The Maxima is an anomaly. Certainly there are other near full-size front-wheel drive mainstream branded sedans on the market vying for our attention, but the Maxima gets closest to looking and feeling like it comes from a premium marque, and it’s one of the sportiest in this category as well.
The near full-size mainstream family/business sedan category in question has been shrinking over the years too. It wasn’t so long ago that the Maxima was fighting it out against credible competition from Kia and its Cadenza, Hyundai and its Azera and Genesis (the latter now the much pricier G80 within the Genesis luxury brand), plus Pontiac and its G8, while Ford’s Taurus is already slated for cancellation without replacement, and rumour has it the Chrysler 300 will be gone for good in 2020. What does that mean for the Dodge Charger? And will the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Impala follow?
Plenty of unanswered questions regarding the fate of such storied nameplates remain, but like this Maxima the recently redesigned Toyota Avalon continues on undaunted as archrival number one, while Kia recently showed up with the sporty Stinger to lure Maxima SR buyers away from the Nissan fold.
The Avalon arrived in the mid-‘90s as a replacement for the Cressida that was preceded by the Crown, while the Maxima has been named the same since it was introduced way back in 1981, the year I graduated from high school. That original car looks a lot older than I feel, but the new one has legs that could run rings around my spindly toothpicks despite my daily exercise routine.
My tester this time around was in full-load Platinum trim, which means that an updated review of the sportiest Maxima SR will have to wait for some time in the future. I prefer the more luxurious version anyway, as it delivers plenty of performance with a more pampering suspension setup. Unless they’ve modified the SR’s suspension tuning I must admit to finding it a bit too firm, but the Platinum is just right and the performance all-round just great.
Let’s be reasonable. No serious performance-driving enthusiast would consider a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for engaging gears, even with the SR’s standard paddle shifters. No, CVTs are most enjoyable when revs are kept low and smooth, linear acceleration is the objective. When used like this the Maxima is a dream, while it still has the chops to handle curves with a high level of athleticism.
Of course the suspension is fully independent with the usual MacPherson struts up front and multi-link design in the rear, while the Platinum uses the same machine-finished 18-inch alloys within 245/45 V-rated all-season tires as the base model, which are better for ride quality than the SR’s 245/40 19s.
The standard 3.5-litre V6 has made the same 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque for years, and no one is complaining, as it’s more than adequate. In fact, it pulls strong and matches the aforementioned CVT well, driving the front wheels as per the norm in this class.
The Maxima shines even more in exterior and interior design and execution. Its outward styling is dramatic to say the least, even looking fresh and alluring after three and a half years of availability. This model arrived in April of 2015 as a 2016 model, and therefore changes haven’t been excessive.
A new base S model was introduced last year and wasn’t accepted in our “I want it all” market, so it was unceremoniously dropped after a single year. This said Nissan took the opposite approach for 2018 by elevating the base price by $2,600, although they more than matched that increased MSRP with some important new standard content including automatic high beams and predictive forward collision warning with autonomous forward emergency braking, allowing for an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating with its optional LED headlights (it actually had a Top Safety Pick + rating last year when all of the just noted advanced driver assistive kit was added, but the IIHS keeps moving the bar), while the infotainment system now includes standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
It wasn’t as if the previous model year was lacking in standard equipment either, with 2018 base SV trim carrying forward with standard auto on/off halogen projector headlamps, LED DRLs, fog lamps, LED turn signals integrated into the side mirror caps, signature LED taillights, dual chromed tailpipes, remote start linked to Intelligent Climate Control, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton start, heatable powered side mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, overhead sunglasses storage, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, front and rear parking sensors, a heatable leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic multifunction sport steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a 7.0-inch primary gauge display, cruise control, micro-filtered dual-zone automatic climate control, a large 8.0-inch infotainment display, navigation with detailed mapping, voice recognition, hands-free text messaging assistant, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, eight-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with an aux plug, two USB ports, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, and RDS, plus heatable front seats, leather upholstery, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar and manual extendable thigh support, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, and lastly all the active and passive safety features, all for $36,990 plus freight and dealer fees.
The next grade of trim is dubbed SL, and for $39,690 includes everything in base trim plus a dual-panel powered panoramic moonroof, adjustable ambient LED interior lighting, adaptive cruise control, active noise cancellation, active sound enhancement, 11-speaker Bose audio, blindspot warning with rear cross traffic alert, and more.
I’m going to leave the $41,890 SR model and its sport-oriented features for another review as only LED low beam headlamps and ventilated front seats transfer over to the top-line Platinum trimmed model I tested, the rest of its equipment being totally exclusive including the 19-inch alloys and sport suspension noted earlier, plus items like aluminum sport pedals, unique diamond-patterned Liquid Chrome inlays, a special Ascot leather and suede-like Alcantara flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, plus the same material used for the upholstery.
Top-line Platinum trim boasts the two features just noted, everything from the base SV and mid-grade SL models, plus mahogany wood-tone faceted inlays, a premium Ascot leather-wrapped flat-bottomed sport steering wheel (sans Alcantara), perforated diamond-quilted Ascot leather seats, a front passenger’s powered seat lifter, an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, reverse tilting for both side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, memory for the driver’s seat, the side mirrors and the powered steering column, an Around View parking monitor with Moving Object Detection (MOD), NissanConnect Services powered by SiriusXM, Intelligent Driver Alertness that monitors a number of parameters in order to figure out if you’re getting tired and may need a break, a powered sunshade for the rear window, and more for $44,150 (find all 2018 Nissan Maxima pricing, plus detailed rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands at CarCostCanada).
It all comes in an absolutely gorgeous cabin with more padded, quilted and perforated contrast-stitched leather than you’ll likely see this side of a Bentley, not to mention enough knurled metal detailing to make you think you’re at the wheel of something classic and British. Of course, from its stunning semi-digital instrumentation, superbly functional and graphically brilliant infotainment touchscreen, excellent audio reproduction, and top-notch driving dynamics you’ll know you’re aboard something wholly modern, not to mention ideally reliable, while the Maxima is wonderfully comfortable from front to commodious back too. What’s more, the 405-litre (14.3 cubic-foot) trunk is more than adequately sized, with 60/40-split rear seatbacks for expanding its usefulness.
Excepting colours, with metallics costing $135 and pearl tones, like my tester’s stunning Deep Blue Pearl, adding $300, plus the choice of Camel or Cashmere Beige leather instead of the usual Charcoal black with SR and Platinum models respectively, all trims come fully featured with no options or packages available, but take note that Nissan provides a bevy of dealer-installed accessories from exterior aerodynamics components to interior trim upgrades, not to mention the usual protective and cargo carrying items.
Of importance, Nissan was offering a cash purchase discount of $5,500 at the time of writing, or alternatively lease discounts of $1,500 with 2.9-percent interest and a $264 per semi-monthly payment, making this a great time to purchase a new Maxima.
Then again the 2019 Maxima will be the first to feature all-wheel drive, following in the tracks of the all-new 2019 Altima that makes it standard in Canada, while the larger model’s fresh new face, said to be even more dramatic than the car it replaces, should make its first appearance at the Los Angeles auto show at the close of next month. You choose, the current version at a discount or the next-generation at, well, less of a discount.
Either way you should be well served, as the Maxima delivers one of the most dynamic designs, most attractive high-quality interiors, and sportiest demeanors in its class.