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?
Nissan's V-6 has taken us all over town this year.
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).
The Nissan navigation system displays individually designed icons for prominent landmarks.
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.
Blue language barriers
Hands-free calling on the Nissan Maxima is about as good as a voice-only system can be (we generally like the option of punching in our own numbers via the LCD screen, but the less we have to use the Nissan joystick, the better). Once a phone is paired, the driver controls all functions of the system using either voice commands or one of two buttons on the left-hand side of the steering wheel. When dialing numbers, the voice-recognition system worked flawlessly, understanding every number without a problem. Nissan's Bluetooth system will not copy over cell phone address books, but it will allow users to voice tag up to 40 entries that can be dialed by voice by pressing the steering-wheel mounted call button.
Audio quality for incoming calls is clear, with sound coming via the car's front speakers. The Maxima's Bluetooth system also incorporates a Speech Adaptation mode, which (in theory) adapts the system's voice-recognition to understand dialects and accents. To optimize the system for one's particular accent, users must recite 25 phrases when prompted to do so by a series of beeps. Sadly, our attempt to make the system understand a (reasonably convincing) Scottish accent by repeating the stock phrases in a broad Glaswegian brogue failed miserably. Perhaps it is optimized for United States regional accents only.
Music to our feet
Our Maxima came with Nissan's Premium Audio System, which replaces the standard eight-speaker AM/FM/CD system with a Bose eight-speaker audio system complete with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and the ability to play advanced digital audio. Navigating homemade discs is relatively straightforward, with large hard buttons allowing drivers to skip forward and backward among folders and tracks. ID3-tag information for artist, album, and track is limited to 20 characters, which is usually sufficient to get a good idea of what's playing. While we like the digital audio capabilities that come with the stereo upgrade, the sound from the premium system is worse than that found as standard on many other cars in the $30,000 range.
While we like the advanced digital-audio playback capabilities of the upgraded Bose system, we're not impressed with how it sounds.
It may be that we have had our aural sensibilities coddled recently by the acoustic delights of such systems as the 19-speaker stereo in the 2007 Lexus LS 460, but the audio system in the Maxima sounded unrefined. The Maxima is a big car with lots of interior room to fill with sound, but it is not so much the number of speakers that seems to be the problem, but rather the sound processing and speaker placement. With half of the speakers situated down at ankle level in each door, the sound comes from low down in the cabin, and turning the volume up past halfway resulted in bass distortion and shrill highs. Sirius and XM Satellite radio are both available on the Maxima for an extra $350 each.
CVT doesn't equal EPA
The Maxima's 255-horsepower 3.5-liter engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which goes some way to mitigating the torque-steer we observed in the 2005 Nissan Maxima SE. During acceleration, the CVT works well, providing a smooth, linear motion with surprisingly brisk pickup. For those who prefer more hands-on control, the CVT can be operated manually by flipping the shifter over to the left and selecting one of six ratios, which take the place of distinct gears.
In stark contrast to its 2005 incarnation, the 2007 Maxima, despite being equipped with independent multilink suspension, delivers a rough ride around town and on the freeway. Uneven road surfaces are relayed to the driver via the steering wheel and are accompanied by some noticeable cowl shake. The Maxima comes with variable rack-and-pinion power-assisted steering, which assists a bit too much for our liking. Our major gripe with the 2007 Nissan Maxima SE, however, is its inferior gas mileage. The EPA estimates the car to get 21mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. We beg to differ. Over about 150 miles of driving--most of it on the freeway--we observed an average mileage of just 16.7mpg: well beneath the EPA figures and well beneath our expectations from a car with such a technically advanced drivetrain.
Active and passive safety systems on the 2007 Nissan Maxima comprise a decent array of alphabet-soup driver assist systems, including an antilock brake system (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), and Nissan's traction control system (TCS). In addition, our car was fitted with an optional vehicle dynamic control (VDC) system, which controls engine input and brake pressure to ensure that the car sticks to the direction in which it is steered.
The Nissan Maxima SE scores highly on front-impact National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety ratings with five stars for driver and four stars for the front passenger. Side-impact and roll-over safety also are rated at a respectable four stars. Airbag coverage is impressive, with driver and front passenger getting full frontal and supplemental seat-mounted, side-impact airbag protection. Roof-mounted, curtain side-impact airbags are also standard on the Maxima, as are cornering headlights and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Optional safety equipment includes a rear sonar system that provides audible distance guidance for reverse parking.
Our Maxima SE had a base price of $28,050, but was loaded with options including: the $3,750 Driver Preferred Package (Bluetooth hands-free phone system, upgraded Bose audio system, high intensity discharge bi-xenon headlights, a rear sonar system, power folding outside mirrors with memory function, autodimming outside mirrors, driver's seat power lumbar support, heated steering wheel, power tilt, and power telescoping steering column with memory function); the $1,800 Navigation Package; the $900 power sunroof; the $600 Vehicle Dynamic Control; and around $300 worth of other odds and ends. The whole lot came to $36,015, including a $605 destination charge. At that price, the Maxima is getting into competitive sedan territory shared with the likes of the Toyota Camry Hybrid, the Honda Accord V-6, and the Buick Lucerne CXS.