Return of the 4DSC – Team Hall & Nass Review the 2010 Nissan Maxima 3.5 S

16 11 2009

"Maxie" - Our Hertz Maxima
Return of the 4DSC – Team Hall & Nass Review the 2010 Nissan Maxima 3.5 S

We recently spent two weeks driving around Florida in a brand spanking new, fairly well equipped 2010 Nissan Maxima 3.5 S courtesy of the fine folks at Hertz. The following are our impressions of driving the car in real world conditions.

Prepping the Ride

For starters, we were both a bit excited and a little skeptical when we discovered the Winter Frost (white) Maxima sitting in our stall when we arrived at the Hertz Gold pickup in Orlando.

Excited because they had given us an obviously brand new car, something we haven’t seen a lot of from Hertz lately, especially in this down economy. The car was so new we actually spent the first ten minutes removing remaining bits of white protective wrapping still clinging to the edges of the hood, doors and trunk lid (come on Hertz!). This would be a real pain if we were in a hurry, but hey, we were embarking on a “working vacation” in Florida, and we were about to do so in a brand new ride, so you have to put it in perspective. So we instead chose to think of it as unwrapping our vacation present.

As Jimmy Buffett might say, “Where there are no hurries, there are no worries!”

The Curse of the Camry

Our initial skepticism came from a place caused by years of being forced (via lack of decent selection) to drive way to many rental fleet sedans that consistently deliver the typical, plain, vanilla, bored out of our minds to the point we feel “punished” for having to drive them experience. The best/worst illustration of this is embodied by the sedan most of America loves to love and that driving enthusiasts everywhere love to hate – the Toyota Camry.

Whilst this is NOT a Camry review, please allow this small digression/rant as illustration of a larger point. In my humble opinion, the Toyota Camry continues to be THE most boring car built on the planet. Is it reliable? Sure, I guess, but it is just plain BORING to drive! It contains absolutely no frills, inspires no chills, but yet no doubt endures plenty sippy cup spills. The fact that the Camry is so widely popular with the American public and rental fleets everywhere only serves as further reinforcement of my core belief that far too many people in this country are NOT in touch with their inner driver. In fact, I fear it proves that many do not even possess a real driving gene anywhere in their DNA at all. Yikes!

You know the people I’m speaking of. Those who are simply content to put their bland transportation-mobiles in gear and wander from point A to point B, shamefully taking their place in the never ending clog of poor drivers idling along the roads of our great land (usually in the left passing lanes nonetheless). Do these people really have such small ambitions or such bland life goals? Do they truly have no desire to ever seek automotive thrills or to have any fun? Their selection of automobile and their driving styles all suggests this to be true. To say the least, I firmly believe Camry’s typically belong to those who are not what one would call driving enthusiasts by any stretch!

To this whole rambling point I’d like to further add that the next time Hertz desires to “upgrade” us from “full size car” to another Camry (when I can clearly see other, MUCH better cars in the lot), could you please give us another choice? A Camry is certainly NOT an upgrade (unless all you have left in your fleet are Corollas, in which case, okay, maybe then it could be called an “upgrade”). Okay, rant over, back to our review.

New is Nice

The new Maxima sat there beaming like a car with only 86 miles on the odometer should. What I didn’t know at the time was that this little Nissan was about to treat us to two weeks of completely surprising automotive joy and bliss in many ways!

The first time we opened the doors to climb in, that unmistakable smell of new car wafted over us like a fine perfume. Ahhh. You know the one. It’s that wonderful smell that calls out to a true driver and says “get in here and love me like you know you want to!” We discovered a push button start, one touch windows all around (up AND down) and sunroof to match, easy to read orange backlit gauges, a decent sound system that happily accepted my iPod input, comfortable seating positions with seats that actually went back further than I needed (at 6’4”, this rarely happens), two large cup holders (something that just a few years ago couldn’t be found anywhere within a ten mile radius of a Japanese make), a leather wrapped steering wheel that just feels right with push button audio and cruise system controls in just the right place, a steering column that tilts down and telescopes out to where the wheel optimally needs to be, and an overall feel that makes you feel like you’ve just entered a real cockpit, not a standard rental sedan. All of this in just the “base” S model. So far, so good!

