Quick Drive: 2011 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV

By Winding Road Staff

March 16, 2011

Generally speaking, continuously variable transmissions are pretty unloved in the Winding Road office, mainly because they are attached to buzzy, I-4’s that require a very heavy foot (and therefore high revs) to really get moving. One exception to this rule comes in the form of our Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV tester. Rather than the typical CVT/four-cylinder combo, the Maxima makes use of a beefy, sweet-sounding 3.5-liter V-6, that, in a slightly different tune, once sat under the hood of a Nissan 350Z.

That means you actually want to venture into the higher reaches of the rev range. Sonically, I’d be hard pressed to find a car in this size and price point that can beat the Maxima. It isn’t just all bark and no bite either; there is 290 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque on tap. Routed through the front wheels, the Maxima can really hustle for such a large sedan.

I also have to salute Nissan for creating an engaging driver’s environment in a class that, generally speaking, doesn’t really embrace such things. The seats offer plenty of support, and have a huge range of adjustment (including bolster adjustments), while the telescopic steering wheel features a nice amount of padding that really delivers a racy feel.

The one part of the Maxima I’m not too keen on is the price. At $39,090 (as-tested price), it certainly isn’t cheap, especially when you consider that you can snag a more powerful, nicely equipped, and all-wheel-drive Ford Taurus SHO for about the same money.

—Brandon Turkus, Test Fleet Manager

This Maxima has always been a bit of a puzzle to me. Way back in Issue 41 of Winding Road, I drove a very similar car back-to-back with a front-drive Acura TL and found the Nissan a bit wanting in that comparison. Then, as now, the standout engine was the most alluring part of the car.

I guess if you keep towards the low, options-light side of the Maxima’s pricing equation, the car makes a little bit more sense. At around $34K the power and handling make the Max look pretty appealing, even if the CVT and styling leave a little bit to be desired. (I agree with Brandon that the CVT isn’t bad here, but it doesn’t add much to the performance equation in my mind.) Getting up towards $40K though, a lot of cars that are either more luxurious, or more spirited performers start to come into play, hurting the case for the Nissan.

—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief

The Maxima provides a good bend of comfort and entertaining driving. To me, it seems a great car for driving a few towns over for a nice dinner, or for taking friends to the airport. The interior is roomy and comfortable, so I don’t feel bad about putting Grandma in the back seat. The ride is smooth, so my wife won’t be complaining about feeling sick. There’s room in the trunk for everyone’s bags. Plus, it’s quiet enough at cruising speed for everyone to have a conversation on the way to the destination.

Then, when it’s just me and the car, I can drive as fast as I like, and the Maxima has the guts to comply. It feels plenty powerful, and accelerates nicely. It remains composed on the more dynamic roads, and even communicates a little bit through the suspension. With the paddles on hand, it becomes pretty entertaining to shift.

I think it’s a good car for the casual, practical driver who tacks on a lot of miles, and doesn’t want all of those miles to be totally boring.

—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor


- CVT and V-6 deliver plenty of power and a great sound
- Big, easy-to-grab paddle shifters amp up the enthusiast volume
- Smooth, comfortable ride with room for guests


- More powerful cars can be had for similar coin
- Slightly weird styling will always make this Maxima a bit of a corner case
- It lacks a feeling of uniqueness and specialness that comes along with other big sedans.