New & Used Nissan Maxima: In Depth
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The Nissan Maxima was Nissan's original "four-door sports car"--at least, in was in its distant past. More an upscale alternative to the family four-door Altima, the Maxima is now a bridge between mainstream and luxury, a competitor for cars like the Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln MKZ, and Acura TLX.
Formerly built in Japan, the Nissan Maxima is now built alongside the mechanically similar Nissan Altima 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.From 1976-1980 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.
The third-generation Maxima sharpened its image with a radically squared-off body. Sold from 1985 to 1988, it switched to front-wheel drive and carried some high-tech features to distinguish it from the smaller Stanza, including a suspension that self-adjusted based on road conditions. it also came in a wagon version--and offered a manual transmission, an unusual option in its class.
In its fourth generation, from 1989-1994, the "four-door sports car" era of the Maxima began. This version of the sedan regularly won best-of 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 2004-2008, 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 midcycle refresh in 2007 left the Maxima without its manual transmission option, while Nissan fitted a new continuously variable transmission (CVT). Front-end styling grew more conventional, and the Maxima piled on luxury features like pushbutton start and a distinct interior.
The most recent Maxima was introduced as a 2009 model. The muscular styling has been more successful at distinguishing it from the Altima, and the interior design has its own cues, too--there's an unusual low cowl, with a band of trim outlining the base of the windshield. The Maxima's new 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 offers extremely smooth acceleration, and while it's no manual, the CVT provides a sport mode and good fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. The Maxima still has 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's roomy in front, but the back seat can feel tight, especially compared with the Altima.
Crash-test scores for the current Maxima have suffered as the testing agencies have toughened old tests and added new ones. Electronic stability control is now standard, as are front side airbags, side curtain bags, active front headrests, and anti-lock brakes. Other standard features include a power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, an Intelligent Key entry and starting system, Bluetooth, and steering-wheel audio controls.
The Maxima has been carried over several model years with only a few tweaks to its features and options. A new Sport package for the 2010 model year brought firmer suspension tuning, larger 19-inch wheels, paddle shifters, upgraded front seats, and a host of other upgrades, while a Special Edition package introduced in 2012 combined HID headlamps, smoked lenses, Dark Hyper Silver wheels, a rear spoiler, and other appearance extras.
Nissan is extending the 2014 model year for the Maxima, and skipping the 2015 model year as it prepares for a new sedan to take over the name in its lineup. It 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.