Then comes the all important part, I placed the key fob in the provided holding slot (a nice touch that even the current C6 Corvette is lacking), put my foot on the brake pedal and pressed the start button. What was that? I thought I heard a little growl emit from somewhere out behind us. Could it be …? Nah. So I pulled the console mounted automatic transmission lever into drive and set out for the exit booth.

As we pulled out onto the street, I eased up to the next traffic light and made some final mirror adjustments. While sitting there waiting for the green, a new Dodge Charger (not an SRT, but a standard V8 Hemi car) pulled up next to us. The Dodge driver revved his engine. What? Seriously? Was that for us? At first I laughed at the hilarity of this, but being one who never backs down from an automotive challenge, I decided it was a perfect time to see what we had to look forward to out of the 3.5 liter 290 horsepower V6 in the coming weeks. Sure she looked good, smelled new and felt great to sit in, but I didn’t really expect much going head to head from a standing start against the Dodge.

Shock and Awe…some!

The light turned green, I floored it, and two surprising things happened. The first is that the Dodge immediately began losing ground to us … and kept losing. I actually let up to see if he’d not come out of the hole or something and let him pull up to us, but he seemed to still be fully in it, so I hit it again. Same result, only this time, the pulling away was even more amplified. What?!? Then the second surprise occurred to me. In my brief moment of shock and awe, I had failed to notice that the tach was eerily sitting squarely up against the bottom edge of the redline range at 6500 RPM, and yet the Maxima hadn’t shifted. WHAT?!? Oh yeah, it’s got a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). Then, as the speedo swept past 100 and was still headed to the right in a hurry, I just shifted my eyes back and forth between the two gauges and said out loud, “WHAT THE F*&%?!?!?” I only let up (slightly) at this point because we had to brake a bit to set up for a sweeping right onto an on ramp, where I quickly discovered that not only was the acceleration of this Maxima so deceptively smooth and sudden that you don’t realize how quickly it has done so, but that it will go around a corner at speed like it is mounted on rails. This is no Maxima. At least not the Maxima we all used to know. This is basically an Infinity G35 in a Nissan wrapper!

When I looked over at my co-pilot and reported our speeds both before and through the corner, she said, “Seriously? No! Really? Then no wonder we just dusted that Dodge so badly!” I honestly felt like we’d just entered the Twilight Zone or something. This is a Nissan, a rental car, a family hauler, a (gulp) rental fleet sedan! How could this be?

As I contemplated all of this, I stood back on the throttle and a wicked grin started to spread over my face. The grin intensified when it suddenly occurred to me that even thought we had not paid extra on this trip to rent a sports car, we had just been issued a FUN rental sedan that had a bit of stealth street fighter hidden within. Now this is an “upgrade” I can drive!

If there is any downside to this car being in a rental fleet, it is that if any Camry drivers out there ever accidentally climb into one of these, they might actually die from a cardiac episode when they glance down at the speedometer after ten seconds of holding the smooth throttle pedal down and realize that they are at humming along at triple digit speeds versus the 50 or 60-something MPH they are typically comfortable tooling along at. Good thing the brakes are solid too! Then again, wouldn’t the world be better off with a few less of these folks on the road should some of them faint and/or pass on from the shock? That’s just a public safety risk I’m going to have to be willing to live with!

The Maxima continued to be a fun driver every day and did a superb job of running us around South Orlando and the Disney property the first week. In fact, I actually found myself running extra errands around town just so I could get a few more miles of driving it in! However, it wasn’t until we packed up and headed toward the coast for the beach portion of our vacation that we really started to discover and appreciate the benefits of this truly stealth sedan.

