By Derek Price
The Maxima is a full-size sedan that’s powerful, eye-catching and rewarding to drive, especially in the sporty SR trim I tested with its firmer suspension, bigger front stabilizer bar and better transmission tuning.
It even sounds more throaty thanks to electronic enhancement that pumps extra engine noise into the cabin when in “sport” mode. Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 remains one of the best feeling and sounding engines in its class, delivering a honey-smooth 300 horsepower.
Unfortunately, that delicious engine is paired to a mushy feeling continuously variable automatic transmission, one blemish in an otherwise spectacular car to drive. It’s gotten better in recent years but still lacks the powerful snap of a traditional automatic or, even better, the connected feel of a manual gearbox for purists.
Aside from that, it’s hard to find much to criticize in this car, including the boring stuff.
Its predicted reliability is better than average, according to the survey gurus at JD Power, and it gets more standard safety equipment to add to its already extensive features list for 2020. It even gets a reasonable 30-mpg rating on the highway.
The Maxima occupies an unusual position in the market, though: a premium car from a mainstream brand.
It isn’t cheap, with a starting price of $34,450 and equipped more like a luxury car than a traditional base-model Nissan. It could easily be sold — and might be a better fit — under the Infiniti luxury brand instead of alongside the mass-market Versas, Rogues and Sentras in Nissan showrooms.
It does a good job blending the excitement of a sports sedan with the comfort of a luxury car, too. Not many vehicles do, and the ones that get it right, such as the Lexus GS and BMW 5-Series, tend to cost considerably more for the same equipment. That makes the Maxima feel expensive compared to its smaller Altima sibling but cheap compared to the luxury models it competes against most directly.
The Maxima is a fantastic highway sedan thanks in no small part to its Zero Gravity seats that make long trips a pleasure. They’re noticeably more comfortable than most cars, even pricey ones.
People who want the silkiest ride and most features — including the lazy driver’s favorite, intelligent cruise control — will love the smooth-riding Platinum trim, priced from $41,840. Its diamond-quilted leather and wood trim give it a classy and traditional luxury feel.
The Reserve package ($1,140) makes the Platinum trim look even more special with a charcoal headliner, steering wheel wrapped in two-tone leather, heated rear seats and massive 19-inch wheels.
Drivers who want the sportiest flavor will prefer the firmer, more aggressive SR, which now comes standard with features that last year were part of the Premium Package upgrade, including a panoramic moonroof and 360-degree camera view to help when parking.
Other trims include the mid-grade SV ($36,650) and SL ($38,840), but all the Maxima versions share its best attributes: the muscular engine, solid construction and enjoyable handling.
At A Glance
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Length: 192.8 in.
Width: 73.2 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (300 hp, 261 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 20 city, 30 highway
Why buy it?
It has the look, feel and content of a premium car. It strikes a nice balance between highway comfort and winding-road sportiness, and its 300-horsepower V6 engine sings.