2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV Review – the original 4-door sports car continues to deliver

Expert Reviews Nissan

By Danny Chang


  • Power
  • Lots of amenities and luxury features
  • Roominess
  • Weird styling


  • Weak MPG
  • Complex navigation system
  • Light steering
  • Weird styling


I was curious to see how the new seventh generation Maxima drove compared to my ’05 G35, since they pretty much have the same engine but the Maxima has FWD. When Derek asked me if I wanted to test one I jumped on it. The timing was perfect, I had planned a weekend trip to Monterey for my friend’s wedding and the winding Highway 17 that flows through the Santa Cruz Mountains called out to me.

Driving Impressions

The test period with the ’09 Maxima included typical week day commuter traffic and a weekend driving out to the Monterey coast, so I had a chance to test drive it with my regular commute to the office and with a weekend get-away setting.

Two trims are available for the new 2009 Maxima — the S and SV. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP) for the Maxima 3.5 S and Maxima 3.5 SV are $30,160 and of $32,860 respectively. Both models are equipped with an advanced 3.5-liter V6 and Xtronic CVT transmission. It features all-new sports styling, a driver-oriented interior and an enhanced 290-horsepower 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine – offering 35 more horsepower than the previous generation Maxima and fuel economy (EPA estimates) of 19 mpg City/26 mpg Highway.

2009 Nissan Maxima

The test car was a 3.5 SV with the Sport Package, the Sport Technology Package, plus the interface system for iPod. This means the car had pretty much all the bells and whistles that Nissan can throw at their flagship sedan, a.k.a. the Four Door Sports Car. There’s the hard drive navigation system with voice recognition with a 7” touch screen with Bluetooth® cellphone connection, a 9.3 GB hard drive for music, 6-CD in-dash changer, XM® Satellite Radio, interface system for iPod, AV input jacks, etc. — basically a wet dream for a techie auto enthusiast.

The Sport Package has 19 inch alloys instead of the standard 18s, sports a spoiler round the back, comes with paddle shifters and a sports-tuned suspension. The base level Maxima 3.5 S is no joke either – it comes with 18” aluminum alloy wheels, power sliding moonroof, the Intelligent Key with push button ignition, traction control and dual zone climate control. So basically my test car looked exactly like what Nissan calls it, a 4 Door Sports Car.

Driving the Maxima to work and back on my short 30-minute commute from Palo Alto to San Jose was fairly enjoyable. Plenty of power to get on the freeway and make my way to the fast lane. The wife complained a bit about the harsh suspension, which is part of the Sports package, but it was fine with me. The car has an abnormally high hood, which made me feel like a kid sitting in an adult car. I averaged 20-21 MPG in the Maxima, which for a CVT car, is not great. Other than that, the car was a great commuter.

2009 Nissan Maxima

Taking the car to the wedding in Monterey was a pleasurable experience. The car handled well on the curves of Highway 17 from San Jose to Santa Cruz, the Sports Package did its job well. Steering feels really light on this car, though, I found myself correcting from oversteering at times. On the long, straight sections of Highway 1, the light steering also meant I had to keep both hands on the wheel almost the entire time.


The Maxima was very rock solid in terms of build quality. The doors shut with a very solid “thud”, like that on a Bimmer. The panels fit really well, I didn’t notice any inconsistent gaps. I know this is a relatively new car with a little more than 10,000 miles, but there were zero squeaks and nary a rattle in this car, both on the freeway and on the winding road to Pacific Grove. I liked the details in the headlamps and the LEDs in the taillights, they looked high tech and expensive. The door handles look nice and felt good. The button for wireless entry is well integrated into the handle and looks very much a part of it. The steering wheel felt thick and sturdy and the car seats were extremely snug. The quality of the interior was Infiniti-level and looked and felt expensive. If you took the Nissan logo off the steering wheel, you would think it’s an Infiniti.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

First, the good. The instrument panel was pretty straight forward and functional. I like the white backlighting at night, and the dials have white lines that work well during the day. I dig the starter button, it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it. Nissan provides a place to insert the keyless fob just to the left of the steering column if you don’t have a convenient pocket. I have the same keyless fob in my G35 and when I wear shorts and sometimes the fob falls out and gets into the crack between the center console and seat. That’s right, major pain in the you-know-what. The stereo controls were fairly easy to learn and use. The controls for temperature and air were good and easy to use. The seats were extremely snug and comfortable. The driver’s seat kept me in place on turns and I was really surprised at how sturdy it felt. There’s also plenty of head room and rear leg room for tall people. The paddle shifts were pretty good, felt solid enough when I used them to pass up those trucks on the 17.

