Looking back on 2006, we realize we have spent a good deal of our drive time this year courtesy of Nissan's all-purpose VQ35 V-6 engine. We started the year off in the 2006 Nissan Murano, negotiated the April showers in the 2006 Infiniti M35, took our summer vacation in a 2006 Nissan Quest , whipped up some fallen leaves in the 2007 Infiniti G35, and did most of our Christmas shopping in the 2007 Infiniti M35 Sport . What better way, then, to drive out the year in the 2007 Maxima SE, Nissan's flagship sedan sporting Nissan's flagship V-6 engine?
The Maxima has been redesigned inside and out for the 2007 model year. Technology upgrades include a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), an as-standard Intelligent Key, an auxiliary input jack, and an MP3-playing CD autochanger. The result is a respectable sedan that combines luxury, gadgetry, and performance in equally moderate measure, although poor fuel economy and some cabin-tech niggles bring it down.
At first sight, the cabin of the 2007 Maxima SE is a mundane place. Aside from the optional leather seats, cabin materials are bland and uninspiring, comprising a sea of black plastic set off by the occasional glimmer of silvery plastic trim, which does a poor job of imitating brushed aluminum. The modular, curved dash, which angles back on the driver and front passenger, looks as if it was added as a dealer install. Our test car came with the optional leather as part of the Driver Preferred package, which also gives the seats two position-memory settings, power lumbar control, and heating controls. The buttons to control the heated seats and the heated steering wheel are mysteriously situated on the front of the central-storage column between the two front seats.
According to Nissan, there has been a reduction in the number of buttons on the Maxima's main Human Machine Interface (HMI) for 2007. In our view, the designer would have done well to keep on cutting, as the center of the dash is still adorned with 28 buttons and a four-way rocker push-button joystick (more information about it is below). Looking up, the front occupants are faced with either a Skyview roof--a narrow strip of glass that runs down the middle of the car--or, for an extra $900, a power glass roof.
The holy trifecta
As outlined in CNET's Tech Car of the Year awards, our benchmark for cabin tech is a collection of three information and entertainment systems we call the trifecta: Bluetooth hands-free calling; GPS navigation; and a good-sounding audio system able to play advanced digital audio formats such as MP3 and WMA. A hookup for a portable MP3 player scores extra points.
By this rationale, the 2007 Nissan Maxima should score maximum points. Fully optioned-up 2007 Maxima SE models (such as our tester) come with Bluetooth calling (as part of the Driver Preferred Package); an MP3- and WMA-compatible Bose audio system (as part of the Premium Audio Package); and a DVD-based navigation system (as part of the Navigation Package). An auxiliary input jack comes standard on all models. All the ducks, you might say, appear to be in a row.
However, while the Maxima has all of the individual components to satisfy our tech-spectations, the integration and execution of those components leaves something to be desired. To continue the metaphor, all the ducks may be present, but they're not necessarily in a row.
Let's start with navigation. Similar to the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder and the Nissan Quest we reviewed earlier this year, the Maxima's navigation system relies on a fiddly pushable joystick control that has a propensity to tip over when you try to depress it to make a selection. This is a real pain when trying to enter destinations on the fly, and results in lots of time with the back button, (which also has to be selected using the joystick), to erase mistakes. In contrast to the Infiniti M35 Sport we tested last week, the Maxima has no voice-recognition capabilities for destination entry. Instead, destinations are entered by punching in an address, selecting from entries in an address book, previous destinations, or points of interest (POIs).
Where Nissan's navigation system differentiates itself from the pack is its map configurations and POI database. Not only is the POI database stocked with extensive listings (it lists 27 gas station operators, for example), it uses specifically designed landmark icons to illustrate prominent buildings and landmarks in major cities. We like the well-rendered split-screen maps, especially the high-resolution diagrams that the system displays at freeway junctions--and the way that the system shepherds us through complex junctions, telling us to "Keep Right" or "Keep Left," and giving us advanced notice of upcoming turns. Also to our liking is the navigation system's ability to call out individual road names when giving turn-by-turn directions; text-to-voice technology is something we think represents the future of navigation systems, and we are big fans of Nissan's implementation.