2019 Nissan Maxima First Drive - Tweaked Looks, Same Experience

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2019 nissan maxima first drive tweaked looks same experience

As you may or may not know, invitations for press junkets often arrive quite some time in advance. So when Nissan sent the invite to drive the 2019 Maxima more than a month before the wraps came off the real thing in Los Angeles, I was excited.

See, I’ve always liked the idea of Maxima – a large, front-drive sedan endowed with a little bit of sportiness. Maybe it’s not the four-door sports car of yore, but surely it’s less sleepy than an Avalon, less generic than an Impala, and less in-your-face than a rear-drive Charger/300.

So, if the execution fell a bit short, and if the look grew a bit stale, well, maybe now is the perfect time for an update, I thought. After all, the smaller Altima is all-new. It seemed like the Maxima would be next in line for a full-zoot reboot, even though it launched a little less than four years ago.

Then the L.A. show came and went, the curtain came up, and we got a mild refresh. Hopes for a major update? Dashed.

Still, the last time I piloted a Maxima, the calendar read 2015. So I dutifully trekked to Napa Valley anyway, ready to get a refresher course in a refreshed Maxima.

(Full disclosure: Nissan flew me to San Francisco, put me up in a beautiful hotel, and fed me some great meals. They left us with snacks and a candle – I ate the snacks but left the candle. I also drove the refreshed Murano; that review is forthcoming.).

Changes are merely cosmetic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t noticeable. The changes include a new front fascia and grille, plus revisions to the rear fascia. You’ll now find LED tail lamps and Nissan’s so-called “quad tip” exhaust tips, which really just means there are dual exhaust tips at each side of the car. It sounds sexier than it is, but it still looks cool. LED headlights are now standard. There are also new wheel designs available in both 18-inch and 19-inch sizes.

Inside, the biggest item of note is the availability of the Rakuda Tan leather materials from the GT-R. Available on the Platinum Reserve trim, this material covers the seats, the armrests mounted on the doors, and part of the steering wheel.

There’s new safety tech available – traffic-sign recognition, type-C USB ports, and a rear-door alert system that makes sure you don’t leave things behind (Nissan claims the genesis of this is an engineer leaving pasta in the back seat. We were unable to confirm if this was a true story or a cute little anecdote). Other newly available safety tech includes the so-called Safety Shield 360: blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, high-beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard; you can now connect your car to your Google assistant at home or your Amazon Alexa (this may seem like a nice and convenient feature, but please tell me that this sort of thing won’t be the highlight of new-car unveilings going forward), and the navigation system is improved, offering over-the-air updates.

Your Maxima can tell you when it thinks you need a coffee break, and you won’t have to pay extra for that privilege.

Five trim levels represent the various permutations: S, SV, SL, SR, and Platinum. Available features include remote start, heated seats, satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, uplevel audio, rear USB, power tilt/telescope steering column, front and rear parking sensors, paddle shifters, spoiler, and around-view monitor 360-degree camera. SR trims get a sport suspension.

Pricing starts at $33,950 for the S trim, with the top-line Platinum starting at $41,440. The “sporty” SR trim is $39,530. None of those numbers include D and D.

Under hood remains the familiar 300 horsepower, 261 lb-ft of torque 3.5-liter V6 paired to a standard-for-Nissan continuously-variable automatic transmission. On road, the six provides adequate power with a nice snarl, but you still wish for more thrust. The CVT mostly fades into the background.

Nissan gives the steering a nice heft, but it doesn’t really communicate much of what’s going on with the road and front tires. It’s just sporty enough to amuse, and it’s not as sleepy as most steering systems in this class, but Nissan has left the 4DSC mantra behind for the moment.

Ride-wise, the car is competent for commuting, and it handled well on the gentle curves of Napa highways – there was no place to really challenge the car. Looking for a commute that’s not completely boring? The Maxima has you covered. Looking for a large sedan you can really push around while getting a case of the grins? That’s a taller order.

In Simpsons-speak, it’s a perfectly cromulent commuter. Noise is kept mostly in check, although the small water bottles fleets provide to journos had a tendency to hockey-puck around the cupholders, creating rattles. Larger cans/bottles won’t have that issue, of course.

