During the 2019 Nissan Maxima presentation to the media, the automaker claimed it is committed to building cars, and in particular sedans, citing sales of 3 million units across all segments.
To address this group of buyers, Nissan builds four different 4-door models. The Versa is cheap and roomy. The Sentra is cheap and roomy. The Altima is redesigned for 2019, and is a fundamentally excellent car. The Maxima? Well, let’s just say it trades on tradition.
Nissan doesn’t need the Maxima. It’s not bigger than an Altima. And I’d argue that its not as sophisticated as an Altima. It is, however, more powerful, more luxurious, and more expressive inside and out.
Known amongst the cognoscenti as the 4DSC (four-door sports car), the Maxima is closing in on its 40th birthday. It earned that nickname back in 1989, when the third-generation version was one of the best looking and best handling cars of its day. After that, the Maxima lost its way, and the Altima’s increasing size made it harder to position the 4DSC atop the Nissan sedan lineup.
Today, the Maxima’s dramatic styling, legendary 3.5-liter V6 engine, and relative rarity make it appealing to people who can afford more than an Altima but don’t want an Infiniti Q50. For 2019, Nissan upgrades the Maxima, but in spite of the automaker’s commitment to sedans, once this nameplate hits middle age, retirement might be advisable if Nissan can’t find a way to reinvent its 4DSC.
Minor changes make a big difference
So, what’s changed for 2019? Check out the grille, the headlights and taillights, the front and rear bumpers, and the wheel designs. Those are different, and they make a difference. I wasn’t cool with the most recent Maxima redesign, but these changes make the car more appealing. Oh, and you can get a new orange paint job called Sunset Drift Chromaflair. Fancy!
Inside, Nissan says it has upgraded the cabin materials for most trim levels. The sport-tuned Maxima SR gains a new black interior with subtle orange accents, while the Maxima Platinum can be optioned with a Platinum Reserve package containing the same Rakuda Tan semi-aniline leather found in the GT-R sports car, rendered in a diamond quilted pattern.
On the technology front, Nissan adds new standard features including automatic emergency braking, a driver attention monitoring system, traffic sign recognition technology, a USB-C quick charging port, and Rear Door Alert. That last item is designed to remind a driver that someone or something important might still be in the back seat, so check before locking up and walking away.
Nissan upgrades the NissanConnect infotainment system for 2019, adding Google Assistant integration to the already available Amazon Alexa setup. The system’s software can be updated over-the-air via Wi-Fi, and the navigation system includes a new “door-to-door” function that guides you to your destination even if you’ve had to park some distance away.
Nissan is also promoting its Safety Shield 360 suite of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems, which pair the blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert technologies previously available for the Maxima with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning and intervention, and automatic high-beam assist.
Here’s the problem, though. First, Safety Shield 360 is offered only for SL, SR, and Platinum trim levels, the three most expensive versions of the Maxima. Second, Nissan’s highly touted ProPilot Assist technology is unavailable on its flagship sport sedan, even though you can get it on a $30,000 Altima.
That don’t make no sense.
Such foibles aside, the latest Maxima remains comfortable, upscale, and enjoyable to drive.
My Maxima Platinum Reserve’s front seats had the new semi-aniline leather, as well as heating, ventilation, and all the range of adjustment necessary to get comfortable behind the flat-bottom steering wheel.
The driving position is decidedly sporty, and the cabin clearly caters to the person sitting in the left front seat. Materials are mostly high in quality, though I concede that perhaps this isn’t an accurate observation across all versions of the car.
Rear seat passengers benefit from proper support and good legroom, but foot space is limited beneath the front chairs. Behind the 60/40-split folding rear seat, a 14.3 cu.-ft. trunk is ready for luggage. That’s not much space for this size of vehicle.
A 300-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine drives the front wheels through one of the best continuously variable transmissions (CVT) available today. Still, it is a CVT, so even if there is a manual shifting gate (and shift paddles for the Maxima SR), it just isn’t as engaging as a dual-clutch transmission would be.
Straight-line power impresses, the front wheels tugging from side to side as they combat the effects of torque steer. A torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive Maxima would be nice, but isn’t available.
When the road gets twisty, the Maxima obliges a spirited romp, though its good to keep in mind how much of the car’s weight sits over the nose. I definitely wished for paddle shifters, but Nissan doesn’t supply them for the Platinum trim level, a mistake if you ask me.
Steering effort levels are heavy, but this is a desirable characteristic in a sport sedan. It works well in corners and curves, making it easy to place the car for apex clipping. The brakes are responsive and easy to modulate, too. Sharper road anomalies transfer from the suspension up into the architecture, revealing the Maxima’s aging engineering.
In spite of these observations, and the improvements for 2019, I wouldn’t say the latest Maxima lives up to its 4DSC reputation. It is a quick, comfortable, and downright flamboyant automobile, a car designed to specific tastes and preferences in a market where consumers increasingly choose SUVs and trucks.
Will there be another Maxima after this? Perhaps. But my bet is that it will be electric – or at least electrified.