Rear View of Maxie
Flying Under the Radar

If you know us or have followed any of our previous rally, racing or just regular driving exploits, you know we don’t typically make a habit out of driving what anyone would refer to as “slow” very often, and then it is usually restricted to residential areas and school zones. You see, we always strive to drive smart, but we also drive what some might call “fast” or “a bit spirited.” Translation – when we are out on the open road, we typically only adhere to the posted limits when there is Hamthrax (also known as “police”) involved in some capacity.

In many parts of the US it is easy to get away with speeding, but in the heart of the Southeast, where they lay claim to having invented modern day cat and mouse ambush attacks with radar and other sundry forms of speed enforcement, to exceed posted limits by more than 5-9 MPH is usually taking your license and your insurance rates out of your hands and putting it all into theirs. Getting caught if you keep hauling the 20 MPH and over mail for longer distances is almost certain … or is it?

This isn’t helped by the fact that we typically fly down the highways and byways of this great land in cars the Hamthrax love to target. Two door sports cars with high horsepower, loud exhausts, bright colors, and in makes that are known for being driven fast are all things that add to the likelihood of getting busted for speeding. But since we were in a four door stealth ride, we decided to try our hand at how long can we cruise along over the century mark before we get shut down. The answer was quite surprising.

On our way from Orlando to Daytona Beach on Interstate 4 and up I-95 to St. Augustine, we discovered quite a few cops, but not a single one of them discovered the Maxima. Maybe it was the four doors. Perhaps it was the white paint. It could have also been the Valentine One working overtime. But on this stretch of road where Hamthrax run rampant and there are faster cars to play with a plenty, we discovered a few fun facts.

The Maxima is invisible to most people until after you sneak up out of nowhere and blow their doors off. We found that if you can execute a sneak and jump pass on a new Camaro SS/RS, a Mustang GT, an M5, an S-Class AMG, or even a C5 Corvette, if you can keep making bold moves through the openings in traffic to stay out front and carry your momentum, you get to enjoy many confused and frustrated looks on said owners faces in the rearview mirror as they go to work trying to run you back down for a few miles before giving up. The best part is that they are all truly shocked that they can’t seem to get back to you once you’ve pulled out far enough ahead through all of that traffic!

We maintained our rapid rate for almost an hour until we finally caught up to a cop rolling along on I-95 North in the left lane. We opted to stay a bit behind him (in the far right lane) and had to slow to maintain his 10 MPH over pace. Until then, we had only had to drop below 100 when we caught slower traffic just long enough to set up a pass and then resume. Not one car passed us, NOT ONE, but we passed them all!

In an odd twist of fate, a little four door Toyota Corolla eased up on us and the cop in the middle lane. At the time we were running a steady (and horribly slow feeling) 75 in a 65. After a few miles of flanking the cop the Corolla driver must have lost his mind. He bumped it up to 76 and passed not only us but the cop too! The lights came on immediately and onto the shoulder went the Corolla and the Hamthrax. With that, we jumped back up to the century mark and cruised on up the road. Our sincere thanks to the Toyota driver for being a brave (and ignorant) fool!

The more time we spent behind the wheel of the Maxima, the more we both enjoyed it. By the time we had reached St. Augustine, we had even given it a name – Maxie. We typically name all of the cars we own, but it is rare that we care enough to give a rental a name. In fact, this was only the second time we’ve done so. “Stickers” the Hertz ZHZ C6 Corvette we covered in sponsor decals and ran in the Dustball Rally earlier this year was the only other rental to ever earn a name. THAT was also quite the rental car experience!

In an extremely ironic twist, the last car we had fun outrunning (more like out driving) in traffic on our way to return Maxie to the Orlando airport on our last day was none other than a Hertz ZHZ Corvette. As we approached from behind, I watched the driver try (many times in vain) to pass people on the left and on the right. With a huge head of steam, his apparent lack of driving skill, and local road knowledge on our side, I took advantage of an extended exit run out lane and blew by him on the right. He spent the next several miles trying to catch up to us in bits and spurts as we continued to slowly pull away one pass at a time through rush hour traffic until we couldn’t even see him back there anymore.

