2019 Nissan Maxima first drive review: Sports sedan subtly reworked

Depending on who you ask, 2019 is either the worst time to offer a four-door-sedan—or the best. In a stroke of good timing on Nissan’s part, both of its mid-size sedans are new for 2019. The 2019 Altima arrived earlier this year, and now its bigger brother, the 2019 Nissan Maxima, is here.  

With these two solid sedans, Nissan isn’t just paying lip service to mid-size shoppers, but is instead doubling down on product. Opportunities abound “if you bring the right car to market,” says Anne Corrao, chief marketing manager for Maxima. Positioned as an “upper mid-size” car to differentiate it from the Altima, the Maxima caters to customers who prefer a more hands-on driving experience.

MORE: Read our 2019 Nissan Altima first drive review

Being a mid-cycle refresh, the 2019 Maxima doesn’t break any new ground, but instead offers a host of small upgrades and cosmetic enhancements focused on keeping it competitive among near-luxury sedans.

2019 Nissan Maxima

2019 Nissan Maxima

It’s still about performance (kind of)

Power is routed through the front wheels by way of Nissan’s 3.5-liter V-6, tuned here to generate a stout 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Though it may no longer be the “four-door sports car” it once was, the Maxima will happily light up its front tires in response to an aggressive stab to the throttle. Once those tires find traction, look out—there’s still enough torque steer to tug the wheel away from a straight trajectory.

A continuously variable transmission is the only option, featuring seven stepped “gears” to approximate the sensation of a traditional automatic. Those hankering for a bit more verve can opt for the SR trim, which adds generously sized fixed paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. It’s the only trim model to feature them. Leave the selector in drive, and the transmission does a commendable job of keeping the engine in the powerband at any speed. Plenty of mid-range punch is onhand to make passing maneuvers easy and the Maxima leaps forward with a satisfying growl, thanks to the tuning of that V-6.

Along the twisty roads outside of Napa, California, the Maxima’s body rolls upon initial turn-in, even with the sport suspension exclusively fitted to the SR. Straight-line speed is more the Maxima’s forte. An EPA highway rating of 30 mpg combined with an 18-gallon tank make it an impressively long-legged highway cruiser.

2019 Nissan Maxima

2019 Nissan Maxima

Have a look

But what the Maxima might lack in actual sport it has gained in luxury appointments. The new Rakuda Tan semi-aniline leather package, available exclusively in the top-line Platinum Reserve Package, is a knockout. The cognac-hued color is fetching, though featuring it on the lower portion of the steering wheel results in an effect that’s more bling than style. Still, the diamond-quilted leather feels great to the touch, and the satin bronze trim adds a nice contrasting element along the dash.

On the outside, Nissan has freshened up the exterior bits. Up front, the chrome surround is pulled down below the bumper line, creating sort of a grille-within-a-grille effect. LED headlights are now standard across the board. And there’s a new orange exterior color—Sunset Drift.

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