The Nissan Maxima sedan boasts a daring design, a strong V6 engine, taut driving feel, and comfortable cabin.
Fully redesigned for the 2016 model year, Maxima hasn’t changed much for 2018. In addition to wearing a fresh black-accented V-Motion grille, the 2018 Maxima adds Android Auto to its Apple CarPlay-enabled infotainment system.
Nissan offers five ascending Maxima trim levels: S, SV, SL, SR, and Platinum. Each holds the same front-wheel-drive powertrain. A 3.5-liter V6, developing 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque, mates with Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT). Even though the CVT contains no actual gears, D-Step shift logic can simulate gearchanges.
Maxima is full-size in outside dimensions but feels closer to midsize inside. Sportier than large four-doors, it isn’t as space-efficient. Even Nissan’s smaller, midsize Altima is roomier. Beneath its swoopy bodywork, the Maxima shares some vehicular architecture with the Altima. In the Maxima, outboard passengers can enjoy deep, thickly padded bucket seats, but fall a bit short on expected space.
The Maxima is more enjoyable to drive than many full-size four-door sedans, and it has a sportier character.
An optional Midnight Edition package gives the SR sedan blacked-out trim, plus surround-view cameras and driver-alert warning.
In addition to being available with a broad range of safety technology, Maximas have earned laudable crash-test scores. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2018 Maxima a rating of five stars overall, as well as for both frontal and side impacts. The calculated rollover score also was five-star.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the Maxima a Top Safety Pick, but only with the LED headlights fitted to SR and Platinum trim levels. Halogen headlights on other versions are rated Poor. All crash-test scores rated Good, with Superior frontal crash prevention.
All Maximas have a rearview camera, as well as forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Standard on higher trim levels are blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.
Nissan Maxima S ($33,270) comes with power front seats, cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, remote start, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and 18-inch wheels. Infotainment includes an 8.0-inch screen with navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $885 destination charge.)
Maxima SV ($35,270) features leather-appointed seat upholstery, heated front seats, a driver-seat thigh extension, and front/rear parking sensors. Maxima SL ($37,690) adds a panoramic moonroof, active noise cancellation, 11-speaker Bose audio, LED interior lighting, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, and extra USB ports.
Maxima Platinum ($40,940) comes with quilted leather seat inserts, a surround-view camera system, power rear sunshade, height-adjustable passenger seat, ventilated front seats and LED headlights.
Maxima SR ($38,530) has a sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels, but lacks the panoramic moonroof. Premium leather seats with Alcantara inserts, LED headlights, and ventilated front seats are standard.
Styling might not please everyone. More than most, though, Nissan’s Maxima stands out from the big-sedan pack. Daring and dramatic, if not wholly cohesive, the biggest Nissan four-door lacks the cleanly finished look of a Chevrolet Impala, but resembles no other full-size sedan. No design elements are shared with the mechanically-related Nissan Altima.
The freshly-revised grille does present a cleaner appearance. Viewed from the front, the roof appears to float above the vehicle, helped by black pillars. A fine chrome line runs just below the windows, striving to conceal the Maxima’s girth. On the whole, the Maxima favors voluptuous curves over a svelte tone. SR sedans flaunt more prominent sporty touches, including a rear spoiler.
Top models are luxurious.Front occupants can savor comfortably supportive seats and a lavish aura.
The Maxima seats four and is even better for two. It has a low roofline that makes the rear bench feel tight. Taller riders may find the roofline impedes entry and exit. The two outboard rear passengers drop into wide, bucket-like seats. A center position is provided, but it’s not intended to be used often and it’s not comfortable. Rear passengers in the Nissan Altima have more space.
Fitted with an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, the dashboard cants assertively toward the driver. The tall center console constricts knee space more than in most large sedans.
Interior materials rank above average in cloth-upholstered base models, becoming nearly decadent in top-dog Platinum trim. Soft-touch materials abound, complemented by classy upholstery stitching. Even the metallic and simulated-wood trim panels look stylishly contemporary.
Trunk volume is a moderate 14.3 cubic feet, versus 15.4 for the Altima.
Despite having 300 horsepower beneath its hood, a Maxima isn’t likely to deliver many driving thrills to enthusiasts. The V6/CVT combination doesn’t constitute the most refined powertrain, either.
For most drivers, though, the Maxima accelerates with suitable swiftness, while emitting more gruffness than expected. Pushing harder than usual on the gas pedal may be needed when accelerating, but the specially-tuned transmission yields a more spirited experience than most CVTs can deliver. Sport mode helps, and when D-Step logic is selected, the preset ratios arrive in a delectably smooth sequence.
Helped by surprisingly high-effort steering, a Maxima feels markedly more nimble than typical rivals like Toyota’s Avalon. Certainly, its sense of sportiness transcends that of most big sedans. Even when breezing along curvy roads, Nissan’s top sedan feels composed and confident. Wandering on straightaways seldom occurs, courtesy of great on-center tracking capability.
Moderate torque steer might be felt, but only when accelerating hard. Electric power steering delivers almost no feedback to the driver, but the thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel is an unexpected delight.
Still, ride comfort is this sedan’s main attraction. With standard 18-inch wheels, smoothness approaches luxury level. Even in SR trim with 19-inch tires and stiffer shock absorbers, the ride doesn’t become excessively firm.
Engine noise is reasonably muffled, but other sounds entering the cabin seem inappropriate for a car in this price league.
Thriftier than many full-size sedans, the Maxima is EPA-rated at 21/30 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. Premium gasoline is needed.
Regardless of trim levels, the Maxima delivers an upscale feel. In both layout and materials quality, but not in back-seat space, Nissan’s full-size sedan ranks above the midsize Altima. As far as design goes, not many large four-doors can be called daring or dramatic. Altogether, Maxima promises good value for its price.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.