2010 Nissan Maxima Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2011


  • A reboot of Maxima's sporting roots
  • Can't tell it's an Altima underneath
  • Fine balance of handling and ride


  • Front-wheel drive isn't the sport sedan ideal
  • CVT is swell, but a manual transmission would be sweeter
  • Coach-class rear-seat accomodations

Like this Review

2010 Nissan Maxima Buying Advice

The 2010 Nissan Maxima is the best car for you if you pine for the kick-ass attitude of early-1990s Maximas.

Maxima’s image as a driving-enthusiast’s sedan started with the curvy 1989-1994 generation. It wasn’t quite the “4-Door Sports Car” Nissan claimed in ads and on “4DSC” window decals. But the roomy five-seater delivered impressive performance at an attractive price. Subsequent Maximas meandered into premium-sedan territory, but today’s version renews the chase for 4DSC magic. A 2009 redesign signaled the turnabout, and the 2010 Maxima holds true with tauter styling, tighter dimensions, and more power than its recent predecessors.

Should you buy a 2010 Nissan Maxima or wait for the 2011 Nissan Maxima? Buy the 2010 Maxima. It gets a couple of nice equipment tweaks compared to the 2009 Maxima. And with this car in line for a model-year 2012 mid-cycle update, the 2010’s styling and specs will be relevant longer than would those of a 2011 Maxima. The one qualifier would be if Nissan revives plans for a powerful, fuel-efficient turbocharged diesel V-6 and decides to offer it in the 2011 Maxima. That would be worth waiting for.

2010 Nissan Maxima Changes back to top

Styling: Nissan nailed it with the new look unveiled on the redesigned 2009 Maxima. The 2010 Maxima continues with the same distinctive slash-cut headlamps, squared-up grille, and well-defined shoulders. Unfortunately, it also reprises the slightly lumpy rump. New silver finishes for the alloy wheels and addition of “Crimson Black” and “Ocean Gray” to the color choices are the only 2010 Nissan Maxima styling changes. Bucking the tide of ever-larger cars, Nissan cinched up Maxima’s dimensions with the ’09 redesign, cutting almost 4 inches from body length, shortening the wheelbase by 1.9 inches, and lowering the roof a half-inch. But it widened the fenders 1.5 inches for a chunkier stance. The tariff is a 1.2-inch reduction in rear leg room and an extra 200 pounds of curb weight. Maxima’s cabin is sporty and sophisticated, with shapes that echo the body’s tough-guy angles. The dashboard cribs from Nissan’s premium Infiniti brand with a horizontal shelf high in its center section. It hosts controls for the trip computer or navigation system, depending on level of equipment. You activate them by pressing down as you would piano keys. Maxima is constructed on Nissan’s D platform, which means it shares its basic underskin engineering with the Nissan Altima, a lower-priced car positioned to appeal to a broader audience. Maxima shares the Altima sedan’s wheelbase but has slightly less passenger and cargo room and different styling inside and out.

Mechanical: That D platform also is used for the Nissan Murano midsize crossover SUV, and although Murano offers all-wheel-drive, the D layout is fundamentally a front-wheel-drive design. That’s a litmus test for the type of driver who might wish to investigate Nissan’s 4DSC theory. With the weight of the engine over the driving wheels, front drive provides good snow traction and efficient component packaging. But for handling balance and purity of steering, it can’t compare with rear-wheel drive. Rear drive better distributes the mass of the drivetrain over the length of the chassis. And it doesn’t require the front tires to both turn the car and propel it. Nissan tunes the Maxima for neutral handling and applies some engineering tricks to combat the bane of powerful front-drive cars: torque steer. That’s when the nose strays from the intended path during rapid acceleration. The 2010 Maxima is a mechanical carry-over from 2009. It’s powered by a dual-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V-6. This is Nissan’s respected VQ-series engine and it’s found in a host of Nissans, including the Altima and Murano. In the Maxima, it’s rated at 290 horsepower and works exclusively through Nissan’s Xtronic CVT, a continuously variable transmission. A CVT plays the role of an automatic transmission, but instead of a finite number of preset gear ratios, it uses a belt and pulley system to deliver a seamless, rheostat-like spread of power. Maxima’s CVT includes a “drive sport” calibration. It allows the driver to work the floor lever or steering-column paddles to approximate the upshift and downshift control of a six-speed manual transmission. Both 2010 Maxima models come with 245/45VR18 tires on alloy wheels.

