Is the coolest Maxima in ages also the best?
We found out over a week of driving the 2017 Maxima SR Midnight and came away impressed, if full of caveats. And understanding some of the fanboy hate for the Maxima's drivetrain these days.
We didn't get too bogged down by worries about how true a 4DSC the Maxima really is in this generation. You see, describing Maxima as a four-door sports car sets some pretty unrealistic performance expectations.
Let's explore this complex car for what it is: a stylish and comfortable full-size sedan that is blessed with a standard 300-horse V6.
Breaking free of the 4DSC baggage actually lets you really enjoy Maxima as a car with the space, tech and smoothness to rival the Audi A6 for about $20k less. That's lofty praise that few would say about the Maxima's true nemesis: the Dodge Charger.
We have a high-speed drive video, 72 beautiful photos and the normal article sections to share all the good and not-so-good in the Maxima Midnight.
Start here: Click below to hear the 5.9-second sprint to 60-mph in the below video embed!
HD Drive Review Video
THe Maxima Midnight easily aces the design and curb appeal stakes in 2017. This $1200 upgrade brings gloss-black wheels, chrome rear diffuser and black spoiler. The Midnight pack on the Maxima comes in four colors and is a huge, on-trend achievement for Nissan. This is a car that draws stares in traffic for how truly badass it looks. The Midnight pack on Maxima is such a hit that Nissan is adding it to five other models over the next few months.
Maxima's style has always pushed our buttons, ever since the first teaser concepts gave us RS6 tingles. So much wider, so much lower and with a cool floating roof unlike any Maxima before -- or any other big sedans. This black paint deeper than a well and as reflective as black chrome. Seriously hot color.
And the dark wheels reinforce how special Maxima SR is on the street.
Starting up front, the Maxima's nose is defined by its single-frame black outer grille edged in a thin chrome accent. Near the hoodline at the top of the grille is a big air intake and a new executionof Nissan's V-motion grille bars. Here they are deeply three-dimensional and make a nice cozy home for the giant Nissan emblem. This thing is like a tooth! Its base is about half a foot back toward the engine. This layered and intricate section is one of the most unique, and helps Maxima be memorable and intriguing to the eye.
Inboard LED daytime running lights live, curiously, at the inner edges of the slim horizontal headlamps. LED lowbeams through outer-mounted projector balls provide good light and yet another easily-recognizable design detail.
Halogens for the highbeams and foglamps are normal, if a bit disappointing. An easy upgrade on the aftermarket to HIDs or LEDs, perhaps.
Moving into profile, Maxima is unique in how it hides the front-wheel-drive proportions of this chassis with a low, long hood. The bases of the A-pillars are moved closer to the driver to help this style work. Side benefit is great visibility, especially versus Charger.
A rising wave crease in the hood flows over the front wheels and into the doors. This is matched by a fender flare-style accent line that follows the same path. The combination brings sportiness to the Maxima nicely. These lines disappear in the smooth middle of the car in a chic way. The rear shoulderline also has a crisp edge that disappears into the doors too, but widens and boxes the tail and trunk nicely.
Up in the glasshouse is where Maxima is freshest. Chrome lines the lower edges of the windows only, and shoots backward toward an upkink at the C-pillar that continues the chrome piece nearly into the trunk. In black exterior paint, it is hard to see the "floating" part of the roof, but essentially only the C-pillar is painted. The A and B pillars are meant to disappear in a wrap-around style of the GT-R.
Why this unique floating roof? It lets the Maxima be lower while also visually hiding the big rear headroom on offer.
The tail feels wide and pretty huge - in a cool way - thanks to the crisp C-shaped LED running lights in back. Twin exhaust pipes are emphasized in the Maxima's design thanks to the carved rear bumper area. No doubting this car has power.
Maxima Midnight Upgrades?
On the exterior, the Maxima Midnight only adds gloss-black 19-inch alloys, a rear diffuser piece with chrome accent, and the always-black rear spoiler. On our black car, the spoiler blends neatly while helping balance the car visually in profile.
Overall, we give the exterior a solid B+.
The Maxima Midnight's cabin really surprises and delights. It has quilted premium alcantara inserts on its black leather seats. The diamond theme continues into the dark silver door and dashboard accents nicely. Alcantara for the flat-bottomed steering wheel is fantastic to the touch and for high-G drives like our video above.
Beyond the glitz of the Midnight Edition's special details, hopping back in the Maxima is a great reminder of this car's difference versus Charger or any Camry/Accord type car.
