The Nissan Maxima was a hero car. It hasn’t changed much but the competition has impressive powers
I love comic book superheroes, especially from the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man is my favourite and has been for more than 30 years. 30 years ago, the Nissan Maxima, the original 4-door sports car (4DSC) was my automotive Spider-Man. When Spidey fought off Dr. Octopus and the Green Goblin, he could never lose. Things got complicated for the web-head when Venom and Carnage arrived. Then, the tables completely turned.
Back in the late 80s, the Nissan Maxima was my hero sedan. It had the styling, the performance, and the charisma to take all on. As the years rolled on, new foes like the Pontiac G8 and old enemies like the Toyota Avalon began making life very difficult for the Maxima. Then, stronger competition arose.
Recently, Spider-Man’s not done well against the likes of Thanos and Apocalypse. Likewise, the Nissan Maxima’s suffered at the hand of the Kia Stinger, and old foes such as the Avalon and the Dodge Charger. Their powers have overwhelmed the Max.
I apologize for the parallel with superheroes and villains but the point is that the Nissan Maxima has only barely evolved since its complete rebirth in the 80s. Meanwhile, its competition grew in strength through various methods including platforms, powertrains and design.
So much love for the 3.5-litre V6
Now, as far as powertrains are concerned, the Maxima cannot be flawed for its magnificent VQ35 3.5-litre V6. The truth about the 3.5-litre is that it is gifted, energetic, and makes wonderous noises.
The associated Xtronic CVT transmission is good and provides seven pre-programmed gear ratios. It would never an enthusiast first choice but it manages to be of great service to the V6 by keeping revs in the juiciest parts of the available power. The Nissan Maxima is quick off the line but it does have one fatal flaw. It is such a monumental defect that it is the main reason why the car is quite nearly completely shunned.
FWD and torque steer
The 2020 Nissan Maxima is front-wheel drive only and thus, suffers from catastrophic torque steer. Even under mild acceleration, constant corrections are needed to keep the Max headed straight. Under harder throttle input, it’s terrible. No car in 2019/2020, in this price range, with this clout, styling and content should behave this way. The Toyota Avalon is configured the exact same way and there’s barely a hint of torque steer under hard acceleration.
Relatedly, the fact that it’s a FWD sports-luxury car takes away from its standing. This is an old issue obviously but with the exception of the Toyota (and the Kia Cadenza…), all of the Maxima’s surviving rivals are AWD or RWD.
Maybe not the SR
The SR trim is the sportiest of the Maxima’s three editions. Included with the SR are a sport-tuned suspension, an ascot-leather and alcantara interior, paddle shifters and on the outside, black 19-inch wheels and a spoiler.
For all reasons save for the suspension, the SR is cool. The sport-tune includes stiffer steel springs which make for a grainy driving experience. Sure, the Maxima handles very well but the compromise is unnecessary. I suspect that the SL and Platinum provide a more refined ride without any significant drop in road-holding abilities.
To be honest, I have a hard time making out the differences between the Maxima and the new Altima. From all distance other than up close, I regularly mistake one for the other.
This is to the Nissan Altima’s benefit but not so for the more premium Maxima. Both cars have similar profiles, and character lines including the floating-roof “illusion.” Furthermore, the Altima’s cabin benefits from a more modern presentation. The Maxima’s interior, dashboard and all, is still contemporary but there’s a clear gap in generations when both are compared. What’s more, the Altima, as we know, is available with AWD.
It is obvious that Nissan poured far more resources and energy into the new Altima but I think the Maxima deserved better. Somewhere along the line, Nissan should have transformed “Maxima” into an Altima trim with AWD, a turbocharged engine and all the other bits expected from the Max. No more shame would have come to the name “Maxima.”
Priced well, but not in the game
At $41,140, the 2020 Nissan Maxima SL is loaded with an 8-inch screen, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bose audio, heated seats and steering wheel, power seats, intelligent cruise control and more. The SR goes for $43,490 while the Platinum is priced at $45,900.
Consider that a 2020 Nissan Altima Platinum AWD, with similar features as found in the Maxima, goes for $35,098. It doesn’t have the same level of power and interior materials but the price jump is still $10,000. As well, a base 2019 Infiniti Q50 3.0T Luxe AWD starts at $44,995 and for fun, a new BMW 330i xDrive starts at $49,000.
I could go on and on ($47,995 for the VW Arteon) but the facts are that the 2020 Nissan Maxima has little going for it. Unlike Spider-Man, who always triumphs in the end, the Nissan Maxima will not. In fact, it’s more likely to be scratched from Nissan’s lineup than to receive a whole new lease on life with more powers such as AWD, a better chassis tune and character. This is sad. No one likes to see their hero die.
And yet, I think back to the Maxima with warm feelings – I still like the car very much. Perhaps it’s not too late to save it! Let’s bet that the Nissan IMs concept will take the Maxima name.