By on December 17, 2018

2019 Nissan Maxima

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.).

2019 Nissan Maxima

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.

2019 Nissan Maxima

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.

2019 Nissan Maxima

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.

2019 Nissan Maxima

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.

2019 Nissan Maxima

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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44 Comments on “2019 Nissan Maxima First Drive – Tweaked Looks, Same Experience...”

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    It’s a shame this car has been embiggened so much. Both generations of 90’s Maximas were plenty of fun.

    • 0 avatar

      All cars have grown. A current Civic is roomier inside than a mid 90s Accord.

    • 0 avatar

      Size isn’t this car’s downfall. Neither are it’s looks.

      This category needs cars that stand out and this one blends in. It’s got a CVT, good interior and good tech, but who cares? Competitors are just fine, too.

      How about an electric version, or an AWD version with a regular/better transmission. I like the non-boosted V6, but not when it’s a fwd equipped, CVT’d borebox.

      Nissan has no clue what they want Maxima to be. Pity, as it used to be 4DSC. This car is begging for the moxy it used to have.

      • 0 avatar

        My thought too. I’d love to see Nissan do something kooky and make the Maxima an actual AWD performance beast. Maybe compete with the RS5 instead of an Avalon? It’s already going to sell poorly (because SUV), so why not sell poorly to enthusiasts instead of to retirees?

        • 0 avatar

          There’s a lot more generic consumers that hold the “Maxima” nameplate in regard versus fickle enthusiasts, unfortunately. I love the older Maximas and really don’t care for any of the ’04+ cars (all brutally ugly and/or saddled with CVTs), but I get Nissan’s approach.

      • 0 avatar

        For me, the problem with this thing is packaging. It’s maybe 3″ shorter than a Q70, but smaller inside than a Q50, despite being FWD (????).

        These MSRP very close to Q50s as well but in the real world they seem to be going for $5-8K cheaper, so I guess there’s that. Looks like they dropped the 2.0T too.

        But yea any suggestions of “RS5 fighters” and the like are silly. People are barely on board with the Stinger which is a legitimate high end offering. Fusion Sport was stillborn. People don’t want any of that. Truthfully this thing’s biggest opponent is the Murano.

    • 0 avatar
      Principe Raphael

      This is the ugliest version of the Maxima I’ve ever seen. I understand the need to make sedans stand out in a shrinking market, but this is butt ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      Autoworld International Limited

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    • 0 avatar
      Autoworld International Limited

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  • avatar

    I just want to know why when I went to GCBC to look up the Maxima’s sales numbers there’s a picture of what appears to be a 2005 model.

    And yes, I did throw up in my mouth a little.

  • avatar

    Love the steering wheel.

    FYI, these are PRIME off-lease buys.

    • 0 avatar

      lol very occasionally I wander over to the website of the local CarMaxes (one in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe) – Maxima’s are stacked deep and cheap. Same thing at the Enterprise Car Sales.

      Now if it only came with something other than the CVT. I just can’t put CVT and FDSC together in my head.

      • 0 avatar

        Personally, I think the CVT is great. It has ample power and decent programming. Just wish it had a little more low end.

      • 0 avatar

        I have owned Maximas in the past with both stick and auto, and they were great cars- fun, quick and reliable. If I was to buy a new one I would ONLY want one with CVT. Why? Because first off, I don’t want to derk around with a stick in my DD, sitting in stop n go traffic jams. Secondly, what is the hallmark of a really good auto trans? Being so smooth you can barely feel it shift. Well, the CVT takes that to the next level by NEVER shifting. And yes, I have driven CVTs in Altimas and Quests and I think they drive great.

        • 0 avatar

          It doesn’t help that Nissan stickshifts are historically horrible. 350Z, Sentra SE-R, Maxima… I’ve never driven a Nissan with a stick that even comes close to a base Honda Civic, let alone something legendary like the S2000.

          Would be good for them to add a “low” teethed gear like Toyota has done with the new Corolla

  • avatar

    ZZZZZZZZ…. what does this do any better than the alternatives? Nothing that I can really tell.

    Next generation maxima? Ha you’re a funny guy.

    I fully expect this car to die before a next gen comes around. If the Impala and LaCrosse don’t make it, this won’t either.

  • avatar

    I had one of these as a rental in 2018 in the same region of California. I found the exterior generic (I in general like the redesign) and more than once walked to a Mazda6 of the same color by accident in the hotel parking lot. I found the interior quite nice, like the infotainment, seats comfortable, very good ergonomics, headlights outstanding (it was a higher trimmed model with the LEDs), and driving dynamics acceptable.

    I would have considered one this year used (they depreciate like a rock) as this is a solid bargain at 24 months old – but I just can’t get past the Nissan CVT. If you do some digging, you’ll find the FWD 3.6L Buick LaCrosse is about as fast to 60, and the AWD version is as fast or faster (depending on source and the wheel size/rubber on the LaCrosse).

    So although 0 to 60 in the mid-5s is nothing to sneer at, it isn’t the Maxima of the past.

  • avatar

    The CVT just kills this car for me. Nissan’s horrible Navi System is only rescued by Apple Carplay and Android Auto. An Avalon Touring with an 8 speed automatic is a better car.

