2012 Nissan Maxima Review and Prices

Last Updated: Sep 29, 2010

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2012 Nissan Maxima Buying Advice

The 2012 Nissan Maxima is the best car for you if you want the freshest version of a sporty sedan that flies a little below the mainstream radar.

The 2012 Nissan Maxima will likely get a midcycle freshening, which means minor styling changes for the grille and front fascia, maybe new taillight lenses, probably redesigned wheels, and perhaps some updated interior details. Nissan could tweak it for a bit more power, but not if it means lower fuel economy. Otherwise, this’ll remain a midsize five-seater that carves out a niche of its own as a front-wheel-drive four-door with sporty moves and upscale aspirations at less-than-premium-sedan prices.

Should you wait for the 2012 Nissan Maxima or buy a 2011 Nissan Maxima? Wait for the 2012 Nissan Maxima if you want the updated styling and other tweaks that may be in the pipeline. Those changes will position Maxima to sail through the end of this design generation. An all-new Maxima is expected for model-year 2014.

2012 Nissan Maxima Changes back to top

Styling: The appearance changes anticipated for the 2012 Maxima would count as a midcycle freshening for a car that traces its current design to model-year 2009. That’s when Nissan restored Maxima’s pulse by refocusing on the sporty character that won this sedan a legion of fans in the early 1990s. The changes anticipated for the 2012 model would aim to sustain interest as the seventh-generation Maxima heads into the sunset. Midcycle updates – as outlined above -- seldom involve major changes, and these probably won’t, either.

The 2012 Maxima will remain a square-shouldered four-door, distinct in styling, personality, and price from the similarly sized Nissan Altima sedan with which it shares its basic underskin design and V-6 powertrain. Credit Nissan with getting two cars that have the same basic architecture to look and drive so differently. Maxima feels heavier and more refined on the road than the Altima. And it asserts its upscale nature with a plusher cabin, one that emphasis a command feel for the driver and a privileged station for the front passenger. Indeed, the more family-oriented and lower-priced Altima has slightly more rear seat room than the Maxima despite having the same wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axle).

Expect the 2012 Nissan Maxima to return in just two trim levels, the 3.5 S and 3.5 SV. The 2012 Maxima 3.5 SV should again snare the lion’s share of sales and get favored treatment in terms of styling and features. Most 3.5 SV buyers opt for the Sport Package option, and Nissan could well continue to distinguish Maximas so equipped by giving them their own styling details. On the Sport Package-equipped 2011 Maxima 3.5 SVs, these details included unique grille, headlamp, and dashboard trim.  

Mechanical: The 2012 Nissan Maxima isn’t likely to get significant mechanical changes. It’ll return with one engine, the same 3.5-liter V-6 available in the Altima, but again with at least 290 horsepower, 20 or so more than in the Altima. Maxima will continue to use only a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Unlike a conventional automatic transmission, which shifts through a defined set of gear ratios, a CVT employs a belt-and-pulley arrangement to continually adjust the amount of power that gets to the wheels. The advantage is a better balance between engine output, acceleration, and fuel economy. Not all CVT powertrains work as effectively as this one, though Maxima still is affected by the odd CVT sensation of the engine revving ahead of the actual pace of vehicle acceleration.

Nissan could team the expected 2012 Maxima facelift with some suspension updates to sharpen handling and fine-tune ride quality. These changes would likely be minor and hopefully would not jeopardize Maxima’s historically pleasant trade-off between comfortable ride and secure handling.

The 2012 Nissan Maxima will continue solely as a front-wheel-drive car. Front-drive places the weight of the engine over the drive wheels, which assists traction in rainy or snowy weather. Front-drive handling, however, can’t match the better weight and steering balance of rear-wheel drive. Still, Maxima has plenty of grip and its road manners are more than competent. And it’s hardly affected by torque steer – the condition in which the front wheels pull to one side or the other during full-throttle acceleration – a nuisance with many powerful front-wheel drive cars.

Features: Nissan will likely keep the 2012 Maxima lineup simple, retaining the 3.5 S and  uplevel 3.5 SV trim levels. Each should continue with a fine array of standard features. These include 18-inch alloy wheels and traction and antiskid systems to help control wheel slip on takeoffs and minimize changes of sideways slides, respectively. Also included in the base price of every 2012 Maxima will be a tilt-telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated audio controls, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, a power sunroof, and keyless access and starting.

The 2012 Maxima 3.5 SV should remain the best choice for the most content, with Bose audio , exclusive leather upholstery, mirror-mounted turn signals, and other high-end features as standard. Given Nissan’s past practice with the Maxima, expect only the 3.5 SV model to be available with optional Bluetooth wireless connectivity and a USB iPod interface, a navigation system with voice recognition, a rearview camera, and a 9.3GB audio hard drive.

