- Daring styling
- Comfortable interior
- Superlative safety record
- Strong V-6 engine
- Taut feel
- Not exactly thrilling to drive
- Less-than-refined powertrain
- Styling not for everyone
- More cramped than size suggests
The 2018 Nissan Maxima is a zippier alternative to more traditional full-size cars, but we stop short of calling it a real sports sedan.
The 2018 Nissan Maxima is a large sports sedan with a roomy interior, but its definition of performance is more about racy styling than it is about corner carving.
It’s more fun to drive than most large sedans and the Maxima has more personality than its more staid rivals. It has one of the highest safety ratings you’ll find, meaning it scores 7.1 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2018 Maxima adds Android Auto to its Apple CarPlay-enabled infotainment system, swaps out its grille for a new design, and sees the addition of Carnelian Red to the color palette.
The Maxima is available in S, SV, SL, SR, and Platinum trim levels—an unusually high number of configurations. All share a 300-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). That’s not exactly a recipe for thrilling performance, but the Maxima accelerates quickly, albeit with some unnecessary gruffness underhood. High-effort steering helps the Maxima feel decidedly more athletic than rivals such as the Toyota Avalon, but our staff is mixed on the steering’s lack of road feedback and its occasionally springy nature.
Underneath its swoopy styling, the Maxima shares much of its architecture with Nissan’s smaller Altima mid-size sedan. You’d think that would result in a roomier cabin, but the Maxima prioritizes deep, thickly padded bucket-style seats for outboard passengers and the low roofline makes the rear feel even tighter. A driver-oriented dashboard provides a sporty feel and interior materials range from above average to downright decadent in the range-topping Maxima Platinum.
The entry-level Maxima S doesn’t quite deliver on the luxury mission with its cloth upholstery, but it comes standard with navigation and remote engine start. Maxima SVs throw in proper leather hides and a multi-adjustable driver’s seat with thigh support that makes them feel a little more special for not too much more cash. If you’re sold on Nissan’s “four-door sports car” marketing line, the Maxima SR’s firmer suspension, retuned brakes, and available summer tires turn it into a convincing corner carver.
The Maxima is available with a wide range of safety tech and it has performed exceptionally well in crash-testing. All trim levels come standard with automatic emergency braking, still a rarity among big four-doors.
Given its underhood power and sport-tuned transmission, the Maxima’s 25 mpg combined makes it fairly frugal, although Nissan recommends premium unleaded fuel.
2018 Nissan Maxima
There’s no denying that the 2018 Nissan Maxima stands out from the crowd.
The 2018 Nissan Maxima’s looks are daring and dramatic, if not altogether cohesive. We’ve given it points above average for both its exterior and interior, bringing it to a 7 out of 10 here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
It lacks the clean, finished look of, say, the Chevrolet Impala, but the 2018 Maxima looks like no other large four-door sedan and it shares no styling elements with the related Nissan Altima.
This year, a revised grille design cleans things up in front, but you’ll probably have to park it next to last year’s Maxima to spot the differences. From the front, the Maxima’s roof appears to float above the rest of the car thanks to black pillars. A dainty chrome line runs just below the glass to break up the illusion of girth, but there’s no denying that the Maxima prioritizes voluptuousness over the lithe approach generally associated with sports cars.
The Maxima doesn’t hide its nearly 193-inch overall length; if anything, it flaunts its curvy hips that give way to an ordinary tail end. Maxima SR trims have more overt sporty-looking touches like a rear spoiler and 19-inch (versus 18-inch) alloy wheels. A Midnight Edition package available on the Maxima SR blacks out the wheels and certain exterior touches, if that’s your thing.
Inside, the Maxima differs even more from the workaday Altima. Its dashboard cants aggressively toward the driver like an old Saab—albeit one with a modern, 8.0-inch infotainment system. The high center console intrudes more here than in most big sedans. With a dark-finish interior, the Maxima can feel downright tight inside—even though it’s still fairly roomy.
Hints of metallic and wood-tone trim are scattered about the cabin and, depending on the trim level, a choice of light tan, brown, and black hues are on offer in either fabric, leather, or synthetic suede upholsteries.
2018 Nissan Maxima
The way the 2018 Nissan Maxima defines “sporty” is a little different than we do.
It’s true that the 2018 Nissan Maxima delivers a sportier feel than we’ve come to expect from big sedans, but this four-door’s real virtues are its comfortable ride and strong, if unrefined, V-6 engine.
We’ve rated it at 6 out of 10 for its performance, awarding an extra point for its acceleration and another for its ride quality, but dialing one back for a transmission that leaves things feeling unsettled (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2018 Maxima comes in one basic configuration: front-wheel drive, continuously variable transmission (CVT), and 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. The big V-6 delivers smooth acceleration, but finding power requires a deep stab at the throttle and results in the CVT keeping revs high. The sound from underhood is relatively muffled, but the noises that do enter the cabin are unbecoming of a car that can sticker for upward of $40,000.
On the other hand, special tuning for the CVT makes the Maxima feel more sprightly between stoplights than the lighter Altima that shares this engine. A sport mode for the transmission keeps revs even higher and institutes programmed “gear” steps that deliver syrupy smooth response. That’s all good, but it’s a far cry from what we associate with sportiness.
