Nissan converted its flagship sedan, the Maxima, in 2007 to all CVTs all the time, deep-sixing both the automatic and manual gearboxes.
The reason? According to the company, it just couldn't justify manufacturing a manual transmission model any more because it sold in such small numbers, and the costs involved were too high. This was also the start of a campaign by Nissan to convert its entire FF platform - Versa, Altima, Sentra, etc. - to constantly variable transmissions.
Nissan was no stranger to CVT technology. The company first introduced it back in the halcyon days of 1992 in its March subcompact, which was sold in Japan, and, over the years, fitted it to various other overseas models, including the Cube van, Primera sedan and Lafesta minivan. The Murano SUV, introduced in 2002, also came with a CVT, and so did the new Versa subcompact, introduced earlier in 2007.
The CVT found in this, the sixth generation of Maxima, was essentially the same unit used in the Murano, but with a "sportier" character. Designed and built by Nissan and Japanese transmission manufacturing giant Jatco, it featured built-in shift points and a manual shift mode that allowed the driver to control the ratio between the primary and secondary pulleys. It was also the highest horsepower engine/CVT combination put forward by Nissan.
Power was provided by Nissan's VQ-series V-6 that, in this application, developed 255 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 252 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. As well as improving fuel economy a little, the new transmission arrangement also allowed the driver to maintain engine revs longer, resulting in a titch more performance from this powerplant. Nissan also dealt with the lack of a "kick-down" mechanism with the CVT by reducing upshift and downshift times.
Designed in Japan and built in the United States, the '07 Maxima felt much the same as its predecessor when it came to the driving experience. It relinquished none of its sport sedan characteristics and still came with four-wheel independent suspension, with struts, coil springs, and a stabilizer bar up front, and a multi-link arrangement in the back. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS were standard, as was traction control, a brake force distribution system, and brake assist. As well, fuel economy was up slightly, mainly in town.
Nissan stylists also breathed lightly on this generation of the Maxima, with a new front grille treatment, redesigned headlights and glitzy seven-spoke wheels. Along with its stablemate, the Altima, it was still a looker.
Two seating arrangements were available: four- or five-passenger. The former featured bucket seats front and back, while the latter retained a conventional rear bench. Either way, the Maxima had one of the most beautifully designed interiors in the business - especially the four-passenger version, which came with leather upholstery, rear console and wood trim.
Standard modcons included heated seats, a tire-pressure warning system, dual zone air conditioning, Bose stereo system, heated steering wheel and a full roster of airbags, and you could order extras such as heated rear seats, Bluetooth capability, navi system, power sunroof and back-up warning system, depending upon the model and trim level.
Transport Canada has one safety recall on file for the 2007 Maxima, and it concerns a potentially flawed steering wheel locking mechanism that may lock itself when the key is off, despite the fact that the transmission may not be in Park. Easily fixable by dealers, apparently.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has 27 technical service bulletins for this vintage of Maxima, and they cover items such as cold start issues, a balky gearshift lever, "buzzing and whining" noises coming from the engine bay, the ubiquitous headlamp-fogging problem, and a wonky tire pressure monitor indicator light.
Aside from a black mark for various electrical issues, the '07 Maxima gets mostly good grades from Consumer Reports. However, that black mark is serious enough to warrant an "average" used car prediction. Things do improve in 2008, however, and differences between the two years are minor. Comments from owners include "some suspension problems," "good buy for the money," "poor gas mileage" and "mouse-fur interior acts like a lint brush." An inordinately large turning radius is a common source of frustration.
Market research firm J.D. Power gives the 2007 maxima an above-average vehicle dependability rating, and above-average marks in most areas. According to J.D. Power, this generation of Maxima "features a much more upscale appearance."
Expect to pay anywhere from the high teens to just less than $20,000 for a four-year-old Maxima. The more upscale SL version is fetching $1,000-$1,500 more than the SE, due to its higher standard equipment level and more opulent interior.
2007 Nissan Maxima
Original Base Price: $36,998; Black Book: $18,175-$19,700; Red Book: $15,450-$16,875
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 255 hp/252 lb-ft
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.1 city/7.8 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS350, Acura TL, Infiniti G35
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