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Once upon a time, the Maxima sedan was billed as a "four-door sports car," offering a manual gearbox and sportier handling. But the 2014 Nissan Maxima is, for the most part, just a sleeker spin-off of its Altima family sedan (and the last-generation one at that), with a distinction that's based more on styling than performance. Today something more like "four-door coupe" might be closer to the truth.
The current Maxima chooses comfort of and refined driving feel over the ability to toss the car around turns. That's not a bad exchange, though, especially if you're looking for a car with flowing, unique design, an upscale interior and a long list of features.
Little has changed since the Maxima was redesigned in 2009, but this model has managed to maintain a fresh look despite rolling into its fifth year in 2014. Much of that can be credited to the fact that the Maxima doesn't really look like anything else on the road–with its low grille, tall rear haunches, Coke-bottle fender curves and large wheels, it looks more like a rear-drive sports car than the front-wheel drive sedan that it actually is. Inside, the control center will look familiar to Infiniti owners, and the Maxima's soft lines and finishes at least flirt with the edge of Nissan's more upscale offerings.
At the base level, the 2014 Nissan Maxima does really maximize the number of standard conveniences (like a power moonroof, power front seats, and Intelligent Key entry and starting), as well as optional extras. But if adding many of those extras, you should be aware that some of the most desirable ones come only by stepping up to the more expensive SV model. New for last year was an SV Value Package that adds nine-speaker Bose audio, satellite radio, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated outside mirrors. The Sport Package has also been enhanced with a seven-inch monitor, iPod/USB connectivity, a rearview monitor, and a climate-controlled driver's seat. A Dark Hyper Silver wheel finish (from last year's Limited Edition Package) was new as well.
A power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, keyless entry, an Intelligent Key entry and starting system, a six-disc changer, and steering-wheel audio controls are all standard, though, while a heated steering wheel and cooled front seats are among many options.
While the 2014 Maxima might not be an all-out sport sedan or sports car, it does perform smoothly and confidently, and the acceleration from its 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine has a strong, relaxed demeanor in ordinary driving, where it works well with the automatic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). There are available steering-wheel paddle shifters, as well as a manual sport mode for the CVT, and you can tap into a series of simulated gear ratios for high-performance driving. The letdown is that even with these, you don't get the level of control that enthusiasts might hope for (and the available manual gearbox that used to be a Maxima talking point has been history, for years).
Compared to most other front-wheel-drive sedans, the Maxima feels edgier and more fun to drive when the road turns tight and curvy. It's a sporty calibration, with a firm ride, yet at the same time it's supple enough to keep passengers content. The standard front seats are good, although the better-bolstered ones you get with the Sport Package will be a welcome upgrade to some. The back seat is officially good for three, but it's really just good for two adults and headroom can be a bit tight compared to other sedans this size. Interior detailing is superb and really luxury-caliber, with soft leather and carefully coordinated trims. But the Maxima might not meet all of family shoppers' requirements: While its feature set is strong for safety, 'acceptable' ratings in the IIHS roof strength test have kept the Maxima from the top tier.
- Firm yet smooth ride
- Snug, comfortable seats (Sport)
- Stylish interior
- Quiet cabin
- Steering and handling
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- Loaded, the price of a luxury-brand model
- CVT detracts from sportiness
- Tight rear headroom