    • 0 avatar

      I got lucky and got one of these (2017 model) as a rental at Enterprise for the price of an economy. It’s bigger than I like, but I put about 700 miles on it, and I came away impressed with the driveability of the CVT, but saddened that the adaptive cruise would conk out randomly (when it got “lost”) and wouldn’t work for 5 minutes after that.

  • avatar

    In the 80s-90s, I was a Nissan fanatic. I wanted a stable of Nissan vehicles – a 300ZX TT for fun, a Maxima with manual for family duty, and a Hardbody 4X4 V6 for work/winter.

    Instead I ended up with a ’97 Altima and a ’94 2wd Hardbody with a 4-cyl. The truck was the best of the two but succumbed to rust quicker than it should have. I wasn’t that big into washing cars when I was in my twenties!

    These days? Uh… maybe a 370Z but the Mustang would probably come first. Maybe a Frontier with a manual…

  • avatar

    I had a ’94 4DSC Maxima that I loved. I cringe every time I see the latest incarnation

  • avatar

    I like the Maxima, think it is a pretty good bargain for the money. You know not a one of them is selling for anything close to sticker. In that context, its a pretty great car if you ask me. You are getting a better appointed, slightly larger, slightly more powerful car than most midsized sedans for mid-sized sedan price.

    The new Altima though might basically spells death for the Maxima. It looks so similar, size differences inside and out will probably be negligible and it can be had for less. Doesnt the new Altima come with AWD option and the trick engine for much improved fuel economy? Goodbye Maxima.

    I will just say, because I know it will invariably come up, that Nissan’s CVT in the Maxima is an entirely pleasant automatic transmission. But…But it doesnt have gears, it drones. Whatever, no more or less mundane than any other slushbox transmission I have ever driven. If you want to hate it….. you will. Funny how that works.

    • 0 avatar

      You know not a one of them is selling for anything close to sticker.

      Yeah in 6 months to a year I predict the trims of Maxima from lowest to highest selling for $30K to $35K out the door all day long.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Surprising that Nissan incurred the expenses to fly reviewers in for this barely-there refresh. I suppose it’s worth it as I wouldn’t have been aware of the refresh, mild as it is.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    How much of Safety Shield 360 can be turned off – and remain off through key cycles? TTAC should provide this information about every vehicle it reviews.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    When do we see the $40k Maxima? You posted pictures of a car that no sane person will pay more than 25k for, ever.

    Nissan should save and or redirect their R&D resources into something that will sell to a group other than National, Budget, Avis and the like.

    I will be shocked if their is another generation of Maxima.

  • avatar

    AWD and a real transmission would completely change my lack of interest in this car – 2003 Maxima owner.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I LOVED my 2003 Maxima SE with manual 6-speed. What made the car special was it’s faults–especially the torque-steer—nail it in first gear…better hold on tight. The exterior design was wonky too…but I came to appreciate it over time. The thing had personality…it was FUN!!

    This generation is neutered. No manual option, flaccid styling….just another front-drive ho-hum sedan when sedans MUST have something special to survive. Pity.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I can foresee AWD someday, but a stick likely ain’t happening for the same reasons manuals aren’t available in other cars. I don’t see the manual fully dying just yet, but it’s not coming back to cars like this.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree! My brief experience with owning a well worn, automatic 2000 SE left me with quite positive impressions. That car just made me want to hoon around more than usual, tire chirping starts away from lights, taking on-ramps fast, etc. Fantastic motor that I can imagine had its true potential unleashed with a stick shift. I think that even my automatic maxima would keep up with my current 2.8 V6 5spd A4 Quattro, and a stick shift would absolutely bury it.

    • 0 avatar

      I had 2 5 speed 4th gens. I’m certain my memories of them were fonder than the cars actually were. The chassis’ was terrible, as was the clutch + shifter. But it was roomy, quiet, cheap and FAST, and orgasmic in sound with a custom exhaust.

      As with that car, I don’t think a stick would fix the flaws of this one. AWD wouldn’t guarantee anything either; look at the TLX.

  • avatar

    According to CR it’s size/wheelbase are exactly the same as Altima’s. What’s the point of making two versions of the same car and selling one for premium? They should call it Infiniti, as if Infiniti is anything special anymore. They probably will kill it since Ghosn is gone.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      The Taurus is a nice cushy cruiser with a decent V6 that can be had for a steal on the used market. That’s about it. the SHO is too much of a soft porker to be considered by most enthusiasts, although the 3.5 Ecoboost certainly has lots of locked up potential for straight-like fun. Just wholly irrelevant in the current marketplace, which at the same time makes them a smart used buy IMO.

      IMO they have really wonky ergonomics and horrendous sightlines. Good for eating up pockmarked and flat midwestern highways and surface streets, not much else.

      The Maxima offers a stronger base engine that returns superiod fuel economy, better ride/handling, better interior, more interesting styling inside and out (personally I find it ugly). Overall I don’t find it a particularly compelling package either, especially not with the CVT.

    • 0 avatar

      The Taurus’s problem for me is knee and hip room in the front seat.

      Maybe I’m just a hopeless fatso with a unique driving position, but I feel less restricted in nearly any other sedan, even if they have less overall interior volume.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

    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?

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