2012 Nissan Maxima Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Nissan Maxima won’t be released until shortly before the car goes on sale, but they aren’t apt to change much from 2011 model-year prices. Thus, estimated base price for the 2012 Nissan Maxima 3.5 S is $32,000 and estimated base price for the 2012 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV is  $35,000. (Price estimates in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2011 Maxima was $750.)

Maxima’s doesn’t sell in huge numbers – Altima outsells it nearly 4-1 – but it does find more buyers than competitors such as the Acura TL, Audi A4, and Volkswagen CC. And Maxima sales have increased steadily over the past couple of years, despite challenging economic conditions. Given that, and Nissan’s need to maintain a price gap between Maxima and the G37 sedans from its luxury Infiniti brand, 2012 Maxima prices won’t rise much.

Nissan says about 80 percent of Maxima buyers opt for the 3.5 SV, and most of those spring  for the Sport Package. The Sport Package includes a gaggle of performance upgrades for around $2,300. A sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters that help the CVT simulate manual gear changes, xenon headlights, front-end bracing, and 19-inch alloy wheels are among the features, along with heated front seats, heated mirrors, and a heated steering wheel. A navigation system and dual-panel moonroof are also available on the 3.5 SV through Premium and Tech Packages ranging in price from around $2,000-$3,500, depending on other equipment.

2012 Nissan Maxima Fuel Economy back to top

Mileage estimates for 2012 models were not released in time for this review, but with no serious powertrain changes expected, 2012 Nissan Maxima fuel-economy ratings are not likely to differ significantly from 2011 levels.

Expect the 2012 Nissan Maxima to again rate some 19/26 mpg city/highway. Nissan might be motivated to squeeze out a bit more fuel economy for the 2012 Maxima, probably through lower-rolling-resistance tires or maybe some careful engine tweaking. Engineers could also find a way to save Maxima owners a few bucks at the pump by recalculating their recommendation that they use premium-octane gas. Maxima has been among the few midsize cars in its price range for which its manufacturer recommends the costlier premium gas.

2012 Nissan Maxima Release Date back to top

Release date for the 2012 Nissan Maxima will likely be late summer or early fall 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Nissan Maxima back to top

Any alterations to the 2012 Nissan Maxima will establish car’s basic look and specification through the end of this design cycle. The carmaker could, of course, mark the conclusion of this seventh-generation Maxima with a special-edition model or perhaps a commemorative option package for model-year 2013.  

Note that the 2013 Maxima will diverge beneath the skin from its Altima stablemate because the 2013 Altima is slated to adopt an all-new design. The fully restyled and re-engineered 2013 Altima isn’t apt to encroach on Maxima’s upmarket territory, though for one model year, the costlier Maxima will solder on with an older basic design than that of its less prestigious showroom companion.   

The all-new, eighth-generation 2014 Nissan Maxima will advance to the newer Altima platform. It should hit showrooms in autumn 2013. We anticipate more power and more interior content to go along with new styling. We don’t think the Maxima will abandon front-wheel drive, but an all-wheel drive option could be a possibility.

Expect the next-generation Maxima to remain V-6 powered, which would be a differentiator if the redesigned Altima follows the trend among mid-priced, midsize cars and goes with an all-four-cylinder engine lineup. Introduction of a diesel-powered eighth-gen Maxima is a remote possibility. Nissan has committed to gas-electric hybrid power for the current and coming Altima designs, and will expand the technology into its premium brand with the M35h hybrid version of its flagship Infiniti model. Whether a hybrid Maxima is in the cards is Nissan’s secret for now.

2012 Nissan Maxima Competition back to top

Acura TL: Maxima’s somewhat unique positioning as a sporty, aspirational midsize-sedan priced below the premium tier blurs its competitive set a bit. Sticking with front-wheel drive rivals, Acura’s compact-class TSX might be worth considering, especially the $36,000 280-horsepower V-6 edition. A better match for roominess and presence is the midsize Acura TL. Its front-wheel drive model has pricing and specifications similar to those of a heavily optioned Maxima 3.5 SV. The TL is to be facelifted for model-year 2012 and all-new for model-year 2014.

Audi A4: Maxima’s hovers slightly above would-be competitors such as the V-6 versions of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. But you could look to the lower end of Audi A4 line for a fine-handling front-drive midsize alternative starting around $33,000. The base A4 sedan comes with an overachieving turbocharged four-cylinder engine and isn’t as flashy as the Maxima, but is every bit a match for athletic driving manners. Look for this German car to be freshened for model-year 2013.

Volkswagen CC: Another compelling Maxima competitor out of the VW/Audi group is this midsize sedan with a coupe-like roofline and an upscale four-passenger cabin. Front-drive CCs employ the base A4’s turbo four and start under $30,000. Option one up Maxima 3.5 SV levels, with leather, sunroof, and the similar content, and the price floats to around $34,000.  The high-style CC flies even deeper under the radar than Maxima and is due a facelift for model-year 2012.

2012 Nissan Maxima Next Steps