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2009 Acura TL vs. 2009 Nissan Maxima: Who Wins?

It’s rare when two same class heavyweights are introduced concurrently. Both the 2009 Nissan Maxima and 2009 Acura TL were launched this summer and both are very nice entry luxury entries. The cars are very similar, but the positioning of each is very different.

2009 Maxima SV VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Nissan Maxima

2009 Acura TL SV VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Acura TL

Side view of Acura TL and Nissan Maxima are spookily similar.

The Maxima, a derivative of the front wheel drive Nissan Altima and assembled at Nissan’s huge car/truck plant in Smyrna, Tennessee is the range topper for Nissan cars in the USA. The Acura TL is front wheel drive with optional SH-AWD – “Super Handling All Wheel Drive”. The TL is the middle of the Acura car lineup and Acura’s highest volume vehicle and is assembled alongside the Honda Accord in Marysville, Ohio.
You might think that a better comparison would be the Acura against Infiniti with the TL lining up against the Infiniti G37 sedan. But the G37 sedan is based on a rear wheel drive platform. The TL vs. the Maxima is a more real product-to-product comparison.

Lets do this alphabetically looking at the Acura first and then the Nissan.

2009 Maxima F34 VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Nissan Maxima

2009 Acura TL F34 VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Acura TL

Maxima front appearance much more conventional than Acura’s can opener look.

Acura TL Takes Some Getting Used To
The TL previously was one of the prettier Acura models. Its tasteful styling and compact package made it the favorite of drivers wanting a sporty sedan without pretension. The 2009 TL breaks that mold adopting very distinctive styling that can politely be described as controversial. The new car uses Acura’s new styling language first seen on the MD-X and more recently on the facelift fo the 2009 RL. The new language may actually work better on the TL than on the other two entries, but it still gets some getting used to.
2009 Maxima R34 VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Nissan Maxima

2009 Acura TL R34 VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Acura TL

TL rear style distinctive, but contrived. Compared with TL, Maxima is conservative.

Once you accept the styling the TL becomes more of a piece. The interior is an ergonomic tour de force with new and innovative technology blended seamlessly into the car. The driver’s environment is outstanding and the interface with the navigation system, HVAC controls, audio system is intuitive and easy to understand. Acura has moved TL towards a more luxurious interior and a performance-oriented and emotional ambiance.
2009 Maxima Stack VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Nissan Maxima

2009 Acura TL Stack VehicleVoice1.jpg

2009 Acura TL Center Stack

Center Stacks very similar. TL’s presentation is more high tech (there are 26 buttons) and upscale.

On the dynamic side the TL is available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive versions. The base front wheel drive model is much softer than the aggressive SH-AWD model. The TL is powered by Acura’s 3.5L V6 with 280-horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque. The previous base engine was a 3.2L V6 with 258-horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque. The extra power comes from increased displacement, higher compression ratio, increases in head flow, improved intake and exhaust flow rates and electric power steering.
The SH-AWD model bumps up to a 3.7L V6 with 305-horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The additional 25-horsepower comes from the increase in displacement and addition of intake and exhaust VTEC over the 3.5L version.
Acura TL SH-AWD is the Preference
The proof, of course, comes in the driving and the SH-AWD model is delightful. The power is more than adequate and the all wheel drive system keeps the car glued to the ground around the most aggressive curves. The harder you push SH-AWD, the more planted the car seems to be. Compared with the SH-AWD model, the base TL feels wimpy… good, but wimpy.
The TL has illuminated paddle shifters on both models. The “Smart Paddle Mode” gives you instant gear selection and engine braking with sequential shifting. The Full Control Paddle Mode provided manual transmission operation. For those few who don’t want all the shifting technology a real manual transmission will be available in 2010.
The Acura TL has a price range spanning $35,000 to $43,000. Acura hopes to sell 70,000 TLs on an annual basic (once the downturn is over).
2009 Nissan Maxima – Return of the 4-Door Sports Car
The 7th Generation Nissan Maxima competes with the base Acura TL. Maxima’s base price is $29,290 for the S model and $31,990 for the SV model. Check all the boxes and get the SV model with Premium Package and Technology Package and Sport Package and you are reaching over $40,000. So think of the TL’s “premium” Acura brand as costing about $5,000 on the MSRP over the “mainstream” Nissan brand.
The new Maxima is slightly smaller than its predecessor – shorter wheelbase and shorter overall length, but the styling is stronger, more aggressive. Nissan is even resurrecting its old tag line from the 3rd generation Maxima of 1989 – “4-Door Sports Car”. Interestingly, Nissan admits that they redirected the development of the 2009 Maxima when it learned the Acura TL was going a much more aggressive route.
The Maxima has a much more aggressive style than its predecessor but does not take the styling risks the TL has taken. Maxima is advanced, but much more conservative than the TL. Still Maxima is more emotional and has much more performance than the previous generation. The hit on Maxima’s predecessor was that it looked too much like the Altima with which it shares Nissan’s front-wheel-drive D-Platform.
Target: Best Performing Large FWD Sedan in the World. Did Nissan Hit Their Target?
To meet that target Nissan’s VQ V6 has been upgraded once again. In Maxima it has 290-horsepower (up 35HP from the previous generation) and 261 lb-ft torque. So, the Maxima beats out the base Acura TL, but not the SH-AWD model. Nissan diverges from the Acura formula by using a CVT – Continuously Variable Transmission rather than the Paddle Shifting Automatic. With years of development under its belt, the CVT now feels pretty good, but does not provide the crispness of Acura’s automatic.
The interior is inviting with and has the technology you would expect in an entry level luxury car, but Maxima’s “Super Cockpit interior” does not match the glitz of the TL’s interior. Maxima comes up a bit short on material quality and fit and finish compared with its premium brand competitor.
2009 Maxima Cockpit VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Nissan Maxima Cockpit

2009 Acura TL Cockpit VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Acura TL Cockpit

Both cockpits comfortable and inviting.

In size, the Maxima’s 109.3 inch wheelbase matches that of the TL, but at 190.6-inches overall length, it is about 5-inches shorter than the TL (TL is the same length as the previous Maxima).
The Envelope, Please
Which car is superior? They are very close and selecting one depends on what your wallet says. Base to base, the Maxima has a substantial price advantage and power advantage versus the TL. The TL has the slick shifting Paddle Shifting transmission and the Maxima has an excellent CVT, so which one feels better to you counts for a lot. If you are feeling a bit richer today and go for the Acura TL SH-AWD, then that is the way to go. The Acura is a technology showcase and if you can afford to check all the boxes it is touch to get a car that feels so nice and has so many bells and whistles. So, the Envelope goes to the Maxima for base price and power and to the TL SH-AWD for technology, power and finesse. Just bring your billfold.

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