Driven: 2011 Nissan Maxima

Story by Benjamin Greene

Originally published by Dupont Registry:

2011 Nissan Maxima

Nissan trademarked the term “4-Door Sports Car” for the Maxima and refers it as having the “soul of a sports car with the practicality of a sedan.” Normally, this time of marketing pitch fails to truly exemplify the product, but with the 2011 Maxima, we think Nissan may have actually hit the nail on its head. The Nissan Maxima features out-of-the-pack styling, a powerful 290-hp V-6 engine, sophisticated CVT transmission, nimble handling, and ample room for four people and their things.

It starts with its wide stance and prodigious fenders that give the Maxima an aggressive, sporty look. The Maxima’s metal is appealing. It shares features with other Nissan’s products, like the sculpted rear haunches of the Altima Coupe, the flat nose of the Nissan GT-R, and the arrowhead headlamps from the 370Z. Despite being a conglomerate of styling elements, the whole package works well. The Maxima features flowing lines that Nissan refers to as “liquid motion” and a “catamaran-style” hood that bugles at either end.

The Maxima’s sole engine offering is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque. The engine is connected to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Run-ins with other CVTs have left us unimpressed, but the unit in the Maxima makes a case for CVTs everywhere. Jump on the throttle at nearly any speed, and the engine jumps up into the fat part of the powerband for near instantaneous acceleration. There is no letup or breaks. Just a constant rush as the speed rises but the rpms sit still. A four-cylinder engine with a CVT could cause a near-constant drone as the unsatisfying engine note is almost always apparent. This is not the case with the Nissan Maxima, which offers an enjoyable deep-muted roar. Slap the CVT into manual mode and fast fake gear changes from select ratios are performed via steering-column-mounted shift paddles. It is an amusing mode, especially at higher revs, for those that are not ready to give up the sound of a car changing gears.

The Maxima’s suspension is designed to be both stimulating and relaxing, and it rides a line that will please most. It is both responsive and comfortable. One tester called the car outright “nimble.” The steering is receptive, the grip on the road is solid, the car feels balanced, and bodyroll is minimal. Speed-sensitive steering offers the quickest steering ratio of the Nissan sedans. At lower speeds, there is a small dead zone off-center but it tightens up as velocities increase. Acceleration is brisk and torque steer only turns up when pushing the tires with double duties, like accelerating while turning hard. The brakes do a commendable job of bringing the car to a halt albeit they are grabby (something we have found in other Nissans). Our Maxima 3.5 SV test car was equipped with a Sport Package featuring 19-inch wheels wearing 245/40VR19 all-season tires.

2011 Nissan Maxima Interior

The inside is a pleasant place. The seats backs feature deep pockets for both the front and rear passengers with additional side-bolster padding and manual thigh extensions for the driver’s seat. Our test car was equipped with the fixed rear bench with center armrest pass-through. The available 60/40 fold-down rear seat with access to the trunk may provide more utility but cost you the other seats' snug contours. The three-spoke steering wheel is a perfect small diameter and the easy-to-read instrument gauge features electroluminescent meters for daytime illumination. Soft plastics are accented with wood or optional faux carbon-fiber trim and chrome surrounds for the gauges, vent rings, vent knobs, and audio switches. Shiny gray stitching (looks better than it sounds) accentuates the leather on the seats, doors, and center console. Our test car was not equipped with the Premium Package, which adds a front and rear moonroof, among other features. For 2012, the interior gets even better. Nissan will now offer a beige interior, instead of the single drab charcoal option; a white instrument cluster; Cheery wood trim; and piano-black pieces to replace the chrome surrounds.

Washing the bad taste out of our mouths from the past few generations, the seventh-generation Maxima, available since 2009, has returned the car to its former 90s glory. Like the fourth-generation Maxima equipped with a six-speed manual that we recall fondly, the new Maxima is both engaging and fun. Drawbacks took a little thought because it’s hard to find fault with the current car. We could only really come up with two: One is price, which inches ever closer to the Germans once you start selecting the more desirable option packages. The other is the lack of rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission, but those are wish-list items that don’t fix any actual standout gripes with the current car.

Vehicle Specs

Base Price

3.5-liter V-6

290 hp @ 6,400 rpm

261 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm


0–60 mph
6.0 seconds (estimated)

Top Speed
132 mph (limited)

3,565 lb

191 inches


"Soul of a sports car with the practicality of a sedan" feels about right

Price nudges into premium brand territory