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2020 Nissan Maxima Test Drive Review
The 2020 Nissan Maxima has many of the things budget-conscious full-size sedan buyers want. It’s spacious, engaging, and comfortable without overpowering the senses.
Despite finding itself inside a rapidly shrinking segment, the Nissan Maxima shines through with its plush accommodations, potent powertrain, luxe interior, and spacious trunk. The Maxima has continued to be upgraded since its current generation debuted, making it worthy of a long look if you’re in the market for an SUV alternative. Nissan refreshed the Maxima for the 2019 model year, so changes for 2020 are minimal.
Look and Feel
If you said the Nissan Maxima looked like every other car in the company’s lineup, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Up front it has Nissan’s signature V-Motion grille that sweeps the eye back toward the standard jewel-like LED headlights and signature daytime running lights.
The car’s floating-roof design—complete with available dual-pane panoramic moonroof—is accented by a heavy beltline that works around to the rear where quad-tip exhaust finishers rest. Maxima SR models also get a sporty rear spoiler.
The Maxima was the originator of this Nissan sedan design era with the smaller Nissan Altima, Sentra, and Versa ultimately following in its path.
Nissan sells the Maxima in S, SV, SL, SR, and Platinum trim levels. Our tester was a Maxima Platinum.
Maxima S, SV, and SL trim levels ride on standard 18-inch machined-finish aluminum-alloy wheels with painted inserts. Those wheels come wrapped in Continental all-season tires. Nineteen-inch gloss black aluminum-alloy wheels are standard on the Maxima SR, which is shod with Goodyear all-season tires. The Nissan Maxima Platinum has 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels with Goodyear all-season tires.
The cabin of the five-seater Maxima is filled with materials typical to Nissan’s standard. Its fit and finish are good, with the highest Platinum trim level, as tested, veering well into premium model territory.
The Maxima SR features unique styling including a patterned seat insert and charcoal headliner and pillars. Those same features come with the Platinum Reserve Package, which also features semi-aniline leather appointments Satin Bronze faceted interior finishers, and a Rakuda Tan steering wheel insert.
Nissan’s thick center console creates a segmented front row experience, however, there is room for it as the cabin is spacious.
The list of standard features on all Maxima models (except the base model) includes an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with swipe and pinch-to-zoom functionality, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, hands-free text messaging, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, 7.0-inch driver’s information display, leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, four-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, rearview camera, keyless entry, push-button start, and remote engine start with climate control functionality.
Navigation, Nissan Connect Services, rear USB ports, heated front and rear seats, power passenger seat lifter, heated steering wheel, LED accent lighting, and Around View Monitor camera system, are available.
The Maxima isn’t the most modern vehicle, and that’s most apparent on its interior though it’s not wholly outdated, just older than what you can find in other sedans.
Every 2020 Nissan Maxima is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine generates 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. It's sufficiently strong for most drivers, and more powerful than many of the powertrains of the Maxima’s competition.
The Maxima, though marketed as a "four-door sports car," is not. Bumping the car into its Sport drive mode—which changes the engine throttle response, steering feel, and transmission tuning—and using the available paddle shifters (only in the Maxima SR) does make the drive experience more engaging but there’s no doubting that the Maxima is happier as a comfortable cruiser.
It does comfortable cruising well, soaking up many of the road’s imperfections without passing them on to the occupants. Active noise cancellation technology keeps engine and road noise at bay in SL and up trim levels while the SR grade receives active noise enhancement.
Front-wheel drive and an 18-gallon fuel tank are standard on the Maxima. Nissan does not offer the Maxima with all-wheel drive. Despite this, the Maxima manages to feel planted in most driving situations, though it does get a hair squirrelly if you get on the throttle of the Maxima SR with all your might.
The EPA estimates that the 2020 Maxima achieves 20 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined. This is right in line with the fuel economy other vehicles in its class get. The similarly powered 2020 Chrysler 300 gets 23 mpg combined from its 3.6-liter V6 while the more luxurious 2020 Lincoln Continental gets 20 mpg combined from its 3.7-liter V6.
Nissan does not offer the Maxima as a hybrid. That’s something that Toyota does in the similarly-sized Avalon, with much success both in terms of fuel-efficiency and sales.
Form and Function
When buying a big car, shoppers are chiefly looking for spacious seating, a large trunk, comfortable seats, and modern features. The Nissan Maxima hits all of these on the head.
Up front, the only limitation to the feeling of spaciousness in the cabin is the thick center console. The width of the console mimics the stance of the Maxima. With large vents atop the infotainment screen, and buttons surrounding the screen, including climate controls below, the real estate of the head unit area is massive. The screen also tilts toward the driver, which is a design trend that has mostly (thankfully) gone away.
Sloping from the head unit to the shifter, a swath of space usually reserved for storage has been taken up by the push-button start functionality and a cubby for very small-item storage. Though that area has all the necessary components—shifter, cup holders, larger item storage—it lacks a good space to store a smartphone. The console also has a large rotary dial that can be used to navigate the infotainment system. Though functional, it seems unnecessarily duplicative.
