Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Nissan Maxima

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Maximum: the most. Of course, the question here becomes, “The most of what, exactly?” When the Maxima nameplate debuted in the 1980s, it stood for more space and luxury than your average Nissan. When it changed from boxy to svelte in the late 1990s, a Maxima was sort of a poor man’s BMW 5 Series, with surprisingly vigorous pace to match the interior appointments. And now?

Somewhat surprisingly, given its do-everything mission statement, balance is what the Maxima is best at.

Simply put, the 2018 Nissan Maxima Platinum is the most Nissan sedan you can purchase at the present time. It has the most power, the most luxury, the most technology, and (theoretically) the most sporty handling. In the immortal words of the colossal Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, “I’ll have the lot. In a bucket.”

If that description doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, it shouldn’t. If there was one car that could do everything, someone would already have built it. You’d pick it up at The Car Store, ordering it up with a cheery “One car, please. Large, preferably.”

Instead, we’re able to pick out a flavour of car that best suits our needs. Perhaps we stretch for the caviar snob appeal of a leased Mercedes. Maybe we’d rather unwrap a butterscotch candy by buying a Toyota Avalon. Or perhaps a BBQ-sauce-doused Dodge Charger would be more to taste.

On the surface, the Maxima doesn’t appear to stick a focussed menu choice. Nissan both wants to cling on to the “four-door sports car” tagline it dreamed up for the previous-generation machine, yet also touts the smoothness of a V6 and CVT pairing, notes the reasonable highway fuel economy, promises a ride free of bumps, and points at a large suite of available technology. It’s the sort of thing Taco Bell does, where they wrap a taco in a burrito, stuff it into an enchilada, sprinkle it with fries, and then sew it up in a pizza.

At least the styling’s cohesive. The Maxima wears Nissan’s corporate look well, and is a little dialled-back compared to the Altima. I could do without the “floating” roof effect at the rear pillar – we are going to look back on this styling feature as the opera window of the 2010s era – but overall the Maxima is handsome and well proportioned.

However, as previously mentioned, having the Altima right there on the lot really doesn’t do the Maxima any favours. Not only does a top-tier Altima offer much of the same look as Nissan’s flagship sedan, it’s actually a little more spacious in the rear, and you can get all-wheel drive as an option.

But the Maxima’s now the only Nissan sedan with a V6 option (the top-level Altima, like the Honda Accord, is a turbo-four), which gives a bit of a clue as to its focus. This full-sized sedan is designed for a slightly older crowd, the kind that is looking for smoothness and balance. Somewhat surprisingly, given its do-everything mission statement, balance is what the Maxima is best at.

The interior is an example. While there are roomier sedans in the segment, the Maxima does an excellent job of marrying a driver-centric feeling with plenty of space. Headroom and legroom are generous, there’s adjustable thigh support, and the quilted-look seats are very comfortable – they’re also both heated and cooled in the Platinum model. However, the cabin’s a little tighter laterally. It wasn’t a problem for me, but did make the Maxima’s interior feel a bit more cockpit-like, yet comfortable.

The fake wood trim is pretty ho-hum, and wouldn’t fool a badly taxidermied beaver. Otherwise, though, the Maxima’s unpretentious interior trimmings are perfectly acceptable. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is a bit sporty. The leather padding around the centre console looks and feels nice. The plastics used are just fine.

Likewise the Maxima’s infotainment, which is built around a 8.0-inch touchscreen. While it’s not the quickest or flashiest system out there, it was perfectly intuitive to navigate through, fitted with additional manual knobs for tuning and volume, and had graphics that were up to par. Apple CarPlay worked perfectly for connecting up a smartphone for podcasts, and the navigation functions were easy to use.

The 360-degree camera is an indispensable feature, although it should perhaps be standard for the Maxima, considering it’s an option on everything down to a Kicks. Not that the Maxima is particularly difficult to park, just that it’s a bit of a unique feature in the segment. The 11-speaker Bose stereo is impressive, and features active noise cancellation for an even quieter cabin.

Safety equipment is fairly comprehensive, with a forward collision warning and emergency automated braking as standard. As is becoming usual, this is paired with automated cruise control, though the Maxima doesn’t offer lane-departure warnings, nor lane-keep assist.

Rear-seat passengers had a reasonable amount of comfort, but the Maxima does feel built for those who aren’t going to often be carrying small passengers. A middle-seat rear passenger will have to deal with a surprisingly large bump in the floor, which is odd to find in a car that doesn’t offer all-wheel-drive. The trunk, at 405 L, is big enough for the segment, but smaller than an Altima’s.

Overall, the Maxima is slightly nicer feeling than its stablemate, but you really have to want that V6. Well, then, let’s take a look at it: displacing 3.5L, Nissan’s stalwart six-cylinder makes a nice even 300 hp, and 261 lb-ft of peak torque.

It’s married to a CVT, which is surely a disappointment to the enthusiasts in the audience. It shouldn’t be, though, especially if you ignore Nissan’s “four-door sports car” nonsense and zero in on the Maxima’s pleasing smoothness. Combined with a reasonably torquey six, forward acceleration in the Maxima is brisk but creamy, with the CVT enhancing the experience instead of hamstringing it. The CVT also irons out the fuel economy a bit, with a reasonable mixed mileage consumption under 10.0 L/100 km.

As for handling, don’t expect much steering feedback, flat-bottomed wheel or not. Torque steer is present, but nicely damped, and the steering is somewhat too overboosted to be sporty. However, the Maxima’s roll and motions are well-controlled, and it’s pleasing enough in the corners. The SR version features a more focussed sport tune to the suspension, but I’m not convinced it’s required.

If, for instance, you were on a long road trip and happened upon a more winding section linking two highways, the Maxima would be pleasing on both the twisties and the interstates. It’s so quiet that Nissan has chosen to pipe in some engine noise when you’re dipping into the power. If you can look past the sound’s artificial source, the Maxima actually sounds good when provoked.

But provoking is not what the Maxima does best. Without wishing to be insulting, it’s something of a background car. It doesn’t offer badge appeal or any particular standout feature apart from, perhaps, its V6. Yet it does offer a comfortable and pleasant drive, driving dynamics that aren’t marshmallowy, and a host of features to make the drive comfortable and undemanding.

Instead of being the most in any particular area, the Maxima is instead the most balanced. It succeeds in the very difficult assignment of having to do several contrasting jobs well, and while it is more a jack-of-all-trades than a master at any particular task, it’s still a solid choice. As discounts roll in to clear out inventory for the new 2019 model, buying a Maxima should indeed be getting you the most for your money.

Engine Displacement 3.5L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 300 hp @ 6,100 rpm
Peak Torque 261 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy 11.1/7.8/9.6 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 405 L
Model Tested 2018 Nissan Maxima Platinum
Base Price $44,150
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $46,345
Optional Equipment
$300 – Pearl Paint $300