First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
2007 Nissan Maxima. Click image to enlarge

by Paul Williams

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There’s no doubt that the revised-and-refined-for-2007 Nissan Maxima is the flagship car for the Nissan brand: it’s got looks, luxury, and loads of equipment. But it’s not the Maxima that fans of this car loved in the late 1990′s. There’s no manual transmission option, for example, which you might think is a small thing, but it represents a bigger shift in the target buyer for the Maxima than may first be apparent. No longer the budget BMW alternative to which you could add big wheels, tinted windows and a performance chip, now, according to Nissan Canada, it’s a competitor to the Toyota Avalon, or maybe the Acura TL. Refined, composed, grown-up, the Maxima courts a more mature, but definitely not sedate, audience.

The Maxima swagger is not gone, mainly due to its jewel of an engine. Rated at 255 horsepower, the Nissan 3.5-litre V6 is as smooth as silk when cruising, but renders a major kick when you hit the gas. Even the now-standard CVT (continuously variable) transmission can’t de-claw this engine. As Jill Young, Product Planning Manager for the Maxima pointed out at a recent vehicle introduction for the 2007 Maxima in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, there’s a reason for that. “We’ve listened to feedback about CVT transmissions, and made the adjustments,” she said. Consequently, the Maxima uses the latest version of the third generation of Nissan’s CVT gearbox – “performance tuned” – and it is surprisingly effective and lively.

First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
2007 Nissan Maxima. Click image to enlarge

But let’s look at the car as a whole. Exterior changes for the Maxima include a new corporate front grille, hood, headlights, front and rear bumpers and more aggressive side sills. The rear spoiler is more prominent, and new 17″ and 18″ alloy wheels debut. Maxima’s unique “SkyView” glass paneled roof continues as a standard feature, although you can select a more conventional sunroof for additional cost. Overall, the car looks smoother, less angular, than the outgoing model.

The interior also receives comprehensive attention. The centre stack is fully redesigned and the instruments feature a “Fine Vision” display for easier readability. Seats have larger side bolsters and aluminum trim is real metal. Overall the entire interior uses a higher specification and quality of materials, including the plastics, leather and fabrics. The overall impression is of smoothness, tidiness, and quality.

Rear seat room is generous, and the large size of the rear doors deserves comment, as these permit very easy entry and exit for rear seat passengers. Trunk capacity is similarly large and useful.

Maximas arrive in three trim levels, ranging in price from $36,998 to $46,448. Standard equipment on the five-seat $36,998 Maxima 3.5 SE includes traction control, anti-lock brakes, 18″ alloy wheels, rear spoiler, heated cloth seats with heated steering wheel, intelligent key, side curtain and seat-mounted side impact airbags.

First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
2007 Nissan Maxima. Click image to enlarge

The full array of power amenities – windows, doors, locks, climate control – is also standard, but the base 3.5 SE uses cloth interior surfaces. You can add leather ($41,098), sunroof ($42,098) and Navigation to top the price range of this trim level at $45,048.

The four-seat (two rear bucket-type seats) 3.5 SE starts at $42,498. Sporty perforated leather seating surfaces are standard, as are heated rear seats, a rear centre console, power rear sunshade, rear sonar system, high intensity discharge headlights and Bluetooth. The sunroof adds $1,500, and the Navigation system takes the price to $46,448.

Maximas also can be purchased in $41,498 3.5 SL trim, which accentuates luxury. The leather seating features a comfier “gathered” style, wheels are 17″ alloy (permitting taller, but still low profile, H-rated tires; the 18″ wheels feature V-rated tires), the suspension is tuned for a smoother ride and interior trim is simulated wood. Navigation on this version results in a price of $44,448.

Our test vehicle was the four-seat 3.5 SE, with leather, sunroof and navigation. Silver on black, with real aluminum trim and 18″ alloys, the car has a formidable presence.

First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
2007 Nissan Maxima. Click image to enlarge

Not unexpectedly, the transmission commanded a lot of interest among the assembled journalists, as there have been complaints from consumers about some manufacturers’ CVT gearboxes: their propensity to drone when accelerating, and to neuter the power of whatever engine is being used. Nissan, however, is a leader in this technology, and has successfully used CVT transmissions in their popular Murano since its introduction. The “performance tuning” of the Maxima’s CVT is well suited to the car’s character, in that it doesn’t detract from the engine’s power when required. There is a manual mode, but likely most drivers will simply select “D” and go from there. Once underway, the car responds sharply when asked, with the transmission seeming to “downshift” (way down, actually) as it would in a conventional automatic when you peg the pedal, although it doesn’t “step” through the gears as it accelerates. During our test, the dreaded drone was not evident, and for the most part, the behaviour of the transmission is unnoticed by the driver.

Let’s just say that the CVT should be a non-issue for the target buyer, unless you’re looking to be more connected to the mechanics of the car. Some are, but most Maxima buyers (according to Nissan) are not.

First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
Click image to enlarge

Driving the Maxima as it was intended – as a fast, smooth, luxury-oriented, cruiser – there isn’t much to complain about. The power-adjustable steering column, coupled with multi-adjustable power driver’s seat, assures an excellent and comfortable driving position. Power lumbar support is most appreciated, but the passenger will be envious as this adjustment is missing from the other front seat.

Both seats are heatable, however, as is the steering wheel. And the four-seat 3.5 SE also gets heated rear seats. Come to think of it, this model gets several features that are oddly unavailable on the other two models. The power rear sunshade, for instance, rear centre armrest with pass-through, rear 12-volt outlet, rear window auto up/down. These are useful amenities, you’d think, that would be appreciated by buyers of all trim levels.

Nonetheless, Maximas can hardly be criticised for lack of standard equipment.

First Drive: 2007 Nissan Maxima nissan first drives
2007 Nissan Maxima. Click image to enlarge

Our test route largely consisted of two lane roads around southern Niagara, with speed limits between 60 and 80 km/h. Not a lot of curves, either, so we weren’t able to push the Maxima to any extent. Maybe that’s okay, as it was able to waft us around in style and comfort, look exclusive in its sparkling metallic grey paint, and quickly dispatch slower vehicles when requested on the smooth, straight roads.

Not really an Acura TL competitor, and maybe more rakish than the Toyota Avalon, the built-in-Tennessee 2007 Maxima is available now, and offers a complete complement of luxury features without paying the serious dollars required by high-end nameplates.


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About Paul Williams

Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based freelance automotive writer and senior writer for Autos. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).