The Maxima has enough room in the front and rear for passengers to feel comfortable. The width and size of the front seats make them plenty comfortable for long road trips.
The Kia Cadenza and Hyundai Sonata both best the Maxima in legroom. In comparison, the smaller Honda Accord offers about five inches more legroom for rear-seat passengers and two more inches up front. The Toyota Avalon also delivers more legroom.
The Maxima delivers more headroom than its rivals, up to 39.4 inches. The Avalon has up to 38.5 inches. When equipped with a sunroof or moonroof, the Avalon, Cadenza (a sunroof is standard), and Maxima have nearly equal headroom.
Nissan’s entry also doesn’t offer the cargo volume the Sonata, Avalon, and Accord do. The Maxima has 14.3 cubic feet of trunk space while the Sonata, Cadenza, Avalon, and Accord have 16, 16, 16.09, and 16.7 cubic feet of cargo space, respectively. A similar situation is true for passenger space where the Maxima, with up to 98.5 cubic feet of room, has far less than the Avalon (104.3), Sonata (104.4), and Accord (105.6).
Some of this can be chalked up to the Sonata and Accord riding on newer architecture with fresher designs. Innovations in high-strength steel and aluminum have enabled recently-redesigned models like the Sonata and Accord to afford passengers more interior space.
Notably, the Maxima’s front in-door bottle holders are able to handle 20-ounce bottles. This is something that isn’t common among sedans and proves particularly handy for families on the go.
Despite the numbers telling a less-than-ideal story for the Maxima, during a week of testing that included major grocery runs and sports practices, it was hard to find a time when the Maxima wasn’t able to handle the cargo and seating needs thrown at it with aplomb. If you're one to often transport multiple sets of golf clubs or intend to use the car for your yearly back-and-forths from the Northeast to Florida, you may want to consider a different vehicle, however.
Every Maxima comes standard with a long list of features though they’re not the most modern offerings among sedans on the market today. The car’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen on Maxima SV-and-up trim levels and standard 7-inch driver information display are usable but not friendly to the eyes nor particularly modern in appearance.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across all models, though NissanConnect Services, a concierge program offered by the company for an additional monthly fee, is available only on the top Maxima Platinum grade.
Buyers can choose to upgrade to a Bose Premium Audio system with an AM/FM stereo, CD player, 11 speakers, and Center Point Surround Stage technology.
Where the Maxima has victories are in the available Around View Monitor camera system which makes parking a breeze), power rear sunshade (particularly helpful for those using smart devices in the back seat and trying to escape glare), and keyless entry. There are also USB-A and USB-C ports in the front (all grades) and rear (SL and up) making charging on the go easy.
Nissan Safety Shield 360, the company's package of safety and driver-assist technologies, is now standard across all five Maxima trim levels. This is similar to Toyota Safety Sense and Ford Co-Pilot360, though its lineup is a bit different than those offerings.
Safety equipment including airbags and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard fare on the 2020 Maxima. There’s a host of more modern driver-assist systems and safety features including standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, rear automatic braking, and a driver alertness monitor.
Traffic sign recognition technology (which reads and displays, but does not adjust, your speed), and adaptive cruise control are standard on all Maxima trim levels but the base model. Lane intervention technology is available on SR and Platinum grades.
The LATCH system is standard. Nissan offers the Maxima with three child seat upper tethers across the rear seat. The car’s 53.5 inches of hip room for that row should allow three child safety seats to be placed side by side when necessary, a rarity among sedans.
The Maxima has performed very well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IISH) crash tests and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety tests. Its front crash prevention results were given the top "superior" rating by the IIHS.
In a fading full-size car class, the Nissan Maxima continues to face stiff competition from the Kia Cadenza, Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300, and Dodge Charger. The Chevrolet Impala, another challenger, has ended production but limited quantities are still available on dealership lots.
Compared to its biggest new-car rivals—the Kia Cadenza and Toyota Avalon—the Maxima has a low starting MSRP: $34,450. However, in that base grade, the Maxima isn't as well equipped as the Cadenza and Avalon, which start at $37,850 and $35,875, respectively.
The sporty Maxima SR starts at $41,650 and the Maxima Platinum tops out just a smidge higher at $41,840. There's not a comparable sport-centric version of the Cadenza or Avalon. The Avalon Limited, the highest grade non-hybrid, costs $42,175. The Cadenza's top-tier Limited model comes in at $43,550.
Opting for the Avalon Hybrid will run you from $37,000 to $43,300, which isn't as much of a price jump as buyers may have been expecting for the hybrid.
Compared to its rivals, the Maxima is a good value proposition. It delivers a more exciting drive than the Avalon but is less fuel-efficient. While its cargo space and legroom may seem like a problem on the surface, the Maxima is actually very easy to live with.
However, the Honda Accord and Toyota Avalon are also worth cross-shopping.
What's your take on the 2020 Nissan Maxima?
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