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, Iâ€™ve always liked the idea of Maxima â€“ a large, front-drive sedan endowed with a little bit of sportiness. Maybe itâ€™s not the four-door sports car of yore, but surely itâ€™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 â€“ I ate the snacks but left the candle. I also drove the refreshed Murano; that review is forthcoming.).
Changes are merely cosmetic, but that doesnâ€™t mean they arenâ€™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 â€œquad tipâ€� 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.
Thereâ€™s new safety tech available â€“ traffic-sign recognition, type-C USB ports, and a rear-door alert system that makes sure you donâ€™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 wonâ€™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 wonâ€™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.
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 doesnâ€™t really communicate much of whatâ€™s going on with the road and front tires. Itâ€™s just sporty enough to amuse, and itâ€™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 â€“ there was no place to really challenge the car. Looking for a commute thatâ€™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? Thatâ€™s a taller order.
In Simpsons-speak, itâ€™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 wonâ€™t have that issue, of course.
Comfort is a plus here â€“ 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 didnâ€™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 youâ€™ve pulled up, the info screen between the gauges can get a bit busy.
The large-sedan class, such as it is, is weird. Toyota gave the Avalon a personality injection, but itâ€™s still not a wildman; the bland but competent Impala is marked for death, Buickâ€™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 hasnâ€™t chosen to do much to the Maxima at this time. That, or perhaps an even simpler explanation â€“ three and a half years isnâ€™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. Itâ€™s still a fine large commuter car with some semblance of sport and long-haul comfort seats. Itâ€™s big without being oversized, and itâ€™s not a snooze.
Status quo, then. That seems just fine for Nissan. Question is, is it just fine for buyers?
[Images Â© 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC, Nissan]