Features: Nissan reinforces Maxima’s sporting spirit by emphasizing the performance-oriented version in this two-tier lineup. That would be the 3.5 SV model, which accounts for about 80 percent of Maxima sales and has exclusive rights to its sport and technology options packages. The base 2010 Maxima 3.5 S model is by no means a stripper, however: automatic dual-zone climate control, a tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated audio controls, power front seats, keyless access and starting, and a power sunroof are all standard. The 2010 Maxima 3.5 SV has those items, plus standard leather upholstery, a nine-speaker Bose audio system with two subwoofers, mirror-mounted turn signals, and other features. For 2010, Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone connectivity becomes standard on both Maxima models; XM satellite radio is newly standard on the 3.5 SV; and the available iPod interface upgrades from an auxiliary jack to USB linking. The available navigation system includes voice recognition and hard-drive music storage; for 2010, it gains DVD playback capability, Bluetooth streaming audio, and real-time traffic and weather via XM NavTraffic  and XM NavWeather. Torso-protecting front side airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags are part of Maxima’s standard safety suite. So are four-wheel disc brakes with brake assist to apply full stopping power in emergencies and antilock control to prevent lockup. Traction control enhances grip on take-offs, and an antiskid system combats sideways slides by automatically activating individual brakes and modulating engine power.

2010 Nissan Maxima Test Drive back to top

From behind the wheel:  Nissan’s VQ-series V-6 merits the accolades it’s received. This refined engine won’t catapult you off the line – perhaps a dimming effect of the CVT – but it does help this midsize sedan surge ahead once it’s rolling. For that you can thank the CVT. It smoothly taps the engine’s considerable reserves, and works especially well at highway speeds, where it can transfer power without waiting for a downshift. CVTs do this by allowing the engine to turn at its most-efficient rpm while continuously adjusting gear “ratios” to deliver the best thrust or best fuel economy, as conditions warrant.

A CVT’s downside comes when the engine’s loafing at low rpm and you stab the throttle. Nissan’s is no different: it sends the V-6 revving to its upper reaches and keeps it there while the belts and pulleys adjust for the proper transfer of power. The sensation is one of an engine somehow racing ahead of the actual pace of acceleration. You do, however, become acclimated to it, and enthusiasts will like the “drive sport” mode. It helpfully sustains revs into and out of corners. Its quick-acting column paddles are pretty good manual-shift mimics, though the CVT will automatically “upshift” as the engine approaches its 6,400-rpm redline.

Credit Nissan engineers with reducing torque steer to little more than a subtle tug when accelerating hard out of a sharp turn. They can only do so much to make a front-wheel-drive sedan handle on par with a rear-drive car, however. This isn’t to suggest Maxima’s not a worthy road machine. It arrows down the Interstate, steers with precision, and corners with good balance. Only in foolishly aggressive changes of direction does it succumb to the noseplow and tire scrubbing that plague less-sporty front-drive cars. Seat-of-the-pants, Maxima’s behavior is sportier than the Nissan Altima’s. But for genuine rear-drive thrills under the Nissan umbrella, see the Infiniti G37 sedan. It’s priced near a Maxima 3.5 SV with the Sport and Tech packages, has more power, and offers a real six-speed manual. There is a place for the predictable feel of a front-drive car, however, and Maxima occupies it nicely.     

Dashboard and controls:  Maxima’s spiritual distance from the Altima grows by bounds once you settle into the driver’s seat. Be it the 3.5 S or 3.5 SV, there’s a cockpit feel absent in the more family-oriented Altima. Credit a nestled-in seating position beside a prominent center console. Nissan is careful to cheat the shift lever to console’s left side, emphasizing service to the driver. A steering wheel with three spokes and a thick rim reinforces the sporting theme.