Comfort is a plus here – the seats are all-day cozy, and leg and headroom are plentiful up front. A lot of our drive involved slogging away on two-lanes behind a slow-mover of the honey wagon variety, and the comfy seats made the slow going a little more pleasant.

Interior materials remain price-point appropriate, and while our test car didn’t have the GT-R interior, I got a glimpse of it in another vehicle and liked it. I mostly like the sweeping dash with integrated infotainment, straightforward controls, and large gauges, but depending on which menu you’ve pulled up, the info screen between the gauges can get a bit busy.

The large-sedan class, such as it is, is weird. Toyota gave the Avalon a personality injection, but it’s still not a wildman; the bland but competent Impala is marked for death, Buick’s LaCrosse is fairly forgettable, the Buick Regal sportback/GS is the other sporty alternative, and the Dodge/Chrysler pair serves a different audience, thanks to their rear-drive platform and muscle-car background.

Which could explain why Nissan hasn’t chosen to do much to the Maxima at this time. That, or perhaps an even simpler explanation – three and a half years isn’t yet time for the next generation. Since most Maxima generations lasted four years, with the previous car lasting six years from 2008 to 2014, Nissan might just feel no hurry to update a car that competes in a class that may not even be long for this world.

So it looks a little different but remains mostly mechanically unchanged. It’s still a fine large commuter car with some semblance of sport and long-haul comfort seats. It’s big without being oversized, and it’s not a snooze.

Status quo, then. That seems just fine for Nissan. Question is, is it just fine for buyers?

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC, Nissan]

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5 of 44 comments
  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Dec 18, 2018

    Where is the outrage at how cramped the interior is? Why isnt this "the biggest subcompact on the market"? Every comment so far should be on how small the interior is for a supposed large car. I'm only asking because the current Taurus has more interior volume. Oh, and the comments that if it only offered AWD, or an option for more power, or a traditional transmission, then it would become desirable. Well, all of which the Taurus offers, but it's still hated. So, if Nissan made it bigger, had an AWD twin turbo version with a non-CVT automatic, that would solve all its problems? Huh. Sorry, I just think its funny how much of a double standard there is with the B&B. I dont exactly love the current Taurus, but it's kinda ridiculous how much flack it gets when it seems to offer damn near everything people are asking for in a large sedan, and how it's made fun of for it's small interior when it has more room than some cars in its class (namely this and Avalon), and has almost exactly the same interior volume as the current Impala and 300.

    • See 2 previous
    • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Dec 18, 2018

      Why are you so wrapped up in the B&B's opinion of Ford? You do realize people say off the wall things about it just to rile you up right? They've got you to the point where you're looking for a fight where there isn't even one. I spoke to the Maxima's poor packaging somewhere in this thread.

  • Spyked Spyked on Dec 18, 2018

    Refresh looks decent. Small improvements. Not sure what this does that a Kia Cadenza doesn't do. Both acceptable power and quickness. I mean, how sporty should a four door sedan with V6 driving the front wheels really be? Maybe the new Arteon will reinvigorate this segment?

  • FreedMike Good looking vehicle. Expensive, though...
  • FreedMike The world should rebel against this by buying nothing but the sedan version. (They won't, because crossover...)
  • Lou_BC " GMC Canyon sales during the second quarter of 2023 kept Big Red’s midsize pickup last in its segment when ranked by sales volume. The Toyota Tacoma continued to command the top spot, while also being the only model to be in the green with a 14 percent bump to 63,262 units year-over-year, representing nearly half of all segment deliveries. The  Chevy Colorado (see running  Chevy Colorado sales), the Canyon’s corporate cousin, placed second with a 12 percent dip to 19,909 units. The Nissan Frontier took third with a 17 percent slide to 17,213 units, followed by the Jeep Gladiator in fourth with a 34 percent drop to 13,751 units. The  Ford Ranger (see running  Ford Ranger sales) took fifth with a 22 percent decline to 12,618 units. The GMC Canyon (see running  GMC Canyon sales) finished out the short list with an 11 percent slip to 6,708 units"
  • 2ACL If you weren't throwing away your Mercedes after the warranty expired, this will fix that. This is an overly complex answer to the AMG question I don't think will endure the test of time.
  • Kwik_Shift Looks like what a redesigned Nissan Murano would be. I believe Murano is done.