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Auto Corner: Walking the Walk of a Sport-Luxury Sedan, 2011 Nissan Maxima

04 September 2010   John Dickerson
The 2011 Nissan Mixima blends practical luxury and performance.

 

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Nissan’s Maxima walks the walk of a sport-luxury sedan.

First, there was the BMW 5-Series -- a sedan known by enthusiasts for its sporting soul. It seemed all other “sport” sedans were glorified family cars with “S” badges or “turbo” monikers. Those sedans weren’t capable of braking or cornering with the prowess of a 5-series.

 

BMW seemed to have perfected the mid-size sport sedan, albeit an expensive one. Audi and Mercedes offered similar sedans for years, but none threatened BMW’s sporting turf.

Lexus was the first to challenge Bavaria’s stranglehold on the “sport” luxury market. Its Lexus GS was fast as an Olympic sprinter, and smooth. In fact, it was too smooth. The airy steering, suspension and road-feel of the GS were too anesthetized for true enthusiasts. The GS has sold well with luxury-buyers who want a fast car, but it hasn’t touched BMW’s hallowed ground as the premiere sports ride for commuting enthusiasts.

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Thus a perfect void was created a void for the Nissan’s luxury brand – Infiniti – to perfect a midsize sports car in its M37 and M56 (same car with different engines). Infiniti’s 2011 M models are more beautiful than ever – and more threatening to BMW than ever. Unfortunately, a loaded Infiniti M56 costs about $60,000.

So, what if you could have the essence of an Infiniti M in a luxurious sport sedan that costs half the price? Enter the Nissan Maxima, starting at about $30,000. Nissan’s sport-luxury sedan has long been a favorite in the segment.

The Maxima undercuts luxury-badge sedans in cost, landing in the territory of loaded Camrys and Accords, but the Maxima also delivers dynamic driving and coddling luxury that a loaded Camry or Accord simply can’t compete with. The closest competitor in this gray-area niche market is Volkswagen’s CC.

Nissan’s new Maxima boasts an incredibly powerful 290-horsepower 3.5 liter V-6. For the record, that’s near Muscle Car horsepower. Most 1990’s Corvette’s had about 300 horsepower. The Maxima pairs that muscle with sophisticated handling and braking. While not on the level of sport sedans that priced north of $50k, the Maxima’s taut handling and powerful brakes are more than enough for most lead-foots.

Inside, the ultra-comfortable Maxima displays a showcase of luxury, technology and comfort. The refinement in the Maxima’s cockpit oozes with the touches and attention to detail that buyers expect from cars costing nearly twice as much.

The same is true of the Maxima’s safety features and ratings, which include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s highest rating – 5 stars – for front- and side-impact crash safety.

The Maxima inherits a host of high-end options from its older Infiniti siblings, including 19-inch wheels, HID Xenon headlights, heated seats and steering wheel, paddle shifters, 9.3GB Music Box Hard Drive, XM NavTraffic® with Real-Time Traffic Information and a 7.0-inch touch screen color monitor and DVD playback capability.

All in all, few sport-luxury sedans south of $35,000 can challenge the Maxima at the track. And inside, few luxury competitors can boast this much opulence for this few pennies.

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Nissan blends art and performance in the opulent but functional cockpit of the Maxima.

© 2010 John Dickerson

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