Nissan Maxima instrument cluster Nissan Maxima driver's cockpit Nissan Maxima HD navigation system

Now the not so good. Oh where do I start? There are too many buttons on the steering wheel! The volume controls are hard to find and feel without looking down. The controls on the old G35 steering wheel were better designed. GM also has good steering wheel controls on the backside, they work well when driving. I kept hitting the left lever for volume and it keeps changing the navi options on screen. I also fail to understand the rationale behind the ugly Compact Flash jack on the center console. Who the heck uses Compact Flash any more? If anything, put in a SD slot, they’re much more common and take up hardly any space at all.

Finally, the ugly. The Maxima has the iPod connect option with a cable in the armrest and supposedly iPod controls through the stereo and touch screen. I tried hooking up my iPhone but the stereo could not read the songs on it. Then I connected my wife’s iPod Touch since a lot of accessories don’t work with iPhones. However, the Maxima could not read the songs on the iPod Touch either! This was most disappointing on our drive down to Monterey for the weekend. We listened to “80s 0n 8″ channel in Sirius all weekend. All weekend. The worst part about the Maxima’s features and usability was the navigation system. It took me 10 minutes to pair my phone with the system, this may be due to an issue with Bluetooth on the iPhone, however, but the screen just froze. The worst part is the navigation itself. The screens were confusing and the menus and options were as easy to decipher and rationalize as my wife, hahaha. Seriously, we got a little lost in Monterey one night because the system kept routing us in circles, so there’s some accuracy concerns. To be fair, it was very cloudy and rainy that weekend, so that may have caused some navigation issues, perhaps.

(Continued on page 2)

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  • Lewis deSoto says:

    I tried my old 2nd generation iPod and it worked as well, though once an hour or so, it would “disconnect” itself and then start up after 10 seconds of off time.

    My vehicle has the Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A tires, but I felt that they had some road feel and good feed back over uneven surfaces. Not as much as I would like, but I feel the tires are too new. What I’ve found is that Nitto NT555 Extreme tires give nice feed back and feel.

    Yesterday I scrabbled through the backroads of Napa County, using the paddle shifters to great effect. Nice to get such a small car feeling from such a large vehicle.

  • Derek says:

    Our test car was shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A tires. Basically, they are a max performance summer tire according to the category assigned by TireRack.

    Connectivity to my 4th generation iPod worked perfectly. I didn’t connect up an iPhone and cannot fathom why Danny’s iPhone wouldn’t work.

  • Lewis deSoto says:

    I would like to comment on your review of the Maxima. First of all, I purchased an SV/Sport with Tech package about a month ago. I ordered it with the summer tires, which gives more resistance and road feel in regard to steering feel that the all season tires do. You did not mention whether you were shod with the summer tire combo. Also in regard to the iPod interconnection, I found that my iPhone (while it does not charge, you need an adapter for that), if does play music perfectly, including the iPod Touch. So I’m wondering if you had a bad cable or if it wasn’t plugged in properly. I have not bothered with attempting to transfer phone #’s from my phone to the car (I hear that iPhone transfers do not work), but realistically, there are probably only ten phone #’s I would want input anyway, so that is not an issue.

    When I looked for a car, I was also tempted by the G series sedans, but I found them too narrow and claustrophobic inside, though I enjoyed the performance. The itsy trunk was also problematic for me; the Maxima’s trunk was deep and wide enough to accommodate my photo gear.

    I was also pleasantly surprised that when I went to purchase one, the Nissan dealer was more generous than the Infiniti folks and the disparity in price rose from a few thousand to six thousand out the door.

    I find the styling is striking and different, I also see the styling cues from the Z models and GTR incorporated, so the car looks decidedly more performance oriented than the G37, which has a sad, kind of jelly bean look to it, in particular the character line which droops past the rear wheels (I think the G35 was a better design).

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