2019 Nissan Maxima first drive review: More tech, same ride

Nissan has used the phrase "four-door sports car" to describe its Maxima sedan for years. And while this refreshed 2019 model gets a number of changes that make the eighth-generation Maxima better in a number of ways, I'm still hard pressed to call it sporty.

Like before, the Maxima will be available in S, SV, SL, SR and Platinum trims, powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine, and available exclusively with front-wheel drive. The most obvious 2019 model year updates include a new front fascia that incorporates a redesigned grille and LED headlights. The rear end now uses quad exhaust outlets, while the SR trim has a new spoiler. There's even a fancy new color on offer for 2019: the red-to-gold shifting Sunset Drift Chromaflair.

LED headlights are the most obvious visual changes for the 2019 Maxima.

Nissan

The Maxima's onboard tech gets a healthy boost, too. Standard on the Platinum trim and available on the SR is Nissan's new Safety Shield 360, a suite of driver's aids that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, high beam assist and rear automatic braking. Considering only blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert were available on the 2018 Maxima, this represents a big step forward in terms of safety tech offerings. Traffic sign recognition and a rear door alert also join the tech roster for 2019, as well as an intelligent driver alert feature that can monitor your behavior and warn you if it thinks you're drowsy or distracted.

All Maximas get the user-friendly NissanConnect infotainment system, housed in an 8-inch touchscreen display, though it can be controlled through a center console-mounted dial, as well. I actually prefer the dial, since it allows me to keep my eyes on the road longer. Navigation comes standard on SV trims and above, though every Maxima also gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well.

New this year is the inclusion of a quick-charge USB Type-C port, as well as the usual Type-As. Both are easily accessible for front passengers. If you want additional outlets at the rear, you can order them as options.

Otherwise, the Maxima's interior remains largely the same for 2019, and that's a shame, because it's starting to look quite old. Some new seat stitching patterns and semianiline leather trim spruce things up a bit, and Nissan's "Zero Gravity" seats are as comfortable and supportive as ever. But really, this is the same interior since the eighth-generation Maxima debuted in 2015. It's fine, but not great.

That's how I feel about the driving dynamics, too. The Maxima's 3.5-liter V6 is the same one you'll find in the Murano crossover, though it's been tuned to deliver 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque in this application. That's plenty of power for this four-door sedan; the Maxima has pep to its step, but not enough to get me in trouble. Unfortunately, the continuously variable transmission is a weak spot in this otherwise adequate powertrain.

Nissan usually does a great job with CVT tuning, but it doesn't quite fade into the background as nicely here in the Maxima. When attempting to drive this car in a sporty manner, the CVT is lazy and buzzy -- and its preprogrammed "steps" that mimic actual gears in no way give it the experience of a conventional automatic. If Nissan is serious about its "four-door sports car" tagline, it has to inject some more of that into the engine and transmission.

The Maxima's interior remains largely the same for 2019.

Nissan

On the other hand, the CVT helps with fuel economy. The Maxima gets an EPA rating of 20 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. That puts it midpack against sedans like the Dodge ChargerKia Stinger and Lexus ES.

The Maxima has a sport mode that adjusts throttle response, steering weight and transmission "shift" points, though in action, it doesn't really give me any sort of added sportiness to the drive. The steering is pretty hefty in its standard time, so this sport mode doesn't feel necessary here. Paddle shifters give you extra control over those fake shift points, but really, just leave them alone. It won't help anything.

My SR tester is ostensibly the most aggressive variant, with a slightly stiffer suspension, thicker front roll bar and a sunroof delete to keep the body as stiff as possible. But even in this sportiest guise, there's a lot of body roll, the car squatting to the outside during quick cornering.

The Maxima is powered by a 3.5-liter V6, good for 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque.

Nissan

But take the "four-door sports car" bit out of the Maxima equation and really, you have a pretty comfortable, well-appointed, fullsize sedan. The 2019 Maxima starts at $33,950, while my SR tester starts at $39,350 -- a little more money than last year's car.

Big sedans like this are slow sellers these days, so I can't exactly fault Nissan for not adding a ton of new kit to its Maxima range. But with a little more style and a lot more onboard tech, Nissan's full-size offering is better equipped than ever before. Just don't call it a sports car.


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