What is that difference? First is the sense of width, second is the incredible roominess for legs/knees and third is the low and reclined drive position Maxima's power seats allow. Best driving position of any front-drive car, ever? Even with its limited power-seat adjustments, Maxima is very comfortably almost immediately. The seats lack much lateral support but the alcantara keeps you planted around corners..
You have the wheel low and right at hand. The extendable seat-base squab is only for the driver -- who will cherish its extra under-leg support.
Once ensconced in the Maxima, you feel pretty tough and cool. Perhaps not 'gangsta' without even tinted windows... but certainly cooler than 99-percent of commuter clones in traffic around you.
Push-button start and heated/cooled seats make fast friends with drivers, as does the hushed insulation and super chill drive manners in traffic.
Goodness continues with updated Nav touchscreen, Sport drive mode (that we wish was the default,) and thoughtful, semi-premium touches all around. Things like the leather-wrapped dashboard and LED-edged USB inputs. Just helpful and easy to love, this Maxima cabin.
The back seat is still a huge asset for Maxima. Very, very generous space for three back here.
Maxima cabin is A-minus work, with only dings for the slightly dated vehicle settings. How to disable the honk on keyfob click!!? We could not find a way.
Maxima's 4DSC mission statement has suffered from serious Mission Creep over the last few generations. First the independent rear suspension left in favor of the cheaper torsion-bar rear end. Sure, this bumps trunk space to first-apartment levels. And theoretically offers passive rear steering. Yea yea.
Next we lost the manual transmission option. Much sadness from those who loved the five-speeds from Maxima's hayday.
Then we lost a torque-converter automatic in favor of the Xtronic continuously-variable unit.
Is it all just too much?
Yes, the 300HP can scorch to 60-mph in under six clicks. But it's not exactly a joyful experience. Even Xtronic 3 with its simulated upshifts cannot make this transmission a real sporting proposition. Big weight transfer is also a Maxima issue on launch as well as hard braking. More body control around corners, but you never lost the sense that the front end is doing all the work. The rear end just doesn't feel engaged around corners.
Maxima DOES love to turn in. It has fairly quick reactions when you want to fling it around bends, and stays admirably flat when doing so. Understeer tire howl is when you know you've overcooked it.
Even with the Sport-mode's IDM yaw-sensors and numerous computer-managed systems... Maxima cannot hide its limitations in fast cornering.
Repeated fast driving, like the twisty roads in our video above, show another limit of the Active Trace Control, Active Ride Control and Active Engine Braking. These apply brakes selectively to either front wheel to enhance feel around corners. The problem is that this heats up the brakes even when not using them. So when you need big brakes after 20 minutes of this, they are much more faded than they should be.
Yes, this IDM system is something the Pathfinder and Murano would greatly benefit from. So they do not corner like comfy clouds all the time, mostly.
But sadly, Maxima SR Midnight's performance charms were not convincing enough. We give it about a C in handling and C+ on being fun-to-flog.
The V6 is strong but never feels torquey thanks to the Xtronic. And while there is big induction bellow from in front at full throttle, there is no exhaust note to balance Maxima in your ears.
Maxima SR has an entry price of about $38,500 when you include destination charge. Our test car added the Midnight Edition upgrade for $1,195, floor/trunk mats for $260 and splash guards for $190. All in, this black beauty totals $40,300.
The Midnight Edition can be sold separately for $2,195, but Nissan knocks a grand off that when the car wears its Midnight blackout from the factory.
4DSC as a description and theme for Maxima sets a high bar of excellence. You want this big guy to defy phsyics around corners and in a straight line. Prove front-drive can haul ass!
And Maxima SR Midnight can indeed haul ass. Asses, actually. Five of them at high speed!
The Sport part of the equation is a bit cloudy, however. Yes, it LOOKS sporty. Yes it IS much sportier and capable than any Camry or Accord around corners.
But no, Maxima is no sports car for purists. Just too much of what made Maxima handle and accelerate better than others has been chopped on price grounds.
We begrudgingly report agreement on what Maxima fanboys and purists have been saying all along: car needs a stickshift. The Xtronic CVT just saps too much power and appeal from Maxima's engine. And without playful straight-line pace... or cornering balance... there is no Sport in any sports car.
Even so, Maxima SR Midnight definitely looks great and feels great inside and out. Take one for a spin yourself. You might find that its cool design, great cabin and affordable price are enough to seal the deal.