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best of the lot

2013 Nissan Maxima

My wife and I are going to buy a new car in the next six months. We tested the new Lexus ES350, but found the driving dynamics "soft." Looked at the new Honda Accord Touring; although we liked the size and features, we found the interior "cheap." Our test drive of the Nissan Maxima Premium gave us a better feel, both in terms of driving dynamics as well the interior finish. Our issue is the Maxima comes only with a CVT transmission. Is this an issue for the long-term reliability of the car? Is there another car option we should have a look at? – Ken and Mary in Hamilton, Ont.

Vaughan: I like the Maxima and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is utterly reliable for the long term. It is a great advance, delivering a 5 to 6 per cent improvement in fuel economy while feeling to the driver like an ordinary automatic transmission.

Nissan has done a really good job on CTVs and there is no reason to avoid one. I will now yield the floor to the old fogey who will no doubt rant on about CVTs being the Devil's work.

Cato: The easiest way to understand how a CVT works is to look at the gearset and chain on your bicycle. This is close to how a CVT changes ratios. Except in a CVT, the teethed cones of the gearset are just plain cones and a metal or rubber belt is driven up and down the cones to change gear ratios.

I'm only going into this to make a point. And the point is, just as shifting gears on your bike is not aesthetically pleasing, so, too is how a CVT goes about its work. Sure, a CVT is efficient and, compared to a complex traditional transmission, it's a wonder of simplicity. But the way a CVT does its work leaves me, Ken and Mary, cold.

Vaughan: Wrong, but let's look at the Maxima as a car.

Cato: No, not yet. I want to hit on K and M's other worry: CTV reliability. I did a search for government recalls and defect investigations and found nothing of concern. Nissan has not had a single CVT recall in Canada that I can find. Ditto for defect investigations. CVTs are not problematic.

Vaughan: You simply must get in the last word. The things I endure …

The Maxima: it's a stylish sedan with a V-6 engine that delivers power to the front wheels. That's for weight saving and fuel economy, although a lot of competitors in this category have rear-wheel-drive or even all-wheel-drive. However, the Maxima is still fun to drive, feels sporty enough and I like the interior.

What I like even more are the deals you can get. It's been on the market a while and hardly ever advertised. You can drive a hard bargain on one of these.

2013 Toyota Avalon Toyota Toyota  

Cato: Deals? You want a deal. I like the base price – $37,880 – and I like the $2,000 factory rebate for dealers even more.

Toyota, of course, will say the base price for the 2013 Avalon is even better and, at $36,800, the words would ring true.

I really like the Maxima for all the reasons you mention, but the Avalon is a better deal. I did a comparison of the Avalon and Maxima loaded with the same stuff and the Avalon came out about $6,000 cheaper. So even with the $2,000 discount, it's hard to argue price when it comes to the Toyota.

Vaughan: Well, this is the big Toyota flagship and this new version is a major change in style from the previous transportation appliance. It's all aggressive-looking now and it's powered by the same 3.5-litre V-6 that's in the Lexus ES350.

Speaking of Lexus, you'd think the interior of the Avalon came right out of one. In fact, the main reason you'd take the Avalon over a Lexus is the price tag.

Cato: Honestly, Lexus could use a car as stylish as the Avalon.

2013 Buick LaCrosse General Motors General Motors  

Vaughan: A few years ago, they used to call the old Avalon a Japanese Buick, and that was no compliment.

Buick has made huge progress since its near-death experience and the Buick LaCrosse is a car you ought to check out if you're shopping in this price bracket.

It is solid, quiet, comfortable and amazingly responsive to drive. It's available with e-Assist, which is the mildest form of hybrid, and all-wheel-drive.

Toyota had similar aims for the new Avalon as Buick had for the LaCrosse.

Cato: And with $2,500 in discounts on a $38,895 eAssist LaCrosse with a Luxury package, it's a solid deal.

But it's the Maxima for me. I like its looks, how it drives and the sticker looks fair.

Vaughan: Not as fair as the Avalon's. I'm voting with my wallet and taking Toyota's cut-rate pricing on the Avalon.




2013 Toyota Avalon XLE2013 Nissan Maxima SV2013 Buick LaCrosse eAsssist Luxury Group

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



3.5-litre V-63.5-litre V-63.6-litre V-6 with mild hybrid system

Output (horsepower/torque)

268/248 lb-ft290/261 lb-ft303/264lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel driveFront-wheel driveFront-wheel drive


Six-speed automaticCVTSix-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

9.9 city/6.4 highway10.9 city/7.7 highway8.3 city/5.4 highway

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.