As much as I am slathering on the well deserved praise of the surprising and amazing performance attributes of the Maxima, rest assured that if the guy could have driven that Vette, it would have been our first actual loss (the first car to actually pass us) in two weeks. But alas, since he could not drive, and with the Maxima giving us just enough power and handling to get away, a loss it was not. Oh the irony!

Fuel Consumption

One item many people seem to gauge personal vehicle selection on is the fuel mileage rating. However, the nasty little secret of automotive marketing in this area is that fuel mileage numbers are always part myth and part lie with enough truth sprinkled in there somewhere to get your hopes up or to fool you. Sure, if you drive your little four cylinder econobox at 35 MPH for the entire length of a fuel load on flat land with the wind at your back, you too can achieve that amazingly stated fuel mileage average! In reality though, who drives this way? This short answer is NO ONE! So, for the record, we tend to ignore manufacturer and EPA fuel ratings. They never match up anywhere near what we find out firsthand in the field. So we pay close attention, submit real world driving conditions and then call them as we experience them.

Like I said, we drive cars smart, but we typically drive them hard and fast too. Unless you happen to own a Camry, or you are inflicted with that nasty condition where your right leg can only pulse up and down and not remain still, thus constantly moving the throttle peddle (a condition that must be real and widespread because I see so many people perform this cadence on roads everywhere), then we bet you drive smooth and expeditiously too.

So when any vehicle with enough power under the hood to perform like a car should gets a real world 20-something MPG average rating after having us behind the wheel for a week or longer, we believe the manufacturer must be doing something right. More to the point, if we can get decent mileage out of a car, then you should be able to do the same.

With only six cylinders to haul two tons of weight up to speed every time we stood on the throttle (which, mind you, was often), our Maxima saw 23 MPG averages on every tank. The only time the car saw less then 20 on the instant average meter was at wide open throttle or when the needle was up well beyond the century mark (and I do mean WELL beyond). This is an impressive power to weight ratio MPG performance in our book.

So unless you like to keep it up over 140 all the time, treat every green light as if you are the next John Force, then you should see fuel mileage averages in the low to mid 20-something range and be able to have fun while achieving it. If not, then you likely need to either recheck your math or perhaps go see your doctor soon and ask him to examine you for a potential right leg pulsing condition you may not know you have!

The Verdict

The Maxima was a blast to drive on the beach, cruising down the A1A with the top open and the windows down, blasting up and down I-95 and I-4, and everywhere else we went in Florida. Yes, we were at or near sea level the whole time, and no, there weren’t any hills. But whether you live in the flatlands or the mountains, this car is quicker than most sedans, uses less gas than many lesser powered vehicles, and is a natural born sleeper.

If you like people to notice and respect you for what (rather than how) you drive, this may not be the car for you. However, if you are the type of driving enthusiast who is in need of a four-door vehicle that won’t break the bank, who desires something that cops won’t pay much attention to, but yet still has the need for street-fighter speed and handling, the new Nissan Maxima might just be the car for you. Few (if any) vehicles in the same size class and price range can deliver more while drawing less attention. Plus, it actually is a pretty car … for a sedan. Just know that most of its real beauty is where you need it – within.

In Summary

We had a blast driving Maxie. We strongly recommend getting behind the wheel of a 2010 Nissan Maxima to anyone who plans to buy, lease or rent a sedan in the coming year. With enough power and handling to please most driving enthusiasts, decent real world gas mileage, creature comforts that will not disappoint, plenty of room for four adults and lots of luggage, Nissan has finally built a sedan worthy of the 4DSC (four door sports car) moniker they placed on the Maxima long, long ago. Get ready to be surprised.

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