At one point, not too long ago, Nissan enthusiasts were encouraged by word that Nissan’s conceptual tribute to the iconic (yeah, that word again) 510 might be produced. An almost-traditional three-box 2-door, offering rear-wheel drive, a responsive inline four and as unfettered by 21st-Century add-ons as you’re likely to find (save for Mazda’s Miata or Scion’s FR-S), Nissan’s IDx looked like just the thing to bring back the magic to the Nissan showroom. Regrettably, recent reports suggest the IDx concept is on the way-back burner while Nissan execs and designers refocus on core, volume-centric models. And that renewed focus has recently given us aggressive redesigns of both the Murano (midsize crossover) and Maxima (largish sedan).
Although neither echoes Nissan’s storied past – save for a minimalistic 4DSC reference on the Maxima – both are daring takes on the traditional two-box crossover (Murano) and three-box sedan. And while defying convention, both speak to the very real challenges and opportunities on today’s showroom floor. Crossovers can’t be built fast enough, and traditional sedans are so dead in the water.
Our first impression of the all-new Maxima was forged with Dallas’ Hotel ZaZa as a backdrop. The ZaZa is one of those almost-too-hip environs for those having too much money or too much credit; Nissan’s product team can only hope the new Maxima generates similar appeal. Dealers, of course, would be happy to take cash, but they’d more happily take your credit in seventy-two monthly increments. And given a brief conversation in a Starbucks parking lot, where a very attractive 50-something gal exiting a quietly attractive ES 300 expressed an enthusiastic interest in the Maxima, Nissan may have hit the aspirational nail on the head. As mentioned in our preview, we weren’t head-over-heels when first seeing the new Maxima sheetmetal, but we’ll admit it has a tendency – like most automotive designs – to grow on you, and the dynamics of the platform and interior more than offset any reservation you might have for its skin.
Those Maxima dynamics are, uh, dynamic. With 3.5 liters of healthy V6 propelling a curb weight well short of your typical crossover, the new Maxima may not be the rebirth of the 4-door sports car but doesn’t fall too short of a 4-door sport sedan. From behind the wheel we like all of it, with a seemingly direct connection between the steering wheel and front wheels, a ride that’s composed (slightly firm) but not uncomfortable, and a decent degree of visibility outward despite a low hip point and a somewhat intrusive C-pillar. It is, in short, an absolute blast to drive – and that’s in the Platinum trim, one step short of the available (and more aggressive) SR.
If there’s a hitch in the Maxima’s auspicious debut it’s a $40K window sticker for its top-line trim. To be sure, the content and engineering are there to support it, but you can spend that same $40K in a Lexus or Infiniti showroom. And while the IS 250 Lexus won’t provide you with the blatant urge of Nissan’s V6 Maxima, it will give you most of what you need in combination with historically high resale values and far better coffee. At Infiniti stores the Q40 (we know it as the G37) may be approaching its second decade of gestation, but you can’t beat the bang for the buck – especially if you think BMW has gone in exactly the wrong direction in its evolution of the 3-Series.
The other hitch with the Maxima, of course, is that you can’t envision installing a hitch. For that we have the crossover, in the guise – at least this week – of the new-in-2015 Murano. And if you thought Lexus was trying to get your attention with its new compact crossover, get a look at Nissan’s midsizer. If the Murano’s stylistic overreach weren’t so obviously intentional it might be regarded (ever so gently) as crazy, but crazy like young-and-not-fully-formed – as opposed to midlife-crisis crazy. The Murano, since its inception, has always been somewhat of an outlier in the small volume, midsize segment. Ford’s Edge wasn’t as edgy, the RX 350 looks like a mild sedative, and Infiniti’s FX was/is entirely too ‘male’. For many the Murano struck a sweet spot, with a high hip point, chair-like seating and enough interior flexibility to carry both Portugese Water Dogs.
If the Maxima’s new skin prepped us for the still-new Murano, it didn’t prepare us for the Murano’s (relative) lethargy. Despite its almost-as-healthy V6 (260 horsepower) and torque, there is no denying the Murano’s additional mass and reduced connectivity. If evaluated with a reasonable degree of separation from the Maxima you’d be pleased with the chassis dynamic, but if taking it for a drive immediately after the Maxima you’d think Nissan’s midsize crossover was a Buick – altho Buicks are typically more fun. We know it is Mazda proffering the zoom-zoom, but in the absence of ‘zoom’ you’d hope you’d have room, and in a midsize crossover with but two rows the Murano really isn’t a people pod, either.
Of course, as a midsize entry in a hot segment, the Murano’s Platinum trim doesn’t come cheap. With a base of just over $40K, and the Tech package (panoramic moonroof, forward collision warning and predictive forward collision warning) adding $2260, you’re out the door at just under $44K. That, of course, was (not too long ago) a figure capable of buying BMW’s X3. Different horses, different courses, but the upward spiral of window stickers remains dizzying.
At the end of the day we liked both Maxima and Murano, while perhaps not loving either one. But then, I’m the guy wishing they’d continue to make the Xterra – and we know where that one’s headed.