The tightly clustered main instrumentation is another sporting cue. Maxima’s main gauges are unobstructed, but a little gaudy, with bluish-white numerals and needles and backlit inserts colored bright orange. In racecar fashion, Maxima’s tachometer face puts the redline at 12-o’clock. Neat. The paddle shifters are generously sized and gracefully shaped faux-aluminum arms. They’re attached to the steering column, so their position remains constant while the wheel turns. Pull the right paddle to “upshift,” the left to “downshift.”

You release one lever to tilt the steering wheel, another to telescope it. Controls are otherwise kept to a reasonable number, identified plainly, and placed for easy driver assess. The piano-key arrangement is a clever way to package controls without creating another wall of buttons. You’ll need to crick your neck to get a good view of these “keys,” however.

Room, comfort, and utility:  Maxima’s focus is off the family and on the “it’s-about-me” male and his mate. Front-seat accommodations provide ample evidence of this – it’s where the room and comfort are concentrated. The 3.5 SV is particularly pilot-centric, with a driver’s seat that includes a manual thigh extension, additional side bolstering, and added height adjustability. S or SV, back seaters sit low on a cushion with subpar thigh support and scant padding for a center rider. Knee room is OK, but toe space is stingy. Over 5-foot 10? Prepare to scrape your scalp on the headliner. The rear door openings narrow severely at floor level, forcing lots of ankle swiveling and torso twisting to enter and especially to exit.

Nissan talks about imbuing Maxima with sports-car handling but is smart enough not to instill a harsh ride. The car reacts firmly and of-a-piece to most bumps. But only the meanest potholes and sharpest ridges crackle through uncomfortably, even with the 19-inch tires. Road rumble is modest, wind rush low. Nissan can’t prevent the engine note from being sustained oddly at times by the CVT. But it can adjust the tone and volume and to do this it conjured up something called the “sound creator.” Nissan says it’s designed to artificially amplify the V-6's induction noise to enhance the sensation of acceleration.  

This sedan’s trunk is wide and tall. Its big lid swings high to create a huge opening. The basic rear seatback is split 60/40 and folds to enhance cargo versatility. Order a 3.5 SV with the Premium or Sport package and Nissan installs a rigid rear bulkhead as part of the structural-stiffening initiative. This kills the 60/40 backrest and substitutes a smaller fold-down pass-through suitable for skis and the like.

2010 Nissan Maxima Prices back to top

The 2010 Nissan Maxima prices start at $31,180 for the 3.5 S model. The 2010 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV is priced from $33,900. All prices in this review include the manufacturers’ mandatory destination and delivery fee; Nissan’s fee is $720. 

The Maxima 3.5 S is available with only three options: splash guards, floor and trunk mats, and a trunk organizer with first-aid kit; all are priced under $180. Nissan’s focus is clearly on the 3.5 SV model, where window stickers can climb quickly when you tap the options list.

The most-frequently ordered SV option is the Sport Package. It costs $2,030 and adds a sport-tuned suspension, low-profile 245/40VR19 all-season tires on alloy wheels, and additional bracing in the nose to stiffen the car’s structure for better handling and steering response. Summer performance tires are available at no extra charge. The Sport Package also includes a rear spoiler, high intensity discharge (HID) xenon headlights, heated outside mirrors that tilt down to show the curb when the car is reversing, and heated front seats and steering wheel. It adds the CVT paddle shifters, trims the cabin in metallic-look plastic, upgrades the leather upholstery, and empowers the driver’s seat with memory.

Following the Sport Package in popularity among Maxima 3.5 SV options is the Premium Package. It lists for $3,230 and includes the paddle shifters and most of the Sport Package convenience features. However, it replaces the standard power sunroof with a dual-panel moonroof. This has a sliding glass panel over the front seats and fixed glass over the rear; power retractable sunshades serve both. Interior trim switches to artificial Eucalyptus wood, and the dashboard gets a 7-inch color monitor for the rearview camera. Premium Package Maxima 3.5 SVs also get the USB interface and a 2.0GB hard-drive music server.

The 3.5 SV’s Technology Package option costs $1,850 and includes the USB interface, the navigation system, 9.3GB of music storage, and DVD playback capability. New for the 2010 3.5 SV is an optional Monitor Package. It adds the 7-inch monitor with rearview camera, an audio/video input jack, the 2.0GB server, and USB linking.

