The Nissan Maxima sedan has been around forever, since 1981, and you forget what a nice car it is, especially with its recent refresh that now includes the Nissan Safety Shield driver assists. For around $40K, you get a very quick, good-handling sedan capable of hitting 60 mph in six seconds. The car is stunning in profile and the cockpit is nicely trimmed.
Against that, Nissan ProPilot Assist self-driving is not available on a car meant for long highway drives. Also, the same low roofline that makes the Maxima sleek makes it snug in back for adults. The ride qualities the driver calls “sporty” the passengers may call “firm.” Still, the current Maxima compares well against premium luxury sedans. You pay less for a loaded Maxima than a stripped BMW 5 Series or Lexus GS.
Maxima on the Road
The Maxima is a blast to drive, the 300-hp V6 is amazingly powerful, and long treks are pleasant thanks to good seats and excellent audio.
My cockpit on the Maxima Platinum had an orange-and-black interior that sounds like Halloween, maybe Thanksgiving. But it’s actually quite fetching, especially if you like sporty looks. The D-steering wheel with the squared-off bottom is what many racecars have and it’s also a godsend for drivers with ample waistlines. The center stack display, starting to feel a bit small at 8 inches diagonal, does have real buttons on either side, a big plus.
While it’s a front- not rear- or all-wheel-drive car, the Maxima felt competent on twisty back roads. Unless you’re doing a car club lapping day at a race track, front-drive is good enough for virtually all occasions.
Maxima Stands Out of Safety
Unlike many competing cars, the Maxima has a solid set of safety features on all trim lines, not just the ones that cost more.
For 2020, Nissan makes Nissan Safety Shield 360 standard on all six trim lines: lane departure warning, blind-spot detection/rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking/pedestrian braking, automatic high beam control, and rear automatic braking.
Adaptive cruise control is not part of Safety Shield 360 but it’s on all but the entry trim, which typically accounts for less than 10 percent of model sales. The surround-view camera system is on three of the six trim lines.
Also standard across the line in 2020 is the Integrated Dynamics (control) Module (IDM): intelligent trace control (maintains the cornering line as steered), active ride control (modulates engine power and brakes under acceleration and braking to minimize pitching motions), and intelligent engine brake (small amounts of engine braking when using the brakes to smooth deceleration).
Long trips would better still with ProPilot Assist, but when Nissan did the midlife refresh of the eighth generation Maxima for 2019, it didn’t upgrade from mechanical to electric power steering, a requirement for cars that self-drive or lane-center. Too bad: ProPilot Assist is a must-have feature on the majority of the Nissan line. Press a couple of buttons, the car settles into the center of the lane, maintains its distance from cars in front, and drives itself so long as it senses your hands lightly on the wheel.
2020 Maxima Models
There are six model variants, or trim lines, for the 2020 Maxima. All have the 300-hp V6 engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 2019 Maxima, still available, is essentially the same vehicle.
Maxima S, $35,175 (including $925 freight). It has LED headlamps, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and two USB jacks. The only thing missing off the teaser-price trim is adaptive cruise control. Wheels are 18 x 8 inches with 245/45R18 tires.
Maxima SV, $36,450. The extra $2,200 gets you adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, navigation, leather-trimmed seats, and heated front seats.
Maxima SL, $39,565. Sonar is front as well as rear. Audio is Bose, 11 speakers. There’s a panoramic moonroof and a heated steering wheel.
Maxima SR, $42,375. This is the sporty version with paddle shifters, a sport-tuned suspension (read: stiffer than the already firm shocks/springs on the others), 19 x 8.5-inch low profile tires, and vented front seats. The 2019 SR Premium Package of the panoramic moonroof and the surround camera system (Intelligent Around View Monitor) is now part of the base price.
Maxima Platinum, $42,565. It’s the next step up from SL, not the SR. It gets Nissan Connect telematics, 18 x 8-inch alloys, quilted-leather seats, and birdseye maple trim.
Maxima Platinum Reserve, $43,705. A new trim line for 2020, it adds heated rear seats, different seat leathers and trim, and a charcoal headliner.
Should You Buy?
Nissan has two midsize sedans, the Maxima and the Nissan Altima (out since 1993). The Altima is a mainstream, front-drive sedan meant to compete with the Accord, Camry, and Sonata. Some competitive analyses compare the Maxima with a full-size sedan along with the Toyota Avalon and Chevrolet Impala.
Look at the specs for the rear seat for Maxima, Altima, and Camry, the best-selling midsize sedan:
Maxima: 34.2 / 35.8 inches (headroom / legroom)
Altima: 35.1 / 36.9 inches
Camry: 38.0 / 38.0
That makes the Maxima okay, not great, for carrying two additional adults. And if four of you are going away for the weekend, pack light. It has 98.5 cubic feet for passengers plus 14.3 for cargo, for a total of 112.8. The sibling Altima is three inches shorter and has 117.3 plus 15.4 cubic feet of capacity. So Maxima is midsize and more of a competitor to Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and VW Passat. None have the acceleration of the Maxima, although the Mazda6 (especially), Accord, and Passat compare favorably on handling and fun-to-drive.
For fun-to-drive, you want the Maxima SR sporty model. And if you want to stand out, consider the $395 Sunset Drift Chromaflair orange exterior paint. That gives you 240/40R19 tires and wheels that don’t get along well with potholes. I test-drove a Maxima Platinum and the ride was firm; the SR will be firmer.
If you like the sporty looks without the stiffer ride, the Maxima SV has virtually all the safety you want. Moving up the trim lines gets you better audio with SL and then surround view with SR and the Platinums.
Nissan sells a bit less than 50,000 Maximas a year, so there’s a certain exclusivity that way. It is worth a test drive if you want sporty looks and handling and if your back seat passengers don’t mind a snug, but not cramped, space. The Maxima’s biggest drawback for long-distance cruisers is the unavailability of ProPilot Assist.
Nissan deserves credit for sticking with sedans at a time when many mid- and full-size competitors, most with decent offerings, are going away: the Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse, and Cadillac XTS, among others. Among the mid-price, midsize sedans that want to be seen as class-above, the Maxima may well be the best choice if you want sporty and reliable. Buyers who want a roomy back seat and trunk may want to look elsewhere, including Nissan’s own Altima in one of the higher trims, where it can be had with all-wheel-drive and Nissan’s intriguing variable compression engine.
- 2019 Nissan Altima Review: All-Wheel-Drive, ProPilot Assist Revive a Sedan
- Top New Cars for 2020: SUVs, EVs, PHEVs, Not So Many New Sedans
- 2020 Nissan Versa Review: Safer, Smoother, Still-Affordable Small Sedan