Maxima vs Acura TL smackdown
August 15, 2013 9:47 PM   Subscribe

Debating a new car. Nissan Maxima versus Acura TL? Or something else entirely?

They're both super nice as far as I can tell, light years better than what I'm currently driving which is about 13 years old. The TL has AWD which is a big plus when you need to get to work whether it snows or not. But does it justify paying what I think is an extra ~$6K or so?

If you know something about how the Nissan Maximas of recent years handle in the snow, it would be really helpful. Also test drove a Murano and that was very nice too but I don't need an SUV for any other reason aside from AWD.

Any other cars I ought to try out? Have already test driven Honda CR-V/Accord and Toyota Camry/RAV4 and Hyundai Santa Fe/Sonata, Subaru Outback, and none of them have seemed to measure up. Having a quiet ride is a priority. I know very little about cars. Can anyone assist me?
posted by treehorn+bunny to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
I have a 2011 Maxima which I absolutely love. I live in MD, and have driven it in the snow on occasion without issue. The thing I love about my Maxima is how comfortable the interior is, as well as the the overall smoothness of the drive. In addition it came with Bose speakers. Altogether it has a pretty luxurious feel from the inside. I don't really think you can go wrong with either car, honestly I would just get the one that you like to drive the most.
posted by OuttaHere at 5:36 AM on August 16, 2013

Where are you located and how often do you drive in the snow? I grew up in Minnesota and now live in Colorado, and I've never had problems driving in the snow with a good front wheel drive car (if you were considering something heavy and rear wheel drive this might be a different conversation). If you're living in an area where you're dealing with snowy steep roads or roads where the plows might not get to you before you need to drive to work, then AWD might be worth it. Otherwise it's unlikely you'll miss it.

Beyond that, I don't have a lot of experience with either car; both seem generally durable and well-liked. Acuras are essentially Hondas and tend to run forever, but Nissan has a pretty solid reputation for durability as well.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:20 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm something of a car enthusiast so for me, living in Minnesota, AWD is a way to have a rear-wheel drive car that can also handle snow. The Acura's AWD drive system doesn't work that way. It's basically a front wheel drive car (90% of the engine's power goes to the front) and as the front wheels near the limit of their available traction, the car will send up to 70% of the power to the rear wheels.

So unless, as Craven_morhead says above, you need to get up steep roads in the snow, the AWD won't do a ton for you. You'll be able to pull away from intersections faster while it's snowing but that's about it. The Acura will handle differently in the snow when the wheels start to slip. Those differences are an advantage over the Nissan to me but likely won't be to you.

Between those two, I'd probably get the Maxima but you should drive them both back-to-back over the same route. It often helps if you drive your current car over that same route too.

As for other cars to look at. I'd think about an Audi A4 with Quattro AWD. That system uses a torsen center differential that sends 40% of the power to the front 60% to the back (and can shift that split some I think). And it's rated at 21mpg city/31mpg highway.

A BMW 335i xDrive might also be worth a look. It would likely have to have a lot less equipment or be about a year older than the TL/Maxima you're looking at but those are basically rear wheel drive cars that shift power to the front as the rear wheels start to slip. I'd leave out the 328i xDrive because I think the Audi A4 is a lot better. You can't get more power in an Audi without stepping up to the S4 and that will be well outside of your price range and way more of a sports car than you're after which the 335 might be anyways.

And in that group, you may as well consider the Infinity G37x. Infinity is Nissan's luxury division (much as Acura is to Honda) so the G37x would the AWD sedan to compare to the Acura TL.

All of the cars I listed will be a little smaller and a little sportier than the Maxima and TL but they will probably be close enough in size that it isn't really an issue. The Germans (Audi and BMW) are especially good at making cars feel light and sporty that still somehow ride smoother and are quieter than their rivals. All of them should be plenty reliable too.
posted by VTX at 8:13 AM on August 16, 2013

The maxima is going to handle snow about as well as any full size fwd sedan and the acura is going to handle the snow a little better with all other things being equal. Both have traction control and ABS brakes which matter more than the AWD for most conditions. The only other thing that could matter is the presence of a limited slip differential and I am pretty sure neither of these cars came with it from the factory.

The big factor is handling snow is the tires, regardless of the vehicle. If you put summer performance tires on a awd subaru outback, it is going to be crap in the snow. if you put a good set of Blizzaks (snow tires) on a bmw m3 it will do ok in the snow. Most people really cheap out when they buy tires and it shows whenever the weather is bad and the car gets blamed and not the tires. AWD can be helpful in the snow but my advice would be to buy the car you like better and then buy the right tires for your conditions. And if you have real issues with winter weather then buy a set of steel take off rims (meaning they have been taken off a car in a junk yard) and get a set of purpose made snow tires mounted on them and change them out for the season or just for the big storms if you live somewhere with just occasional issues.

A lot of people change the tires on the rims winter and summer but it puts a lot of wear on the tires to mount them once a year and it becomes a colossal pain in the ass to take it to the tire store twice a year and wait for two hours. With a set of mounted tires in the corner of the garage you can change them out yourself quickly (less than thirty minutes with a floor jack and electric impact wrench) and you don't have to guess when winter has thrown its last storm at you.
posted by bartonlong at 9:45 AM on August 16, 2013

I've owned two Maximas over the years (though none of the later models). The two I had were tanks. The first one went to 314,000 miles before we sold it. The second one our son has inherited and it has 408,000 miles and is still going.

They both handled snow quite well (Indiana winters can get a lot of snow and removal can be hypthetical at best in many areas). We mostly ran good quality all-season tires year-round, with no problems.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:03 AM on August 16, 2013

Have you looked at Infiniti? It's Nissans premium brand and most late model Gs and Ms are Awd. My husband has a G35x and gets great traction in snow, ice, rain etc. They usually are more affordable then Acura.
posted by lasamana at 10:23 AM on August 16, 2013

Sorry I see VTX covered Infinity above
posted by lasamana at 10:24 AM on August 16, 2013

The other thing is that tires make a big difference in snow handling. Standard tires try to be good in everything, but you can buy tires that work in your specific conditions.

Also, look at the center of gravity in the car. A car that is 50/50 in weight distribution will be far easier to drive in the snow than one that's not. The distribution of the weight in comparison to the wheels makes a difference too.
posted by gjc at 11:52 PM on August 16, 2013

Response by poster: After numerous test drives (including back to back drive comparisons), the Acura TL is the winner! Thanks to all for the helpful comments.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:02 PM on November 25, 2013

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