Updated for 2019 — Nissan Maxima falls far short of a sports sedan

By Jim Prueter

(June 21, 2019) It’s been over three years since I last drove and reviewed the current eighth-generation Nissan Maxima. Back then, Nissan did a complete makeover and reprised the 4DSC (four-door sports car) logo it sported as far back as the days when Nissan was known as Datsun.

Inspired by Nissan designers who spent time at the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels precision flying school in Florida, pains were taken to give the driver’s seat a true cockpit look and feel. The exterior also mimicked the sense of the fighter jet with a fluidic design, floating rooftop, flowing angular beltline, and the then-new Nissan signature V-Motion grille seen on other Nissan vehicles. We liked the look and premium features offered.

For 2019, Nissan continues to build on Maxima’s 40-year legacy as the flagship of the brand’s sedan lineup with what’s known in the industry as a mid-cycle refresh.

So negligible are the changes, one would have to park the previous year’s Maxima to the “refreshed” 2019 to discern a difference. Still, there is a fairly substantial list of enhancements that include standard LED headlights, a new front fascia and grille, revised rear fascia with LED taillights, integrated quad-tip exhaust pipes, and new wheel designs. All exterior changes are to plastic parts versus more expensive sheetmetal. Still, we liked the looks of the new grille and smoked and rear taillights.

The interior’s been lightly enhanced with a few new feature additions like the now available semi-aniline diamond-quilted Rakuda Tan leather-appointed seating, armrests and steering wheel, a new SR trim level Premium Package and Platinum grade Reserve Package with exclusive content. There are no noticeable changes to the instrument panel layout or operational switchgear.

Our test SR trim Maxima came equipped with the standard heated and cooled diamond-quilted Alcantara inserts in a charcoal color with orange stitching. Seats are 10-way power adjustable with a two-button memory and overall interior space is on the cozier side.

There’s a newly available Nissan Safety Shield 360 active safety technology and 10 air bags, including front driver and passenger knee and rear seat side supplemental air bags, and convenience features like standard rear door alert, traffic sign recognition and USB type-C ports. Unfortunately, Nissan’s Distance Control Assist, a sort of auto-pilot that brakes for you, as well as the company’s lane-centering system, haven’t been added to the Maxima.

But know there are no much-needed changes to the suspension or steering with its firm ride and vague steering. Maxima also retains its 3.5-liter 300-horsepower V-6 that requires premium fuel. That package seemed more powerful three years ago, not so much these days as most manufacturers in this class have upped the number of ponies. We found it to be an ample amount of power even when passing, but the thrilling fun factor isn’t part of the vehicle’s offerings.

Maxima uses a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that’s the best in the business, but even at that it’s far from sporty, even in our Maxima SR trim level tester with its sport-tuned suspension.

Surprisingly, the Maxima is available as a front-wheel-drive sedan and, unlike its sibling the Altima, all-wheel drive is not offered.

Our SR came standard with 19-inch black finished wheels. We liked the looks and the wider wheels add to the Maxima’s grip in cornering on twisty roads, but the offsetting consequence is a very firm ride with every road imperfection, tar strip, pothole and uneven road surface felt throughout the vehicle and up through the steering column. The ride on the SR got very old, very quickly and we suggest you move up or down a trim level for a more comfortable experience. Still, it isn’t the four-door sports car Nissan wants you to think it is.

While Maxima is billed as the brand’s large sedan, competing with Toyota Avalon, Kia Cadenza and Chrysler 300 sedans, it’s actually shorter than the current generation mid-sized Nissan Altima and isn’t overall larger. That shows up with a slightly smaller trunk than its competitors, but Nissan does still include a temporary spare tire.

The SR comes well equipped with a generous amount of standard features including heated outside mirrors, fog lights, aluminum sport pedals, intelligent cruise control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-inch color display screen, SiriusXM radio, Bose Sound System with 11 speakers, active noise cancellation, heated leather wrapped steering wheel, 60/40 folding rear seats and much more.

Overall the Maxima is clearly not the 4DSC Nissan wants you to think it is. For that to happen it needs to have rear-wheel drive with an all-wheel drive option and a dual clutch or manual transmission. It also needs to be more performance oriented — like the excellent Kia Stinger — to solidify it as legitimate sports sedan.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $40,425
Price as Tested: $42,810
Powertrain: 3.5-liter 300-hp V-6 connected to a CVT transmission
Fuel Economy: 20-mpg city – 30-mpg highway – 24-mpg combined
Seating: 5

Where Built: Smyrna, Tennessee

Crash Test Ratings: The 2019 Nissan Maxima has earned an overall “Good” crash test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Buick LaCrosse
Chevrolet Impala
Chrysler 300
Dodge Charger
Ford Taurus
Kia Cadenza
Toyota Avalon

Fab Features
Premium interior
User-friendly infotainment