What's New for 2008
After receiving a midcycle refresh last year, the Nissan Maxima heads into 2008 with only mild package adjustments. Last year's Elite Package has been largely replaced by the Platinum Edition Package, though the Elite's more comfortable two-person backseat arrangement has been dropped.
The 2008 Nissan Maxima is a car with an identity crisis. In terms of price, heritage and image, this is Nissan's flagship sedan. But the days of the Maxima's "four-door sports car" performance are an increasingly fading memory, and the car doesn't hold much of a premium advantage over other choices that it might once have had.
Problem number one for the Maxima: the Altima. These days, Nissan's mainstream sedan can outdo the Maxima in just about every regard. Of course, one needs to order a well-equipped Altima V6 in order to make this happen, whereas the Maxima comes standard with a V6 as well as more features and space. The Maxima must therefore rely mostly on its ability to provide upscale features at a price that undercuts equally equipped luxury cars by thousands. However, a so-equipped Maxima touches $35,000. We're not sure people will be willing to throw down that much change for a Nissan, when the same amount (or less) could net a decently stocked Acura TSX or TL or an Infiniti G35.
True, the 2008 Nissan Maxima continues to offer a respectable combination of performance, luxury and space. There's nothing overtly wrong with it, but for a premium, larger midsize sedan, there are simply better and/or wiser choices available. Besides the Maxima's sibling, shoppers should also consider the Chevrolet Malibu and Honda Accord, which are bigger and redesigned this year, as well as the Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited and Volkswagen Passat. Large sedans like the Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera and Toyota Avalon should also be considered for those attracted to the Maxima's size. The aforementioned TL, TSX and G35 also deserve a look if luxury is a priority.
Nissan's flagship is set to be replaced next year, but for now, and with so many smarter choices available, the Maxima just isn't as enticing as it once was.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Nissan Maxima midsize sedan is offered in two trims, the sport-oriented 3.5 SE trim and the luxury-oriented 3.5 SL trim. Standard features on the SE include 18-inch alloy wheels, side skirts, a rear spoiler, a fixed SkyView glass-paneled roof, a power driver seat, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition/entry and an eight-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The SL trim trades the SE's sporty appearance for more creature comforts. Gone are the 18-inch wheels, sport side skirts and rear spoiler. In their place are 17-inch wheels, a Bose audio system with an in-dash six-CD/MP3 changer and satellite radio, leather seating, a power front passenger seat, and heated front seats and exterior mirrors.
Most of the SL's extra features can be added to the SE trim via the Sensory Package. The Platinum Edition Package available on both trims adds bi-xenon headlamps; rear parking assist; a power tilt-telescoping steering column; memory functions for driver seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors; heated steering wheel; Bluetooth and power-folding and auto-dimming outside mirrors. A navigation system and power sunroof are stand-alone options.
Powertrains and Performance
The powertrain of the 2008 Nissan Maxima is a carry-over from the previous year's model. Nissan's award-winning VQ-series V6 and Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) team up to propel the 3,600-pound midsize sedan. The result is a maximum of 255 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque sent to the front wheels. Despite no option of a manual gearbox, the CVT offers pseudo ratios for use when additional control is desired. More realistic 2008 EPA estimates rate the Maxima at 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
Antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction control, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side-impact head curtain airbags represent the Maxima's key standard safety features. Stability control is a stand-alone option. In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's frontal crash testing, the Nissan Maxima received a top five-star rating for the driver and four-star rating for the front passenger. Side-impact testing resulted in a four-star rating for both the front and rear seats. When tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Nissan Maxima produced results of "Good" in the frontal offset test but a second-lowest "Marginal" in the side impact test.
Interior Design and Special Features
It may be a midsize sedan, but the 2008 Nissan Maxima's interior feels downright cavernous front and rear. The standard strip of glass in the roof known as SkyView aids that airy feel considerably. The front seats are wide and accommodating, though finding an optimal driving position can be difficult. The dashboard features a sleek and modern design. In years past, the center stack was marred by some poor ergonomics, but Nissan has largely rectified the situation, and controls are very user-friendly. One of our lingering complaints about the Maxima's cabin is the mediocre materials quality. For a car priced at the $30,000 mark, there are still a few too many low-grade plastics and fit and finish miscues. A 15.5-cubic-foot trunk plus split-folding 60/40 rear seats reinforce the larger-than-average midsize sedan theme.
The 2008 Nissan Maxima accelerates, brakes and handles well, but it's no longer the track star of its class. The car is brisk off the line with a broad midrange that the CVT fully exploits, but as it's a high-horsepower front-wheel-drive vehicle, some torque steer is evident under hard acceleration. Unlike other CVTs, Nissan's unit does a fine job of ensuring the engine works in the most effective range of its power band. Those looking to row their own gears will be disappointed, however, as no manual transmission is offered.
The suspension is tuned more for comfort than spirited road exercises, and steering feel is merely good under normal driving conditions. Nor does going with the "sporty" SE trim help matters. The SE's 18-inch wheels and tires, while larger and V-rated, are still all-season tires like those the SL wears. Moreover, the components and tuning of the steering, suspension and brake systems of the SL all match the SE's. Simply put, the use of the words "fun-to-drive" and "Nissan Maxima" in the same sentence is largely a thing of the past.