Nissan's range-topping sedan is now in its seventh generation, making it the longest continuously-running nameplate in Nissan's U.S. showrooms (the Z would hold this title if it weren't for the Japanese sports car exodus of the 1990s).
On paper, the Maxima is classified as a large sedan, slotted against the Ford Taurus and Chevy Impala, etc. In reality, it's not that much bigger that Nissan's own Altima. It's a bit of a 'tweener.
The Maxima's size positioning may seem a little unconventional, but its formula has been consistent through seven generations (and nearly three million units sold in the U.S. alone): sedan + big engine + sporty dynamics = 4DSC.
Under the hood, you'll find a 300-horsepower, 3.5L V6 engine packing 261lb-ft of torque. The Maxima remains front-wheel-drive and power still goes to the ground via a continuously-variable transmission.
The engine is also new. While it's based on the tried-and-true VQ architecture (and in fact carries the same VQ35DE nameplate as other 3.5L engines in the line), it has been thoroughly revised. The result is better fuel economy (22 mpg city, 30 highway and 25 combined) for the same power output and displacement.
Weight is down by 80lbs trim-for-trim over the outgoing model, for one, with high-strength steel and aluminum both making appearances. The Maxima SR is also equipped with Nissan's chassis dampener (previously found on the Nissan Z) for an improvement in NVH.
Inside and out
Nissan has long been castigated by the automotive media for its lackluster interior treatments. With the last few generations of its showcase cars, things have improved greatly in this department. The Maxima is an excellent example of Nissan's progress.
Ask the company's designers what they were going for, and they'll start rambling on about fighter jets. The take-away is far less nuanced: They were going for a cockpit rather than a cabin, and at that they have succeeded. The driver sits low in well-sculpted and comfortable seats. The center console sits at hip level and adds to the enveloping feeling Nissan was going for.
The dash and instrumentation are well laid-out and attractive, constructed of price-appropriate (read: not cheap-feeling) materials and intuitively organized. The steering wheel offerings (we drove both the SV and SR models) are large, both in diameter and rim girth, but not obtrusively so, offering both comfortable hand position and easily engaged control functions.
The SR's features a flat-bottomed steering wheel with available Alcantara inserts (also present on the SR's seating surfaces--quilted, no less) for contrast. Platinum models get the same diamond-quilted pattern on the seats, but it'll be leather rather than faux suede.
Outside, the Maxima is an even bigger departure from its predecessor. Following the Murano, Maxima has embraced Nissan's new "Energetic Flow" design philosophy, sporting the "V-Motion" front grille and floating roof greenhouse design which first debuted on the crossover.
Some carry-over themes from Nissan's existing designs can be found, especially in the head- and tail-lights, but the look is otherwise very faithful to the concept on which it was based. Nissan is particularly proud of a handful of exterior details. The diamond-cut 19" wheels available on SR models, for instance, are a favorite talking point, and discerning observers can locate "4DSC" badging in some of the exterior details.
Trim Level Breakdown
Nissan only offers the Maxima in trim levels, rather than offering a combination of trims and packages. The result is a relatively simple hierarchy of available models at the expense of customizability.
All Maximas come standard with a fairly robust suite of features and accessories, including an eight-way power driver's seat; four-way power passenger seat; an AM/FM/6CD audio system with MP3, RDS, HD Radio and Bluetooth capabilities; dual-zone climate control; projector headlamps; LED daytime running lights; fog lamps; aluminum alloy wheels; and a tilt/telescoping steering column. The base Maxima is the S, which includes all of the Maxima's standard features coupled with cloth seating surfaces.
The next rung up the latter is the Maxima SV, which adds heated outside mirrors with integrated LED turn signals; heated front seats; leather seating; power lumbar adjustment and a manual thigh extension for the driver's seat; and front and rear parking sensors.
Above the SV, the Maxima's trim levels diverge briefly. Since the car offers no sport package, Nissan selected the second-tier trim level as the foundation for the sporty offering in the Maxima lineup. As such, the SR and SL models are roughly equivalent in terms of available interior equipment, but differ in mission.
The SL model is the comfort-oriented option, including all SV features plus ambient LED lighting, active noise cancellation, active sound enhancement and a full suite of safety and security features (see below). The SL is the lowest trim to offer a sound system upgrade, featuring a Bose 11-speaker setup. The SL also includes a heated steering wheel.
SR models get a sport-tuned suspension; a flat-bottomed sport wheel with paddle shifters; the Yamaha chassis performance damper; an integrated dynamics control module with Active Ride Control, Active Trace Control and Active Engine Brake; premium Ascot leather with diamond-quilted Alcantara seat and steering wheel inserts; "Liquid Chrome" faced interior trim finishers and unique, 19" wheels with available summer tires (high-performance all-seasons are standard) and aluminum pedals.
The top of the Maxima hierarchy is the Platinum model. Platinum models include all features standard up through the SL trim (but not SR), with the addition of a two-driver memory feature for the driver's seat, quilted leather seating surfaces, wood-toned trim finishers, Nissan's "around-view" camera system, a power rear sunshade, NissanConnect services, rain-sensing wipers, auto-tilting side mirrors and upgraded steering wheel leather (similar to the SR model, but with leather rather than Alcantara inserts).
All Maximas come standard with front, side and curtain airbags, front and rear. Front seatbelts are equipped with pretensioners and load limiters. Child seat anchors (LATCH) are also standard. SL and above models come standard with blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning and emergency braking assist. Platinum models also include moving object detection and a driver attention monitoring system.
The Maxima offers a slightly sportier alternative to rivals such as the Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, Acura TLX and Lexus ES 350.