

Towing capacity with both engines is rated at 1200kg with brakes, and 750kg without.

Besides some suspension work, Nissan Australia persuaded the Thai factory to provide unique-for-our-market alloy wheel design, seat trim, rear spoiler and sundry other trim items.

Since its December 2003 launch, the outgoing J31 edition has sold the most units, with more than 12,000 vehicles finding homes in Australia.

However, sales plummeted as petrol rises soared, with the model’s average volume settling down to about 150 units a month.

Mr Thompson said the Thai factory could easily increase production beyond the 250 Maximas a month that Nissan expects to shift.

The Maxima began life as the mainly American market six-cylinder version of the 1977-1981 Datsun 200B, gaining a longer bonnet and slightly different sheetmetal as it evolved with the Bluebird series in the 1980s.

Australians had to wait until the Maxima became a separate model in its own right, with the third-generation, J30 series in 1990. It replaced the Australian-assembled R31 Skyline.

The J32 Maxima is sold as the Teana in some Asian and Eastern European markets.

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