Find out how the Maxima stacks up against the redesigned Toyota Avalon
Although big sedans have lost much of their appeal with consumers, there’s still a case to be made for these vehicles that offer plenty of passenger space without the ride quality penalties of a crossover. Along with boasting premium interiors, these innocent-looking vehicles come alive when you hit the accelerator thanks to their smooth and powerful V-6 engines. We recently tested the 2020 Nissan Maxima, in top-trim Platinum Reserve guise, to see if it’s staying relevant in a declining segment. How well does our Maxima live up to its “sport sedan” promises, and is it worth the premium price tag?
Unlike the similarly sized Nissan Altima, which received sweeping updates, the Maxima comes lightly refreshed from the 2019 model year. Some of the biggest changes are cosmetic, including the jewel-like LED headlights offset by a bolder grille, and a new rear fascia. The sedan also boasts updated safety offerings and more premium cabin accommodations. (Read the full list of updates here.) The 3.5-liter V-6 engine carries over, delivering a familiar 300 hp and 261 lb-ft of torque. Once again, power is routed through a well-programmed CVT.
With that kind of output, you’ll have no trouble merging on the freeway or passing slower traffic in a snap. At the same time, the Maxima won’t tempt you to get carried away. Our Maxima ran from 0 to 60 mph in six seconds flat, matching the respectable time we recorded in a 2019 Toyota Avalon Touring. These cars are two-tenths of a second quicker than a 2019 Chevrolet Impala we tested, and half a second quicker than the 2017 Kia Cadenza. It’s not a fair comparison, but if you’re looking for more potent performance, the 365-hp Kia Stinger GT zooms to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds.
During the 60–0 mph test, our test team noted some steering shake as well as a lack of initial bite while braking in the Maxima. That said, it came to a complete stop in a pretty short distance: 113 feet. It’s the same distance we recorded in a smaller 2019 Honda Civic Touring, and better than what we experienced in the Avalon (115 feet), Impala (124 feet), and Cadenza (121 feet).
With the upgraded 19-inch wheels, the Maxima rides pretty well, but it undulates a bit over bumps. Cruising on the highway, it shields occupants from most wind noise. Road noise is present but reasonable. Large pillars hinder forward visibility when you’re turning, but we became used to them during our week with the sedan.
The Maxima’s performance in the figure eight (26.8 seconds at an average 0.67 g) was on par with the Avalon (26.9 seconds at 0.66 g). It proved slightly less agile than the Impala (26.6 seconds at 0.67 g) but much more responsive than the Cadenza (27.6 at 0.63 g).
Our test team uncovered mild understeer. While performing the figure eight, testing director Kim Reynolds also noted strange behaviors in the steering in Sport mode. “As you turn in—off-center—there’s a lot of resistance,” he said. “Then it drops but reoccurs at different times, possibly in reaction to the bumps. It’s very artificial-feeling, sort of like a video game controller, but more pronounced.”
The Maxima’s steering quirks didn’t go unnoticed on regular roads, either. The wheel gets heavy at low speeds—and we mean heavy. Maneuvering into a parking space requires a surprising amount of muscle, lending another meaning to the term sport sedan. At higher speeds, the Maxima’s steering is much easier on the arms, but somewhat vague, as the wheel doesn’t respond precisely to smaller inputs. We found Sport mode sharpens the throttle response and steering sensation but doesn’t change the sedan’s core personality. Speaking of Sport mode, the button to activate this feature is located rather inconveniently behind the driver’s reach very close to the center console box.
The buttons and knobs, which look decidedly mainstream, contrast with the opulent Rakuda Tan leather seats with diamond-quilted inserts. These seats, soft to the touch but firm to sit in, are standard on the top-trim Platinum with the Reserve package along with heated rear seating, bronze interior accents, and slick 19-inch dark silver wheels. When paired with a few options including a rear spoiler, rear diffuser, sport floormats, splash guards, illuminated kick plates, ground lighting, and 20-color interior accent lighting, our tester came out to $45,865 USD. We’d say it looks the part; a few people mistook our sleek black Maxima for a Mercedes at first glance.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen looks good, too, and it responds well to touch. Of course, if you’re like many drivers, smartphone connectivity has supplanted the car’s embedded infotainment setup, and if you’re like this driver, you’ll find Android Auto is often a source of headaches. Those in the back who need not worry about this folderol can relax and enjoy the spacious rear seats. The Maxima doesn’t quite measure up to competitors when it comes to real estate, however. With 34.2 inches of rear legroom, it’s less spacious than the 2020 Avalon (40.3 inches), 2020 Impala (39.8 inches), and 2019 Cadenza (37.2 inches). Cargo room is also below rivals, measuring just 14.3 cubic feet compared to the Avalon’s 16.09 cubic feet, the Impala’s 18.8 cubic feet, and the Cadenza’s 16.0 cubic feet.
As expected from a 300-hp sedan, you won’t be blown away by its fuel economy. But it’s worth noting the Maxima isn’t behind the curve this time. The 2020 Maxima delivers an EPA-estimated 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) in combined city and highway fuel economy, putting it ahead of the 2020 Impala (22 mpg (10.7L/100 km)) and 2019 Cadenza (23 mpg (10.2L/100 km)). Unsurprisingly, the Avalon takes the cake, netting 26 mpg (9 L/100 km), and we’re not even talking about the hybrid version.
Despite our complaints over steering quirks and Sport buttons, there’s a lot to like about the Maxima. It’s a welcome reprieve from the fuel-sipping small crossovers I’ve been driving lately. It treats drivers with extra care, featuring an upscale interior and plenty of power for a reasonable price. Just as long as you don’t compare it to the likes of the Stinger GT, it deserves the badge of sport sedan.
|2020 Nissan Maxima Platinum|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$45,620|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.5L/300-hp/261-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,664 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||192.8 x 73.2 x 56.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.6 sec @ 97.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.8 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||20/30/24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||169/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.82 lb/mile|