2010 Nissan Maxima Fuel Economy back to top

No other 3,600-pound sedan with horsepower in the 290 range can match Maxima’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 19/26 mpg (city/highway). Part of the credit goes to the CVT; its efficiency seems to help the city fuel-economy number. Note, however, that Nissan requires premium-octane fuel in the Maxima. That’s a requirement more common with luxury or high-performance cars and it does add to Maxima’s operating costs compared to less-expensive regular-octane gas. 

2010 Nissan Maxima Safety and Reliability back to top

Maxima excels in government crash-test ratings that award a maximum five stars for occupant protection in frontal and side collisions (www.safecar.gov). Maxima scores five stars in every category of the testing, including driver and passenger protection in frontal and side impacts. Only about 30 percent of the midsize cars tested by the government matched Maxima’s five-star rating in every category.

In reliability, the Nissan brand ranks about average in customer surveys of initial vehicle quality conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, the leading automotive consumer survey firm (jdpower.com. For dependability, J.D. Power rates the Nissan brand rates slightly below average.

Maxima owners rate it average overall in initial quality in the J.D. Power surveys; they rate it above average in interior and body design. The current-generation Maxima hasn’t been on sale long enough to be included in J.D. Power surveys of long-term reliability.

2010 Nissan Maxima Release Date back to top

The 2010 Nissan Maxima went on sale in August 2009.

What's next for the 2010 Nissan Maxima back to top

Maxima has traditionally gone five years between full redesigns. That puts the next all-new one on schedule for introduction as a 2014 model. Economic pressures, however, could stretch the current generation’s product cycle to 2015 or 2016.

Meantime, look for the usual annual tweaks to color choices, maybe some juggling of options-package contents. Model-year 2012 could bring a mid-cycle freshening with minor appearance revisions to nose and tail, perhaps a few extra horsepower and a cabin retrim.

Nissan was poised to offer the 2010 Maxima with a turbodiesel V-6 developed by its French parent, Renault. Estimates put that 3.0-liter at around 260 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. Some reports said it could burn environmentally sociable biodiesel. It would have been a great way for Americans to experience prodigious power and 35 mpg or more without old-time diesel clatter and sooty fumes. But a higher initial purchase price and diesel-fuel price fluctuations rendered the plan untenable in a tight economy. Nissan has shifted its attention to pure-electric vehicles, but whether that program will include models as large as the Maxima is uncertain.

2010 Nissan Maxima Competition back to top

2010 Acura TL: Maxima’s particular mix of style and power enables it to stretch from the pure-midsize class into territory occupied by entry-luxury stalwarts such as the Acura TL. This is the best-selling car from Honda’s upscale division, and it was all-new for 2009. Polarizing new styling was part of the deal. The TL offers a choice of front-wheel drive and 280 horsepower (18/26 mpg) or Acura’s “Super Handling” all-wheel-drive system paired with a 305-horsepower V-6 (17/25). Base price range is about $35,800-$44,000. The TL won’t change much until model-year 2014 or so.

2010 Dodge Charger: On paper, Charger is a class size larger than the midsize Maxima, but spiritually, there’s a connection. Both appeal to the performance-minded sedan buyer. About the same money as a Maxima 3.5 SV puts you in a well-optioned Charger R/T. It has a 370-horsepower Hemi V-8 and rear-wheel drive. A few bucks more buys an R/T with all-wheel drive; both rate 16/24 mpg. Maxima’s a social striver compared to the Charger. Its technology credentials and road manners are of a different order, too. But the Dodge is roomier and more visceral. Its next big change is likely for model-year 2012.     

2010 Volkswagen CC: An intriguing alternative to the Maxima for high style and fine road manners in a midsize sedan. The CC is essentially a VW Passat dressed in fastback sheetmetal. Its suave interior trades a conventional rear bench for a pair of bucket seats divided by a center console. Priced below the Maxima is the CC 2.0T. This front-drive model has a willing 200-horsepower turbocharged four, a top rating of 21/31 mpg, and a base price around $27,500. Starting around $40,000 are V-6 models with 280 horsepower, a top rating of 18/27 mpg, and available all-wheel drive. The CC launched for 2009 and won’t change before 2013 or so.