2019 Nissan Maxima SR: Perfectly Polaarizing

The Nissan Maxima isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine

What is it: The Nissan Maxima is the company’s sporty, midsize four-door sedan — something that might not sound long for life in a world dominated by crossovers. Powered by a V6 engine mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission, the Maxima sends all of its 300 hp to the front wheels. It’s slightly larger and sportier than the also-midsize Nissan Altima. 

Base Price: $40,425 As-Tested Price: $41,180

Highlights: The Nissan Maxima is a reasonably powerful front-wheel-drive sedan with plenty of space inside for people and stuff. The basic stats work alongside an aggressively styled shell, which got a slight styling update to freshen up the look for 2019. A new rear fascia and extra standard features make the Maxima a more compelling argument in the shrinking sedan space. 

Our Opinion: The Nissan Maxima is almost criminally underrated. If you’re looking for a front-wheel-drive plus-size “midsize” sedan, that’s a narrow scope. Now, add into the mix that you also want at least 300 hp and you’re looking at an army of one. Following the design language of Nissan’s top-dog GT-R, the gaping-mouth grille and sharp lines might be polarizing aesthetically, but that’s part of the Maxima’s charm to me.

The love-it-or-hate-it features don’t end with the styling: Nissan equipped the Maxima with an aging VQ-series V6 engine that’s mated to a CVT. While I can’t speak for durability, I can talk about hilariously fun performance. Combined with the 300 hp from the naturally aspirated six, the CVT works to move the Maxima along quickly and effortlessly with no shifting. Since the CVT is holding the VQ35 at its peak power, the feeling is akin to bringing a turbocharged engine up to its peak boost level and staying there until you hit a speed. The V6 doesn’t have a turbocharger, but the feeling of constant peak power does feel similar. The CVT experience is not as fun as rowing your own gears, but it’s a refreshing change from a sometimes-boring torque-converter automatics. I’m sure most of this is because the engine delivers enough horsepower and torque to make the CVT fun. Oh yeah, and expect torque steer: This is a 300-hp front-wheel-drive car, after all. 

The Maxima also might have the heaviest steering feel out of any of the midsize, full-size or even compact cars available today. Its hydraulic-electric power steering system still doesn’t give you much in terms of feedback, but you do get a sense of heft and accuracy through the wheel’s weight. While I like a heavier-than-average steering wheel weight, I can see some getting turned off by the effort required.

Of course, a car is more than just its driving dynamics — there are also creature comforts. The federally mandated backup camera feels like a closed-network security camera, and I experienced a little bit of lag while backing up. Not a deal-breaker, but odd. Other than that, the touchscreen media system is easy to navigate, and Apple CarPlay worked flawlessly. The seats are comfortable, and the driver-focused cockpit-style interior gives the driver a solid feeling of control. The seat material is nice, but some of the switchgear felt on the cheaper side.

With crossovers continuing to dominate the new-car space, cars like the Maxima will become more and more scarce. It has an aging drivetrain, polarizing looks and curious dynamics. I like it, and it’ll no doubt endear itself to a few other oddballs out there too. 

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