Nissan Maxima

Debut: 2015
Maker: Nissan
Predecessor: Maxima (2008)

 Published on 3 Jul 2015 All rights reserved. 

The outgoing Maxima had an embarrassing market positioning. It sat above the mainstream Altima on price chart, but it shared the Altima platform and its 2775 mm wheelbase, so it was no more spacious. Neither was it packed with luxury like Lexus ES or any European junior executive cars. To distinguish itself from the mainstream, Nissan tried to promote a sporty image. Its marketing guys called it a “4-door sports car”. Unfortunately, with the exception of a powerful V6 nothing supported that claim. It was front-wheel-drive, without AWD option, and its transmission was a CVT. Moreover, it didn’t look like a 4-door sports car at all, lacking the sleek proportion of, say, Mercedes CLS.

The last problem is successfully addressed by the new Maxima. This might be the most radical design of its class. Its bold “V-motion” front grille and floating roof with blackened pillars make it like a 4-door GT-R. Its broad shoulders and curvy crease lines show strong sporty flavors, while steeply raked windscreen and rear window contribute to a shape more akin to coupes than sedans. It looks incredibly low for a sedan, but it is actually not that low. Jaguar XE and BMW 3-Series are both lower than it, while Mazda 6 is only 15 mm taller. The high waist line and shallow side glass are reasons for this false perception. The large-diameter wheels and long overhangs also help the visual effect. No matter what reasons, the new Maxima is head-turning on the road. It is not very elegant though.

Inside, the packaging is more ordinary. Again the car tries to convince you to believe the claim of “4-door sports car” with a flat-bottom steering wheel, heavily bolstered front seats and a center console slightly oriented to the driver. The shallow windows have similar effect. However, there is no denying that the dashboard architecture is similar to those of any front-wheel-drive mid-size sedans. The switch gears are made of ordinary plastics. Even with stitched leather upholstery on top trim, the Maxima cabin doesn’t look or feel especially expensive.

Nevertheless, it should be practical and easy to use. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Controls are placed ergonormically for easy reach. The infotainment touch screen supports swiping and pinching like mobile phones. While visibility is inevitably hampered by shallow windows, rear seat access and headroom are not too much compromised by the sloping roof line. Most adults will find the rear seats spacious enough, at least on the two outer seats.

The cabin is also a pretty quiet place, thanks to the use of acoustic laminated glass and a noise cancelling system supplied by Bose. Road noise is well insulated from the cabin, a big improvement from the old car.

Part of this enhanced refinement is down to the chassis. It is 25 percent stiffer torsionally than the old car yet kerb weight is reduced by 37 kg, thanks to the use of high-strength steel. Unfortunately, the basic platform is again supplied by Altima, which is built alongside the Maxima at Tennessee, USA. In other words, FWD and CVT are its core genes. It also shares the Altima’s suspensions of struts up front and multi-link rear. Unlike those of premium cars, these suspensions are made of steel, and they lack adaptive dampers. The only suspension upgrade it gets is a set of ZF Sachs monotube dampers. Sportier trim SR adds stiffness to the springs, dampers and front anti-roll bar, plus larger 19-inch wheels on 245/40R19 tires. Ride quality on this trim is firm but not uncomfortable. The car also resists roll very well in corner. However, when being pushed, it exhibits the same weakness as most front-wheel-drive family cars, i.e. understeer. For a car this big, its road manner is tidy. Its brakes are trustworthy. Just don’t call it a 4-door sports car.

What if you press the newly added Sport mode button? The powertrain will get more responsive, but the electrical power steering will become artificially heavy, actually downgrading the driving experience. It is better to forget the sportscar claim and use the Maxima like regular family cars.

The Maxima offers plenty of power, i.e. 300 horsepower from the VQ35DE V6. This motor sounds familiar, though Nissan claims 60 percent of its parts are new. They just can’t explain why these 60 percent parts do not include modern features like direct injection, on-demand water/oil pumps, cylinder deactivation or automatic start/stop. Perhaps they prefer a cheaper way to save fuel – CVT. The latest Xtronic CVT offers a wider ratio spread, lower friction lubrication oil and a smaller pump to improve efficiency. Its improved shift patterns can pretend to be a 7-speed automated manual, and it will do so once you engaged the throttle beyond one and a half quarter. The frustrating rubberband effect is much reduced as a result. However, the artificial shift is slow, lacking the urgency of a real automatic. It is probably the best CVT on the market, but still worse than any proper autos or dual-clutches.

In short, the new Maxima is the sportiest looking family car we have ever seen, but it lacks sporty dynamics to match, no matter powertrain or chassis. This mismatch raises questions over its market appeal. What kind of drivers will buy it? Neither keen drivers nor family men/women. It is likely to continue the existing role as a niche choice.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Maxima 3.5SR
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4897 / 1860 / 1435 mm
2776 mm
V6, 60-degree
3498 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT
300 hp
261 lbft
F: strut
R: multi-link
1616 kg

Performance tested by: *C&D

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