Under the Hood: 2018 Nissan Maxima

Nissan isn’t really known for its big cars. It does affordable cars, low budget SUVs, and the occasional groundbreaking supercar. But it simply isn’t a major player in the luxury car sector and it never has been. That’s what sister brand Infiniti is all about.

Nissan has released their 2018 Maxima which might be treading on the toes of the Infinity Q50 with its cheaper, simpler version of the same basic platform. There really isn’t a huge price difference between the two either. A base level Infiniti costs about $1,000 more than the entry level Nissan Maxima S that comes with a sticker price of $32,020.

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Of course, the Nissan-Infiniti overlords have done the math and worked out that it’s good for business to have the two cars on the same platform – three cars if you include the Nissan Altima that also shares the same underpinnings.

They’ve gone for broke to differentiate the Maxima with an edgy and seriously elegant design. It might not age well, but the heavily sculpted sides, sloping shoulder, and coupe-style “floating” roofline do a seriously good job of breaking up this car’s mass. The front end, too, is simply stunning.

But why would you buy the Maxima? Let’s find out.

Performance Specifications

The Maxima is a luxury car first and foremost. So, even though there are five different trims to choose from, they all come with exactly the same powerplant – a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out a seriously respectable 300 hp and 261 lb-ft of torque. In an age of downsizing and turbochargers, it’s a novel approach. But, Nissan won 10 consecutive Ward’s Best Engine awards with this same basic powerplant, so it’s easy to see why the Japanese automaker refuses to give it up.

That’s not to say it is perfect, though. It’s clearly coming to the end of its lifespan. The original 3.0-liter V6 was generally considered a smoother and more refined powerplant. Nissan switched it out for a 3.5-liter in 2002 and it has never quite been the same since.

It is also mated to a continuously variable transmission that, in theory, is better than a regular automatic. It tends to come with transmission whine, though, and although Nissan is sticking with the basic concept, there are plenty of critics that will tell them this is a serious weak point in the car.

While the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) isn’t perfect, it is a surprisingly peppy engine. This powerful monster will hit 60 mph in six seconds with a top speed of 135 mph. So, it’s a solid performer.

Safety and Entertainment Features

The Maxima doesn’t just have a five-star crash rating from the NHTSA. It’s also an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus and that’s about as clear a recommendation as you’re likely to get.

The higher up trims come standard with a blind spot monitor, parking sensors, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision alert, and automatic emergency braking. Adaptive cruise control is part of the deal, too.

Inside the car you get an eight inch LCD touchscreen that is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready, and a seven inch instrument display that relays all major information and lets you cycle through without taking your eyes off the road.

Other luxurious touches on the inside include zero gravity seats, which is a pretty special addition for a car in this class. You can even dress it up with accent lighting and more if you want to hit the options list hard.

You get a broad choice of specs, but it’s all about the trim levels. The entry level S and next-level

SV sacrifice the advanced safety features and creature comforts in the name of cost, while the Nissan transforms into a serious luxury car when you hit the SL trim. It comes with an 11-speaker BOSE sound system and a dual panoramic moonroof.

The SR trim is a sporty upgrade from the SL, although you lose the moonroof and gain 19” alloy wheels and premium leather seats. The range topping Platinum trim comes with satellite radio, which really isn’t enough to justify the extra cost. The Nissan Intelligent Around View Monitor, though, will help you park the car and position it at slow speeds with a 360-degree birds-eye view. Only you know if that’s something you really need.

Image via Nissan

How Does It Stack up against the Competition

The Infiniti Q50 is an obvious competitor, but we’ve covered that. So really, you’re looking at the likes of the Lexus ES, Buick Lacrosse, Lincoln MK, and the Kia Cadenza. The Maxima leaves most of them in the dust.

It beats the Lexus on so many levels that it’s almost not worth discussing. The Kia is cheaper, but it simply doesn’t offer the same experience and the Maxima offers better value. It looks more expensive, it feels more expensive, and it does everything better. Unless you get a troublesome lemon, this isn’t a car you would ever regret buying.

The Lacrosse is a real, solid rival for the Maxima. It is Buick’s attempt to revive its brand as a luxury car manufacturer. The interior, especially the clean-cut dashboard, is a lot better than the Nissan, but then the Japanese car is much more attractive on the outside.

The Lincoln, again, is a solid alternative, but the entry-level model costs substantially more than the Nissan and that’s probably enough to swing the needle in the Maxima’s favor.

You can spend more on the Infiniti and you could easily make a case for doing just that. But the Maxima is a great all-round car and we think it might be the current class leader.

Fuel Efficiency

As the whole line-up uses the same engine, the fuel efficiency is pretty straightforward. The Maxima will get you 30 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg in the city. Could it be better? If Nissan went the standard route – fitted a nine-speed automatic and a two-liter turbocharged engine –  then yes, absolutely. But this is the price you pay for natural aspiration and that clever, if flawed, transmission.

Pros

  • Elegant and different design
  • Strong 3.5-liter V6
  • Beautifully appointed interior
  • A great all-round package

Cons

  • CVT transmission can be a stone-cold deal breaker
  • It looks stunning, but it might not age well
  • Residual prices on big Nissans haven’t been great
  • Fuel efficiency could be much better

Image via Nissan

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