The verdict: The 2019 Nissan Maxima has always appealed as more of a budget luxury sedan than a traditional full-sizer. As consumer interest in both groups wanes, however, so does the case for the Maxima.
Versus the competition: More of an alternative to the Acura TLX or Lexus ES than a traditional full-size sedan, the Maxima has aspects of driving fun and premium quality. But it can’t deliver the whole package in either area, leaving it few other legs to stand on.
The Maxima slots above the Altima to cap off Nissan’s sedan lineup. The automaker updated the Maxima for 2019 with styling changes and new safety options, which you can read more about here. Available in five trim levels, the 2019 model retains a standard 3.5-liter V-6 and continuously variable automatic transmission. Compare the trims here or go here to stack up the 2019 and 2018 models. We evaluated Maxima’s two top trims: the SR and the Platinum.
How It Drives
In an era of turbocharged engines and high-tech transmissions with instant torque and short-gear-ratio revving, the Maxima goes it old-school. A big, normally aspirated V-6 (300 horsepower, 261 pounds-feet of torque) doesn’t dole out the good stuff until 4,000 to 6,000 rpm, and the transmission exhibits relatively few of the simulated shift points that many of today’s CVTs throw in for effect. This seems like a formula that would underwhelm, but the Maxima delivers results with swift accelerator response. Press the gas, and the car leaps to attention; the high-revving punch comes moments later, and the climb up the tachometer is enjoyable enough. Most modern cars have some degree of accelerator lag, ranging from slight to borderline dangerous. The Maxima excels simply by not screwing up where so many other cars do.
The SR gets unique shock-absorber tuning, but in both the SR and Platinum we tested the suspension’s overall character is controlled but firm. Expect plenty of chop over sewer covers, as well as low-level highway turbulence on all but the smoothest pavement. The experience compares to the sport-tuned TLX A-Spec, also a firm-riding sedan, but Nissan should offer a comfort-oriented suspension choice.
Alternatives ranging from a regular TLX or Lexus ES to most mass-market full-size sedans, such as the Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300 and Chevrolet Impala, ride more forgivingly, and the Maxima doesn’t justify its firmness with exceptional handling. The high-effort steering is precise enough, but the chassis does little to mask the car’s front-wheel-drive architecture. Progressive understeer makes its way into sweeping corners, salvaged only by deliberate lift-throttle or selective braking from the electronic stability system, both of which can slide the tail a bit to reorient the axis. Still, I miss the prior-generation Maxima (2009-2014), a car whose excellent dynamics belied its front-drive roots. The current generation feels less planted, and Nissan’s updates for 2019 don’t change that.
Base trim levels have cloth upholstery, while other trims offer three grades of leather, culminating in semi-aniline cowhide. Included with the top-trim Maxima’s Platinum Reserve Package, the semi-aniline upholstery is rich stuff. Lavish padding with double-stitched surfaces down to arm level (and in some cases knee level) goes a long way toward evoking a legitimate luxury car. Alas, certain aspects don’t add up to luxury — or modernity, for that matter. The climate dials feel too clumsy for a premium car, and some controls suggest Nissan’s 2000s-era parts bin. There are cheaper plastics in scattered areas where luxury rivals have richer stuff. And Cars.com editors observed numerous problems with the 8-inch touchscreen in two test vehicles, including choppy, delayed images from the backup camera, faulty Bluetooth music streaming, and navigation maps freezing on Android Auto.
If the Maxima falls short of the luxury big leagues, it’s all the way down in junior varsity in terms of roominess. Editors found the front seats comfortable, but the center console fans out ahead of the cupholders to encroach on knee clearance even for average-sized drivers, let alone larger folks. An outcropping in the footwell limits passenger-side space. Backseat legroom is modest, and some adults may find the seat cushions too short. In cars with the panoramic moonroof (a feature that’s standard on two trim levels and available on a third), headroom is downright stingy. If you plan to drive adults in back with any frequency, the backseats in most large-sedan rivals leave the Maxima’s in the dust.
Features & Value
As of this writing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has yet to post crash-test ratings for the 2019 Maxima; they’ll go here once the agency does. Pricing starts in the mid-$30,000s including destination and standard features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power front seats, automatic emergency braking, and keyless access with push-button start. Higher trims can add the panoramic moonroof, 360-degree cameras, adaptive cruise control, and heated and cooled seats, among other features. Absent is Nissan’s ProPilot Assist suite of semi-autonomous features, which the Maxima’s 2019 refresh didn’t garner. That means lane-centering steering, a feature widely available elsewhere, remains missing here.
Pricing tops out with the near-$44,000 Platinum Reserve Package, a spread that puts the Maxima on par with a TLX or Avalon. Both alternatives are comfier cars with more technology — and better interior quality, in Acura’s case. Bargain shoppers can undercut the whole group with a lower trim of a traditional full-sizer like the Impala or Chrysler 300. Whether you aim for size, luxury or sportiness, the Maxima is either not quite there or well short. Its updates add some visual pizazz for 2019, and I’m philosophically in favor of Nissan offering the poor man’s (or woman’s) luxury sport sedan. But in the current model, the goods don’t add up. Given the decline in popularity for all sedans, I question if the mission remains worth it.
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