Nissan Maxima was last redesigned for the 2016 model year, so it carries over unchanged, though the 2017 Maxima comes standard with Apple CarPlay.
Nissan dubbed the Maxima a four-door sports car, but today it’s more accurately described as a relatively luxurious, large midsize sedan. Despite its edgier design, highlighted by a sloped, floating-style roofline with blacked-out rear pillars, the Maxima feels most like a near-luxury family cruiser. Not many manufacturers have dared to develop such a polarizing shape, and the end result is quite appealing.
The Maxima shares its platform and powertrain with the midsize Altima, but they stand well apart in styling, as well as purpose. While the Altima is intended to transport the whole family, the Maxima is oriented more around the sophisticated couple.
Beneath the hood is an upgrade of Nissan’s familiar 3.5-liter V6, producing 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque and mating with a continuously variable transmission. A less-powerful variant of the V6 is an option for the Altima. Their CVTs are similar, but the Maxima’s higher final-drive ratio aims to keep the engine more settled.
Although the 109.3-inch wheelbase is shared, interior space is reduced in the Maxima. Its sloping roofline restricts headroom for a center-rear passenger. Head clearance also is limited by the available panoramic sunroof.
Even base-level Maximas come with an impressive selection of standard features, including an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation capability and a rearview camera. Maximas in sportier SR trim are equipped with a sport-tuned suspension.
A Midnight Edition option for Maxima SR adds a black spoiler and wheels. A similar Medallion Edition includes a special spoiler, illuminated kick plates, and accent lighting. Few factory-installed options are offered.
Nissan’s top sedan has earned five-star crash-test scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Fuel leakage during the initial test had resulted in a recall and stop-sale, but subsequent retesting was incident-free.) The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named Maxima a Top Safety Pick+, rated Good in each test, including the tougher small-overlap crash. Several active safety features are standard on upper models but unavailable for entry trim levels. They include forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. Platinum models add a drowsy-driver alert, moving-object detection, and surround-view cameras.
The 2017 Nissan Maxima S ($32,560) comes with cloth upholstery, power front seats, Bluetooth audio streaming, two USB ports, 18-inch wheels, and a rearview camera.
Maxima SV ($34,540) adds heated front seats, leather upholstery, and heated outside mirrors. Maxima SL ($37,040) comes with a panoramic sunroof, 11-speaker Bose audio, and LED lighting. A group of active-safety features includes forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.
Maxima SR ($37,820) features a significantly upgraded suspension for sportier handling. The panoramic sunroof is absent, but LED headlights and 19-inch wheels are standard. Ventilated front seats have Alcantara inserts. Nissan’s Dynamics-control module includes Active Trace Control, Ride Control, and Engine Braking.
Maxima Platinum ($39,990) aims at luxury, with plenty of leather and wood trim. Included are a power tilt/telescoping steering column, rain-sensing wipers, Nissan Connect telematics, surround-view cameras, power rear-window sunshade, moving-object detection, and a driver alert system.
Nissan designers took a decidedly fresh approach for a full-size four-door, giving it a level of style and vitality that reach well beyond what’s customary in this category. Despite sharing its foundation and powertrain with the Altima, the two models show little resemblance. Controversial it may be, but the Maxima exhibits an eccentric yet enticing flair, of the sort not often seen on larger, family-ready sedans.
Up front is a large grille, flanked by boomerang-shaped headlights, a style seen on other Nissan models. Blacked-out rear pillars help make the roof appear to float, almost overpowering the tall rear end. Unique shaping of the fenders appears to grasp every flicker of sunlight that strikes the sheetmetal. Viewed in profile rather than from the corners, the Maxima looks a bit less athletic, even subdued.
Although the plush cabin reveals some thoughtful elements, interior space and overall comfort don’t quite match that of Nissan’s related Altima. At 112.8 cubic feet, total space falls significantly below the average for midsize sedans.
The cockpit seems to wrap more snugly around the driver of a Maxima, compared to an Altima. Interior details in the Maxima, including a flat-bottom steering wheel and metallic trim, call to mind a sport sedan.
Deep bucket seats are firm but comfortable, using richly textured materials. In upper trim levels, they qualify as near-luxury. Maxima uses the same Zero Gravity, high-density-foam construction for its front seats as Altima, additional bolstering gives them greater support.
Rear-seat space and comfort excel even for taller occupants, provided they’re not in the center position, which lacks seat support and head clearance. Trunk space is about average, at 14.3 cubic feet.
Indisputably more sporty in nature than Nissan’s related Altima, the Maxima still doesn’t qualify as a sport sedan. Still, performance is relatively brisk. The 3.5-liter V6 can propel a Maxima to 60 mph in about six seconds.
Expect some engine noise when the Maxima is pushed, however, and not necessarily the satisfying, pleasing sort of sound. Accelerating hard, the engine can almost become downright loud. All but the base-model Maxima have active noise cancellation, which helps dampen any din.
In some models, Nissan’s CVT incorporates shift paddles that can be used to manually select programmed virtual gears. Responses quicken in Sport mode. Even so, enthusiasts typically frown on CVTs, preferring traditional gear-type transmissions. Other drivers applaud the invariably smoothly fluid operation of the CVT’s belt-and-pulley configuration and its efficiency.
Not only can Maxima drivers expect impressively well-balanced ride comfort, but the sedan tracks neatly on the highway. Steering is practically unaffected by pavement bumps.
With its fully independent suspension and all-disc brakes, a Maxima behaves well on curves and hilly terrain. For sharpest handling capability, consider the SR edition, which has the tautest suspension and larger tires. A chassis damper keeps the suspension from transmitting excessive road nastiness to passengers. To improve cornering in an SR, the car itself helps slow down the engine while it applies the brakes.
Reasonably fuel-efficient, the Maxima is EPA-rated at 21/30 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. Such fuel-saving features as stop/start technology are lacking.
Better looking and more sporty than the Nissan Altima, the Maxima could be considered a full-size sedan, sitting atop a midsize chassis. Nicely equipped even in base trim, the Maxima delivers good value in upper levels as well. A V6 engine driving a CVT might limit driving excitement, but the Maxima has plenty of other virtues for comfortable travel and daily use.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.