Billed as the 4DSC (four door sports car), the Maxima was first introduced in 1980 as Nissan’s flagship sedan. With more expressive styling and a higher quality interior than the mainstream Altima, the Maxima has always been the bridge between the namesake brand and luxury Infiniti division. Over the years, each iteration of the Maxima have received its fair share of praises and critics. Now in its 8th generation, how does the Maxima fare against its competitors in the premium sedan rental space? This week, we take a deep dive in the 2018 Nissan Maxima SL.
All Maximas are powered by a 3.5L VQ V6 engine producing 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission on offer is Nissan’s tried and tested Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). For renters unfamiliar with CVTs, it is essentially an automatic transmission with a continuous range of effective gear ratios. It may be weird at first to not feel any shifting but you will soon get used to it. Plus, your wallet will thank you at the pumps. Over our time with the vehicle, we averaged 9.9L/100km in mixed city and highway driving, a figure that handily beats the Chrysler 300S we had the week before and impressive given the vehicle’s size and level of performance.
Unfortunately, this is where the positives end. Even in normal mode, the Maxima’s steering is unusually heavy for its intended purpose as a daily driver. As much as we love driving, we are tired from the amount of effort needed to make turns, especially at low speeds. Things are better on the highway, but we do caution renters looking to drive mostly in the city, your arms are in for a workout.
All Maximas except for the SR trim are equipped with 18-inch wheels with P245/45R18 tires. While these low-profile tires look the part, they do a poor job absorbing undulations on the road, leading to a hard ride that is not helped by the suspension set-up. Moreover, we noticed a significant amount of tire drone coming through the cabin at low speeds. Given that our rental has more than 35000km on the odometer, it could be an isolated issue with the worn tires and we will reserve judgement until we can get another Maxima for comparison. Nonetheless, do experience it for yourself and do bring up any weird noises to the attention of staff before embarking on a long trip.
With its swooping styling, we aren’t expecting superb visibility However, we are pleasantly surprised once inside. Despite sitting down low, the relatively low belt line and large windows afford a good view out of the front and sides. Aiding to the visibility are a standard backup camera and blind spot warning with rear cross traffic alert as well as front and rear parking sensors on the SL trim.
Comfort and Convenience
The 2018 Maxima is offered in 4 trims, SV, SL (most common in rental lots), SR and Platinum. Standard features on our SL trim rental include a 8-inch infotainment screen with ‘navigation’, ‘Apple Carplay’, ‘Android Auto’ (note the quotations, we will get to them later) and 4 USB ports, Bose premium surround sound, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push-button start, leather front heated seats, heated steering wheel, 12-way power driver seat., panoramic roof and a suite of active safety features (adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert).
While the adaptive cruise control will bring the vehicle to complete stop, it will NOT accelerate when traffic moves again. Instead, it will sound a beep to remind the driver to take over. It certainly caught us off guard so make sure you are prepared to put on the brakes when using this function. Making matters worse, the icons for it and forward collision warning are tucked on the upper right corner of the centre instrument cluster screen. When the vehicle senses an imminent collision, the icons flash and the vehicle makes dinky beeps. Given the urgency of these situations, we wish the warnings are made more obvious.
Befitting its status at the top of the Nissan sedan line up, the Maxima interior features contrasting stitching across the dashboard. While never going to trick anyone into thinking it’s leather, it does add a dash of luxury to the cabin. We appreciate the use of padding on the sides of the centre console, which provide a perfect place to rest our knees during long drives. The seats, unlike that of the 300, are well-sculpted, supportive and covered in soft leather. We never felt sore in them and can see them being perfect for longer road trips.
Ease of use
Infotainment duties on the Maxima are handled through a centre touchscreen that can also be controlled via buttons on the dash or centre console. We like how Nissan gives drivers multiple input choices, but it’s overkill given how little there is to control. Our rental had its navigation SD card removed (stolen?) which meant no navigation. Intriguingly, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also disabled (we tried multiple ways to connect to no avail). Be sure to check if your rental has the SD card (located on the right of the CD slot), otherwise, be prepared to deal with a lot of infotainment woes, including a clock that keeps resetting itself to the wrong time.
Unlike the infotainment screen, the instrument panel is not affected by the lack of the SD card. The 7-inch customizable centre colour screen features trip and media information, status of the safety systems, as well as various vehicle settings. Navigating the menus are easy using the toggle and buttons on the steering wheel. The other buttons on the wheel controls the adaptive cruise control, which are also intuitive to use (aside from the small icons). Wrapped in perforated leather, the flat-bottomed steering wheel is another high point of the interior and compensates somewhat for the unnecessary heavy steering.
Despite the unconventional transmission, the Maxima uses a traditional gearshift with a manual mode. We never understood the rationale behind having ‘programmed’ gears for a CVT but to each their own. A sport mode that makes the steering even heavier, sharpens the throttle response and causes the CVT to maintain a higher rpm is available. To be honest, the difference is minor and we left it in normal mode most of the time.
Compared to the 300 that we had last week, the Maxima is downright svelte. At just under 4.9 metres bumper to bumper, the Maxima is similar in size to the Altima, Nissan’s mid-size offering. Not surprisngly, the space inside is comparable as well. Front seat legroom is adequate but wider drivers may find the wide centre console cutting into into knee and foot space. Headroom, however is at a premium with our panoramic sunroof equipped rental and especially so in back due to the sloping roofline. Thankfully, legroom is adequate and with a bit of slouching, someone over 6 ft will still fit back there.
With around 14 cubic feet of space, trunk space is smaller than most other vehicles in its class (I’m looking at you, Ford Taurus). For more space, the rear seats can be folded 60/40 but no ski pass through is available.
We applaud Nissan for trying something different with the Maxima. The swept back profile, floating roof (more obvious in other colours) and aggressive lighting elements allows it to stand out from its stablemates. While no doubt a stylish vehicle, the Nissan badge at the front relegates it to just another nondescript sedan. Despite being a rare sighting on the road, we doubt many will notice as you drive by in this rental. That being said, if you are a fan of the styling, picking this car will enable you in be at the centre of your own attention.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: The Maxima is the cover car for the premium category. Most models on the lot will be the SL trim like our rental. We have also seen lower SV and top-of-the-line Platinum trims on the lot so do keep a look out. The easiest way to distinguish between the trims is by the sunroof and seats. SV is the only trim that does not come with the panoramic sunroof and Platinum is the only one that comes with quilted leather seats.
Avis/Budget/Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Interestingly, we have yet to spot any Maximas from these rental agencies in Canada.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus and Buick Regal (rarer). Read our Chrysler 300S review for more information about them.
Avis/Budget/Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Check out our Chrysler 300S review for more information about the premium car selections at these rental agencies.
As Nissan’s flagship sedan, the Maxima packs a lengthy list of standard safety and convenience features that renters will appreciate. The driving experience does leave something to be desired but if you can overlook that, the Maxima (in SL and higher trims) remains a solid choice in the premium car segment IF navigation and smartphone connectivity are active. Otherwise, you are better off with other alternatives which come standard with these road trip essentials.