Have you ever seen a sexier facelift? This term for a vehicle’s mid-cycle refresh is usually a bit of a put-down but in Maxima’s case it takes a sexy silhouette and gives it the nose and tail the design always deserved.
It is enough to make folks do a double take on the road and that is quite surprising for such a popular mainstream model.
Maxima’s 2019 upgrade and also 2020 tweaks to the range update the machine very nicely — and not a moment too soon in the face of impressive new competition from the Kia Stinger, the ever-popular Dodge Charger and even surprisingly fun mid-size sedans like the Camry XSE V6. The sporty looks of the new Avalon also aim to peel away some traditional Maxima shoppers, too.
The large sedan segment had been pretty stagnant until this recent renaissance and a sales jump for sedans that has defied all predictions of doom for any non-SUV shape in the marketplace.
Are Maxima’s 2019 upgrades enough, though? We took a spirited drive video review to talk through the good and less-good elements of Maxima, while also having picture-in-picture walkarounds of the interior and exterior. Highs/Lows and a nice pack of images follow the video.
The Style: Tired of cars smiling at you in traffic with big grinny grins for their shapes up front? Thought so. Maxima goes the other way entirely with one of the most macho and masculine, chiseled-jawline visages to ever grace a vehicle.
Reshaping of the full-frame grille to make it edgier and crisper, new lower splitter and re-done foglamp areas are quite impactful in the flesh and certainyl in rear-view mirrors around the world. But it is the new LED DRLs and full-LED headlights that really make this look such a standout in a class full of faces that can either seem too familiar and the too bizarre.
Maxima’s LED daytime running lights are ultra bright boxed elements around the sloping headlight shape’s inner edges. But this time without ever looking slightly cross-eyed like the previous model from some angles. The actual low-beam element is a multi-beam reflector element with seven vertical slots, four for the low-beams and three for the high-beams. It looks super cool in all settings and even packs full-width LED blinkers in front too.
Around profile we can see that the dark wheels, mirror caps and gloss-black spoiler go mainstream onto all SR’s as standard versus being part of the Midnight package previously.
Around back there is a new lower diffuser element and quad boxed exhuast finishers to replace the twin round cans from before.
LEDs for the running lights in back mirror the shape of the front lights and also pack LED brake light optics this generation versus a bulb/LED combo before. The backup lamps are still bulbs, curiously, but otherwise the exterior is all-LED all the time.
The Speed: Maxima is a speedy machine. The standard V6 is as potent as ever and makes for a nice, snarling run to 60-mph and beyond in around 5.8-seconds. This is much quicker than any of the rivals listed above, aside from the Kia Stinger GT and the Charger R/T or any of the mad SRT models.
A standard automatic makes Maxima pretty simple to flog: just hold down the throttle and go!
Maxima’s large cabin and excellent drive position are still big assets that set it above humdrum mid-size cars of all stripes. This machine lets the driver hunker down low, with the wheel extended far into your lap for a perfect sporty setup. Giant elephant-ear paddles (fixed to the steering column) let you play along by snapping off a few downshifts as you approach a corner, but are mostly a novelty in daily driving.
Upgrades to materials in a few places and some updated tech integrations like CarPlay and USB-C jacks are nice to keep the Max current in this fast-forward world of tech.
Maxima has some of the auto-driving elements we loved in Rogue’s ProPilot assist but curiously not the latest tech there, and no active lane-keep assistant as far as we could tell, just lane-departure warning. Auto cruise is handy though and works great.
The drive video took some heat from fans who were confused by my frustration with the Maxima’s CVT this time around, but loved it in past videos and write-ups.
Maxima has not changed its CVT or even really reprogrammed it very much for this mid-cycle model update, and that’s what is the most frustrating part. This transmission, for serious drivers, is a woeful thing. It is hard to predict when or if it will simulate an upshift, it regularly feels like the wheels are spinning (or a clutch is slipping) when they are not, and it generally takes the fun right out of the passing and twisty-road driving experience.
The power of this V6 is what makes this CVT so so unacceptable versus the tolerable outings for CVTs in four-cylinder cars. With this much power, not having predictable gears is a double whammy. You never know when it will upshift or downshift, so the torque steer is just as unpredictable and wild as I’ve felt in years. This is yank-the-wheel-from-your-hands torque steer that comes out of nowhere and is not fun at all to manage.
Maxima drives like the big, low and macho beast it is thanks to generally pretty great steering feel (aside from the torque steer). In parking lots, it is surprisingly heavy but does lighten up in relaxed commuting. For cornering, the way Nissan has made it feel so planted and secure is to use what they call Active Trace Control. This pre-emptively keeps you in a corner’s sweet spot and limits understeer or just front-drive balance problems pretty well. It does this by applying the brakes selectively when needed.
The problem is that this cooks the brakes when on a twisty road for more than five minutes — like our less-than-a-mile “road course” in the video. The car’s front brakes are working so hard to manage torque steer in straight-ahead launches and manage balance around corners that they just have no actual braking left to give. The car suffers alarming brake fade and a rough brake feel after even the lightest of enthusiastic driving. A real let-down supreme.
The sticker of our 2019 Max SR included the optional $2k glass moonroof (that will be standard for 2020 on SR) and came in at a surprising $43k. This is too much.
The value proposition would be alot more solid if you could get a deal on one for a few grand less.
Maxima is a study in contrasts. On the one hand we have its standard 300HP V6 and super masculine looks that say to the world: outta my way! But with a transmission and braking setup that can’t back up those claims in really demanding drives.
Does that mean it is a bad car? Of course not! Maxima is a peach in normal driving and the exterior style is great. Interior roominess and drive position are also excellent. But without addressing the problems with its transmission and handling it is not a car that really sporty purists will love.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.