Nissan’s flagship sedan celebrates its 40th anniversary.
It has been four decades and eight generations for Nissan’s flagship Maxima sedan, a model that has outlasted several competitors. Marketed as a “four door sports sedan,” the Maxima has long supplied a balanced blend of performance, tech features, and elegance. To mark its latest milestone, a 40th Anniversary Edition based on the top Platinum trim was our test model during an unusually calm winter week.
The 2021 Nissan Maxima is a midsize front-wheel-drive sedan with room for five. This year, Nissan offers the Maxima in three well-equipped trims – SV, SR, and Platinum. Prices range from $36,990 to $42,220, plus a $925 destination charge. Our test model with the 40th Anniversary Package ($2,125) brought this sedan’s final cost to just over $45,000.
Maxima Then and Now
Forty years is a long time to stick with a model name, although some vehicles have been around much longer. The current Maxima shares its bones with the previous-generation Altima, with the latest version sporting a slightly longer wheelbase.
The Maxima appeared just as the Datsun nameplate was giving way to Nissan in the early 1980s. The U.S. market finally was getting the global brand’s name and what better way to mark that occasion by delivering a new model with maximum (Maxima) features?
Somehow, the Maxima has survived even as competitors abandon the segment for utility vehicles. A previous CEO indicated the nameplate had too much goodwill for it to be abandoned. That was in 2015. With its previous benefactor gone, we wonder if the Maxima has a voice left to advance its cause.
What’s always fascinated us about the current Maxima is its premium and sporty looks. Its roofline sits lower than most and the wavy profile lines enhance its squat stance. Huge lighting elements, custom wheels, and a muscular haunch are equally eye-catching.
Inside, the cabin is the most elegant we’ve found in this class. With the two bottom trims dropped this year, the remaining choices advance a premium look that’s universally applied to the Maxima line.
All this becomes apparent in each of the three trims, as they feature leather interiors with comfortable, generously bolstered front seats. In particular, the driver’s seat is the winner as it includes a thigh extender, one of this writer’s personal best features in any car. And why is that? As someone who battles sciatica, the extender shifts body weight slightly forward, easing pressure on the lower back and hips. Coupled with lumbar support and seat heating and cooling, the only “want” is massaging.
Choosing the 40th Anniversary Package brings in features unique to the Platinum trim. The red semi-aniline leather-appointed seating is on par with what we’ve found in Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand. The red contrast interior stitching is a subtle embellishment, but our favorite touch was the upmarket satin dark chrome finishers running along the bottom of the dashboard. Also present was a pair of heritage design cues in the form of white background speedometer and tachometer facings.
The milestone package dresses up the exterior too with a special two-tone slate gray paint with a contrasting black roof, unique 19-inch gloss black aluminum-alloy wheels, and other black accents and heritage badging.
Tech & Safety Features
On the tech front, the Maxima comes with a 7-inch color display, a Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth, navigation, and smartphone compatibility. While the 8-speaker audio system on the base trim is quite good, the available 11-speaker Bose package is our preference.
Nearly all the expected driver-assist features are standard, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, and blind-spot assist with rear cross-traffic alert. What the Maxima lacks is ProPILOT Assist, a semi-autonomous driving aid offered on most Nissan models. If the Maxima survives to another generation, then that technology is certain to appear.
The V6 engine, like the V8 before it, has become an increasingly rare commodity in today’s vehicles. Notably, the Maxima is the only Nissan sedan model with a V6 as even the similar-sized Altima no longer offers one.
It’s a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 too, which means it doesn’t use boosting power from a turbocharger or a supercharger to squeeze out more kick. This one, though, delivers a solid 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque, then routes power to the front wheels utilizing a continuously variable automatic transmission or CVT.
The CVT does its best with the power at hand, although it isn’t as accurate or smooth as an automatic in this application. Something like the new 9-speed automatic in Nissan’s trucks would impart a more performance-oriented feel. Still, we were happy to zoom to 60 mph in under 7 seconds with the available powertrain.
Where the Maxima excels best is with its quick steering and comfortable ride. We’ve been in larger sedans that don’t match the Maxima in absorbency. Finally, with an EPA-estimated 30 mpg highway rating, this sedan has an efficiency side too.
It wouldn’t surprise us if we’re witnessing the last hurrah for the Maxima as the trim levels have dropped from five to three and the market for sedans continues to soften. If our recommended Platinum edition with the 40th Anniversary Package represents the send-off, it closes out a strong model run for this premium mainstream sedan.
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