“I’d love to have something a bit more interesting than, you know, a Fusion or a Camry,” I said to the Enterprise agent as we walked down a row of rental cars. He stopped at a gray 2019 Nissan Maxima SV and said “well this is considered ‘premium’.” I accepted the car, tossed my bag in the trunk, and set off to see what Nissan’s latest Maxima was all about.

Nissan wanted me to drive this Maxima so badly that they sold it to Enterprise, who rented it to me for two weeks on behalf of Ford while my 2018 F-150 repurchase was being processed.

Nissan ran a marketing campaign in 1989 that focused on their newly-redesigned, third-generation Maxima sedan. With the V6 engine from the 300ZX sports car, a five-speed manual transmission, sharp suspension, and crisp good looks, Nissan called the ’89 Maxima a “4 Door Sports Car.” They went so far as to place little “4DSC” stickers on the rear door glass of every 1989-1994 Maxima they sold.

Over the years, the Maxima grew up a bit but retained its clean lines and mildly sporty charm. Model years 2002 and 2003 may have been “peak 4DSC” – although the marketing campaign had long died off, Nissan offered a 3.5 liter “VQ” V6 paired to a six-speed manual and a limited-slip differential. It was no sports car, but it was pretty competent. I should know, I learned to drive in my dad’s 2002 Infiniti I35, which was the same Maxima with extra leather and a four-speed automatic. It retained the limited-slip differential and could put power down easily in dry or wet conditions. Torque steer was minimal even though the VQ35 made 255 horsepower. And that VQ35 made it a total sleeper (sorry, mom and dad) if you wanted to “see what she’ll do” away from a stoplight.

And so, that brings us to the 2019 Nissan Maxima SV.

What Is It?

Redesigned for the 2016 model year, Nissan chose to also bring back the “4 Door Sports Car” marketing with its newest Maxima. The car features an updated VQ-series V6 making 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque. It sends power through an “Xtronic” CVT (continuously variable transmission) and an open differential.

Nissan equips all Maximas with “intelligent engine braking,” “trace control” and “active ride control.” The latter two options use the brakes to help control the chassis. Maxima SR is the sporty trim level and adds stiffer springs, a larger front sway bar, and paddle shifters for the CVT.

My “SV” trim was equipped well enough, with heated leather seats, keyless go, Apple CarPlay, and some driver assistance technology including adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring.

MSRP of my 2019 Maxima SV was roughly $37,195.

What’s This ‘4 Door Sports Car’ Bit?

It’s a load of marketing you-know-what. It’s comical. It’s sad. Nissan used to have a pretty honest front-wheel-drive sporty sedan in the Maxima. The 2019 Maxima is best enjoyed when you forget about the marketing efforts and approach it as a nice, “near luxury” sort of car with no sporty zest injected whatsoever.

The big 300 horsepower V6 is hampered significantly by the CVT. A CVT, by nature, has infinite “gear” ratios and should be able to hold the engine at its peak RPM for making power when requested. Nissan’s programming, though, adds in fake gear changes that never allow the V6 to shine.

Nissan gives the Maxima a “Sport” button which… doesn’t do much. It firms up the electronic power steering and displays some sporty gauges in the center screen. One important gauge is called POWER and shows a bar that fills up the more throttle you add. Great use of pixels, that one. When you add all that POWER, the steering squirms around even at mild throttle. Fighting the steering away from a stoplight isn’t the best look.

Speaking of steering, it’s not great. It feels disconnected and doesn’t get any better in Sport. The chassis as a whole is not the most composed, alternating between crashiness and wallow over every bump. Nissan adds stiffer springs and a bigger front sway bar to the SR trim, and both sound undesirable. The last thing this Maxima needs is a firmer ride, and a bigger front sway bar will only make the car more prone to understeer.

How’s The Maxima At Being… Not Sporty?

It’s not bad. The seats are comfortable, it’s relatively quiet inside, and it’ll do an honest 30 mpg on long highway drives. The base sound system (SL and up get a Bose system) is a little boomy but acceptable.

The remote start feature was amusing in that some details appear to have been missed in implementation. If remote start is used and you open a door to, say, load your work bag in the backseat, the car will beep at you when the door is closed, because the keys are outside the vehicle. Of course they are, I haven’t sat down yet! Additionally, the car elects to start playing music if the sound system was on when you last exited. Why play music when I haven’t approached the car yet? These are small details but they did not go unnoticed.

The 2019 Nissan Maxima is a totally fine car. It’s an Altima for people who want an Altima with a V6 – seriously, the two cars are about the same size now. It’s a pretty nice car to commute in and take on road trips. It is, however, absolutely not a “4 Door Sports Car.” I enjoyed it enough for 500 miles, but found myself constantly realizing how much better of a car Dad’s 2002 I35-a-la-Maxima was in comparison.

1 COMMENT

  1. Nice objective look at the merits and drawbacks of this one – and little did Enterprise know that you’d be slicing and dicing ever aspect of their rental car. Agree that having a Sport button and Power gauge on a car with a soul-sucking CVT is a bit of a reach. At least this one appears to be serving you well for the day to day commute, even if it’s not worthy of 4DSC stickers in the back windows.

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