Midway through the development program for the 2009 Nissan Maxima, the company realized it was headed down a dead-end road. The car it was designing was too conservative to stay at the front of its competitive group, reported Al Castignetti, Vice President and General Manager, Nissan Division, Nissan North America Inc.
Designers and engineers refocused the program with the aim of returning the Maxima to its “four-door sports car” roots, emphasizing responsive handling, braking, and acceleration. “Complacency breeds complacent products,” Castignetti said.
To escape that complacency, Nissan engineers enhanced the corporate D platform, also used on the well-regarded Altima, with improvements such as a strut tower brace, stiffened unibody, refined power steering, repositioned drivetrain, and more powerful engine.
The Maxima’s unibody is 15% stiffer than that of the Altima from which it is derived, and the front strut mounts are twice as stiff. Customers will be able to make their own decisions on compromising practicality for performance, as an available rear chassis brace eliminates the utility of fold-down rear seats but boosts rear chassis stiffness by 17%. A ski pass-through remains, even with the brace, permitting the carrying of some long objects.
Meanwhile, the engine was lowered, reducing the height of the car’s center of gravity and straightening the angle of the half shafts from the transaxle to the wheel hubs, explained Larry Dominique, Vice President for Product Planning and Strategy for NNA.
The resulting footprint trims the 2009 Maxima’s wheelbase by 1.9 in (48 mm) from that of the outgoing model to 109.3 in (2776 mm), with front and rear tracks increased by 1.4 and 1.2 in (36 and 30 mm), respectively, to 62.4 in (1585 mm). The car is 1.5 in (38 mm) wider than its predecessor at 73.2 in (1860 mm).
Improvements to the respected 3.5-L VQ-series V6 engine for service in the Maxima boost maximum power by 20 hp (15 kW) over the engine in the Altima and by 35 hp (26 kW) over the outgoing Maxima to 290 hp (216 kW), with 261 lb·ft (354 N·m) of torque. These increases result from an increased compression ratio (from 10.3:1 to 10.6:1), improving the air intake design, reducing exhaust backpressure with a freer-flowing exhaust system, and the addition of variable cam timing to the exhaust cam. The pistons were also reshaped to reduce mass and friction.
Nissan refined the Maxima’s steering response with a retuned speed-sensitive power-steering system and a very fast 15.2:1 steering rack. “It is tuned for good on-center feel,” said Dominique, an area where earlier executions of the design were seen as deficient. “We are getting better and better” at tuning the system, he said.