New & Used Nissan Maxima: In Depth
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The Maxima has been a staple in the Nissan lineup since the Datsun days. It was originally a sporty rear-drive four-door, later taking up the "four-door sports car" title for the brand, and has now settled into a role as the larger, more luxurious alternative to the Altima family sedan. Although it somewhat defies categorization, today's Maxima is best suited to compete with entry-luxury cars like the Acura TLX, Buick LaCrosse, and Lincoln MKZ. A new Maxima is on the way for 2016, and with it Nissan is once again touting the Four-Door Sports Car ideology.
Formerly sourced from Japan, the Nissan Maxima is now built alongside the mechanically similar Altima sedan at the company's sprawling Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant.
The Maxima has been on the U.S. market for more than 30 years. Now in its eighth generation, it remains at the top of the Nissan sedan lineup, as it has been since the company switched its name from Datsun to Nissan. If you want a larger car from the company, you'll have to step up into the Infiniti brand.
From 1976 to 1980, the Datsun 810 preceded the Maxima in all but name in the U.S., with an in-line six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. The second generation (1981–1984) maintained the same specs, but adopted the Maxima badge worldwide and midway through its life cycle switched to the Nissan nameplate.
For the latest information, including specs and related news, see our 2014 Nissan Maxima review.
The third-generation Maxima, which was on sale from 1985 through 1988, brought about big changes for the model. The layout switched to front-wheel drive, while the styling adopted a very square design theme. The Maxima was further differentiated from the smaller Stanza with high-tech gear like a sonar-based adaptive suspension that could read the road and adjust the dampers accordingly. The third-generation Maxima came with a 3.0-liter V-6 and either a manual or automatic transmission. This was also the last generation to be available as a wagon.
The "four-door sports car" era of the Maxima began with the fourth-generation model, which was sold from 1989 through 1994. This version of the sedan regularly won multi-car comparison tests thanks to nimble handling from an independent suspension, and a V-6 engine shared with 300ZX sports car. An SE edition tightened handling even more, and added touches like white-faced gauges to distinguish it from base versions. The same fundamentals were reworked for the 1995–1999 Maxima, but the styling was softened and the rear suspension was made simpler, revoking some of its sporty credentials, though it still was offered with a manual transmission. The latter fifth-generation Maxima was sold, with some trim changes, as the Infiniti I30. In the sixth generation, the body was redesigned again and in due course, it gained a new 3.5-liter V-6 with 255 horsepower, as well as a six-speed manual option.
Dramatic change came to the Maxima in the two most recent generations. The seventh-generation car, sold from 2004 through 2008, kicked off production in the U.S. Styling was rebooted to match the performance of its 265-hp V-6 and manual transmission, but it did have some controversial graphic notes, mostly on its eggcrate grille. This Maxima shared its architecture with the Nissan Altima, which had grown to the size of the Maxima in most interior dimensions. A mid-cycle refresh in 2007 left the Maxima without its manual transmission option, while Nissan fitted a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) in place of a torque-converter automatic. Front-end styling grew more conventional, and the Maxima piled on luxury features like pushbutton start and a distinct interior.
The eighth-generation Maxima was introduced as a 2009 model. Its muscular styling was more successful at distinguishing it from the Altima, and the interior design had its own cues, too--there was an unusual low cowl, with a band of trim outlining the base of the windshield. That Maxima's 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 offered extremely smooth acceleration, and while it was no manual replacement, the CVT provided a sport mode and good fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. The Maxima still had one of the sportiest suspension calibrations for a front-wheel-drive sedan, and a firm yet supple ride, allowing good handling response without sacrificing comfort. It was roomy in front, but the back seat could feel tight, especially compared with the Altima.
The last Maxima's crash ratings fell as testing standards were made tougher while the model remained largely unchanged. The usual safety features were present, including front side and curtain airbags, active head restraints, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. Standard items also included steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, proximity key with pushbutton start, and a power moonroof.
This eighth-generation Maxima saw very few changes over the past several years. The 2010 model year brought a new Sport package with a sportier suspension tune, 19-inch wheels, paddle shifters for the transmission, unique front seats, and some other changes. A Special Edition package launched for 2012 included a rear spoiler, smoked lighting lenses, unique silver-painted wheels, and other aesthetic tweaks along with HID headlights.
Nissan extended the 2014 model year for the Maxima and skipped the 2015 model year as it prepared for a new sedan to take over the name in its lineup. The brand showed a Maxima concept sedan at the 2014 Detroit auto show, and is reaching into its past to rekindle the Maxima's sporty reputation by restoring a 1996 sedan it bought on Craigslist.
The new Maxima
Nissan used an unorthodox method to reveal the next Maxima, due for 2016, by featuring it at the end of its 2015 Super Bowl commercial. The new model has a much more sleek design—it's fronted by a version of the new corporate grille, the A-pillar is blacked out, and the roof appears somewhat cantilevered as an homage to the GT-R supercar. The Maxima once again promises a return to its 4-Door Sports Car roots.
The Maxima once again uses a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and continuously variable transmission—not necessarily the stuff of sports cars, but Nissan does say the 300-hp engine benefits from 60 percent new parts. The suspension has been overhauled, however, and there will be a stiffer SR setup available that also comes with a chassis damper to reduce vibration induced by the stiffer setup, along with an Integrated Dynamic Control Module (IDM) that lets the driver tune the tune certain chassis systems to their liking. The SR is also not available with the panoramic sunroof offered on other models, so as to keep its center of gravity lower. The car also offers something called Active Ride Control, which uses brake applications, not any kind of fancy dampers, to keep the car settled on lumpy roads. There are many other technical advancements, including a new infotainment system and interface.