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First drive: Nissan delivers Maxima thrust

Premium: Flagship Nissan sedan will be renewed here next year.

We drive next year’s new Maxima, which offers more power, space and features

16 May 2008

NISSAN has rolled out a pre-production prototype of its second-generation Teana – to be badged Maxima in Australia – at the company’s 360 event in Portugal, less than two weeks after unveiling the model at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in China.

Built off the front-wheel drive D-segment platform that was previously known as the FF-L (Front-engine, Front-wheel drive, Large) package, the Teana/Maxima will once again be the fraternal twin of the Murano SUV/crossover. Expect it to carry the J32 prefix.

Both vehicles are due to go on sale in Australian during the first half of next year.

The ‘D’ architecture also serves the US-market A36 Maxima model showcased at the New York International Auto Show in March.

This four-door sedan also shares much of the same underpinnings as the Teana/Maxima, but boasts a completely different body, and is built alongside the smaller Altima-series Camry competitor in Tennessee, while ‘our’ car comes from Nissan’s Kyushu plant in Japan.

Powered by an uprated version of Nissan’s lauded 3.5-litre petrol V6 dubbed VQ35DE, the 2009 Teana/Maxima delivers 195kW of power at 6000rpm and 326Nm of torque at 4400rpm. These outputs contrast to the 170kW and 333Nm produced by the current, J31 series.

12 center imageA revamped version of the CVT Continuously Variable Transmission introduced to the Maxima in 2006 is said to help provide significant performance and refinement gains.

Despite tipping the scales at a hefty 2060kg, the combined average fuel consumption figure is 10.8L/100km (the same as today), while the carbon-dioxide emissions rating is 244g/km.

Nissan Australia will not confirm it, but speculation is strong that a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel co-devised with Alliance partner Renault will be added to the Maxima (and Murano) from 2010.

This 2993cc powerplant is based on the newly released 2.0-litre four-cylinder dCi unit, and should deliver around 195kW of power and 550Nm of torque, while emitting less than 200g/km of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Other new-generation Maxima vitals include an overall length of 4850mm, width of 1795mm, height of 1475mm and wheelbase of 2775mm, representing a change of –40, +30, +5 and 0mm respectively over the existing car.

Nissan is expected to offer the 2009 Maxima in two trim levels mirroring, today’s base ST-L (currently at $34,990) and Ti (retailing for $39,990).

While a price rise is likely, equipment levels will also grow, with the Ti equivalent offering leather and heated seats, satellite-navigation, a sunroof and a reversing camera.

Mr Shiro Nakamura, senior vice-president and chief creative officer for design and brand management at Nissan, told GoAuto at last year’s Tokyo motor show that the 2009 Maxima was designed specifically for Asian markets in general, and China in particular. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan will also be big consumers for the car.

The 2009 Maxima will be the seventh-generation Nissan to wear the moniker since 1976, and the fifth since the J30 series arrived in Australia in early 1990.

The series started as a six-cylinder variant of the Datsun 200B-based 810 in North America and Bluebird in Japan, brandishing an extended nose and wheelbase to house Nissan’s L-series in-line engines of 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre capacities.

However, it was not until the 1989 model that the Maxima earned its own body style.

Drive impressions:

NISSAN Australia deserves a medal for persisting with the Maxima for as long as it has.

Since its release here in 1990, the series has struggled to achieve the success that Nissan has longed for it, playing second fiddle at various times to the likes of the Toyota Cressida, Subaru Liberty and – more recently – the Honda Accord Euro, to name a few.

Why doesn’t Nissan in Japan realise that Australians are simply not that enamoured with large front-wheel drive V6 sedans anymore? It must be galling that the car that would really fire here – the Skyline – is denied to Nissan Australia. Is this a company hell-bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? Even the current, J31 Maxima has failed to deliver the requisite number of buyers to the brand, despite generally strong reviews, pleasant styling, keen pricing, and one of the most appealing cabin presentations around.

So it is with no pleasure at all to report that the 2009 Maxima is destined to follow its predecessors to sales ignominy.

Nissan’s chief of design, Mr Shiro Nakamura, revealed to GoAuto last year that he deliberately moved the Teana (as the Maxima is known in some places abroad) away from the European sensibility of the outgoing car, for greater visual appeal to Chinese and Eastern European clientele.

He almost choked on his drink when we suggested that the Tokyo motor show concept car that previewed the latest edition seemed to echo the Hyundai Grandeur school of fussy styling.

A colleague quipped that it is little wonder that, after seeing the Teana/Maxima, that the Americans went ahead and designed their own.

At least the Maxima is just like the very latest South Korean cars in possessing a modern, stylish and inviting cabin, with quality surfaces, appealing symmetry, beautifully crisp instrumentation, ample ventilation and all the mod-cons you would expect from a premium-positioned family car.

In today’s Maxima, we love the sumptuous seats and spacious surrounds, and the same is true for the new car too.

It is also crystal clear that the uprated V6 petrol engine and revised CVT transmission conspire to deliver a silent, strong powerplant worthy of the Maxima’s upmarket aspirations.

If you did not know beforehand, we think you’d struggle to realise that the gearbox isn’t an example of the latest six-speed automatic. There is none of the delay or ‘slipping clutch’ sound and feel of old-school CVTs.

But then, Maximas have never struggled in the powerplant department over the years.

Sadly, being a very early pre-production vehicle, the 2009 Maxima we drove on Portugal’s irregular roads apparently employed an overly soft suspension tune that only served to remind us how much better disciplined Australian vehicles of this size are.

Indeed, the rear-drive Skyline G37 sedan we also drove only highlighted the Maxima’s inconsistent steering feel and nose-heavy handling.

We really need to drive a more appropriately tuned 2009 Maxima before delivering a definitive steering, handling and ride verdict. But our expectations will not be huge.

Nevertheless, we presume that when the 2009 Maxima lands here in about a year’s time, it will be better overall than the current car.

At least we can confirm that it is a quieter and more comfortable and refined place to sit inside, benign to drive, and even better equipped.

But we won’t be surprised if the next Maxima suffers the same fate as its predecessors. Perhaps this is the time for Nissan to start looking to the Skyline instead.

Read more:

New York show: Nissan renews Maxima

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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