Nissan’s Maxima SR
A Little Less Sport, a Bit More Luxury
Back in the early 1980’s, I helped a friend acquire a new sports sedan. Back then, an obvious choice might be BMW’s 320i but the Bimmer was a bit more money ($13,500 vs $11,000) and expensive to service. He loved his Datsun 240Z but with a baby on the way it was time for a family-sized car.
Fun with Four Doors
Back then, not too many automakers offered much amusement in the sedan category, but after a bit of searching, we found just the right solution. Datsun, the same company that built the sports car he loved, had launched the Maxima, a trim sedan with a Z-like, smooth, inline six-cylinder engine, a five-speed manual gearbox and independent rear suspension. He enjoyed years of fun in that car.
Over the years, Datsun changed to its corporate name to Nissan and has a whole new lineup of cars and trucks, but the Maxima model is still in the portfolio, topping its sedan offerings. Today’s Maxima is positioned as a stylish, premium alternative to Nissan’s Altima model. Both are mid-size, differentiated primarily by engine offerings. All Maxima models come with Nissan’s 3.5-liter, 300HP V6 while Altima buyers choose from two I-4 candidates, a standard 2.5-liter, 188HP engine or a turbocharged 2.0-liter that sports 248 horses.
Maxima models are only available in front-wheel-drive with a CVT transmission that Nissan calls Xtronic and in our SR trim, had shift paddles behind the steering wheel’s 9 and 3 positions. They’ve even created what’s labeled D-step shifting logic to provide “rapid shifts” during full throttle exploits. And to assure that the driver is properly enthused with these sporty CVT attributes, an Active Sound Enhancement scheme can bring a bit of engine zip into the otherwise quiet cabin.
During normal driving, the kind we do most often, the Maxima SR comportes itself much like what one would expect from a sedan with a mid-$40-grand MSRP. Steering inputs are reasonably crisp and the suspension is firm without punishing occupants. The 300-horses pull the Maxima with relative ease and more power without an all-wheel or rear-wheel drive system wouldn’t be of much benefit. But despite Nissan’s imaginative use of technology to create sports sedan attributes, it’s not the most fun car to drive with enthusiasm.
The Maxima’s sculptured bodywork and black trim treatment set it reasonably apart from the volume Altima, especially with our SR wheel and tire package. The cockpit is driver-oriented and the soft leather seats have quilted inserts for a nice luxury touch. And that feeling is enhanced with contrasting stitching throughout the cabin.
Although sedan sales have suffered from buyers choosing SUVs, the Maxima has held up pretty well, a bit better than Toyota’s Avalon. That speaks well for the model strength, but it may be tough to keep a niche product like this in a future portfolio. Other sports sedans in this price range to consider are the Infiniti Q50, Acura TLX, Buick Regal Sportback and for rip-snorting fun, the Dodge Charger SRT.
THE FINE PRINT
2020 Nissan Maxima SR
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 3.5-liter V6
HORSEPOWER: 300 @ 6,400-RPM
TORQUE: 281 lb.ft. @ 4,400-RPM
BASE PRICE: $41,450
AS TESTED: $44,030
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 20-city, 30-highway, 24-combined