The Maxima does more to redeem itself on a curvy road. The flat-bottomed steering wheel with its thick rim is a delight to hold and Nissan has dialed in an unusual amount of heft for a big four-door. The result is limited wandering at highway speeds thanks to terrific on-center tracking and a composed, confident feel on twisty pavement. The electric setup sends zero feedback to the driver, however, and there’s moderate torque steer—pulling to one side—under hard acceleration.
On its standard 18-inch alloy wheels, the Maxima’s ride is smooth and almost luxurious. Opt for the 19-inchers paired with stiffer shocks and thicker sway bars exclusive to Maxima SRs and things are just the right side of firm. The Maxima SR’s brakes are more responsive, too.
2018 Nissan Maxima
Comfort & Quality
Full-size outside, mid-size inside: the 2018 Nissan Maxima is a big car that’s not packaged all that well, but it does feel upscale for the money.
Although the 2018 Nissan Maxima is considered a full-size sedan, it’s actually tighter inside than the automaker’s smaller, mid-size Altima. That’s a tough hurdle to overcome, even with supportive front seats and a bucks-up feel throughout.
Accordingly, the 2018 Maxima earns 6 out of 10 points here. That’s one each above average for its front seats and classy feel and losing one for a remarkably tight back seat. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Most Maximas feature comfortable, leather-wrapped front seats that feature a convenient adjustable thigh support for the driver. Open the back doors and you’ll find the allusion of good space—but that’s it.
The rear seat is carved out into bucket-like seats for the outboard passengers. The middle seat feels more like an afterthought. Additionally, the Maxima’s sweeping roofline means that ingress and egress can be a challenge for taller riders hoping to settle into the back seat.
Curiously, the Nissan Altima offers far better room for four or five passengers. Don’t be fooled by the Maxima’s larger dimensions.
In terms of layout and materials, the Maxima stands well above the Altima to split the middle ground between mainstream and luxury. Soft-touch materials are scattered about and there’s plenty of dressy stitching. Even the metallic and wood-like trim panels have a modern, stylish appearance.
The Maxima’s trunk opens to reveal a middling 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space (versus 15.4 in the Altima), but there’s decent room for little items in the cabin.
2018 Nissan Maxima
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a large sedan with a better safety set than the 2018 Nissan Maxima
In addition to a high level of standard safety equipment, the 2018 Nissan Maxima nearly aces federal and independent crash-testing.
We’re not looking to try out any of the Maxima’s safety gear, but its great scores and standard automatic emergency braking earn it 10 out of 10 points here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
All 2018 Maximas come standard with six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes, a rearview camera, and automatic emergency braking with forward-collision warnings. Standard on SL and higher trim levels is even more advanced gear: blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and rear cross-traffic alerts.
The IIHS says the Maxima is a Top Safety Pick, with one asterisk. Only the Maxima’s LED headlights found on SR and Platinum trim levels rate “Acceptable.” The halogens fitted to S, SV, and SLs are rated “Poor.”
Federal testers score the 2018 Maxima at five stars overall, including the calculated (but not tested) rollover score.
2018 Nissan Maxima
Overall, the 2018 Nissan Maxima offers a good value for the money, albeit with limited opportunity for customization.
You’ll find five trim levels each with lots of standard features in the 2018 Nissan Maxima, as well as newly standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
That’s enough to earn 7 out of 10 points on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Maxima lineup starts around $34,000 for the base S trim level, which features power front seats, cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, automatic emergency braking, and an 8.0-inch infotainment system with navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
Next up is the Maxima SV at around $36,000, which adds leather trim, heated front seats, a thigh extension for the driver’s seat, and front/rear parking sensors. Another $2,400 buys the Maxima SL, which adds 11 Bose-branded speakers, a panoramic moonroof, LED interior lighting, active noise cancellation, and more USB ports.
If sportiness is your goal, step up to the roughly $39,000 Maxima SR. In addition to its own unique suspension tuning and 19-inch alloy wheels, it features LED headlights, ventilated front seats, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and rear cross-traffic alerts. The Maxima SR deletes the SL’s panoramic moonroof in the name of weight savings and structure stiffening, Nissan says.
Topping the lineup is the Maxima Platinum, which builds on the SL with most of the SR’s features (minus its 19-inch wheels and sports suspension), plus quilted leather upholstery, a surround view camera system, a power rear sunshade, and a height-adjustable passenger’s seat.
All in, a 2018 Maxima Platinum runs around $41,500. The only option package available—the Midnight Edition—slathers the SR in blacked-out trim.
2018 Nissan Maxima
The 2018 Nissan Maxima sips less fuel than many large sedans, but there’s no ultra-thrifty version available.
The 2018 Nissan Maxima’s fuel economy is above average for a large sedan with decent power underhood: 21 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined.
That’s enough to earn it 7 out of 10 points on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Unlike some rivals, there’s no hybrid version of the Maxima available, meaning it pales against the 40 mpg combined delivered by the Toyota Avalon. It’s also lower than the 26 mpg combined Nissan Altima that shares the Maxima’s V-6.
However, that 25 mpg combined figure tops rivals like the Dodge Charger (23 mpg) and Toyota Avalon (24 mpg).