Breathtaking, isn’t it? Just the right size, its lovely proportions carry off a premium look well. It was always a cut above the Camry and Accord with its superior drive and buttery smooth VQ30 V6 as standard. Four-door Sports Car it was called, 4DSC stickers proudly on display. Nissan had a winner with that Maxima. But that Maxima was three decades ago, and after an experience with a 2020 Maxima, I’m here to tell you Nissan most definitely gives no more shits about its most expensive sedan.
The encounter was by happenstance: A friend of mine came over with a Maxima from Enterprise he had for a week while his car was in the body shop. Since it was a 2020 model year and a rental, it was a good opportunity to see how the Maxima held up over 40,000 tough miles. But what I found regarding the car’s general quality from the factory was more surprising than its condition.
Noticeable orange peel along the flame-surfaced flanks of the car didn’t lend to a look of quality. Trim both exterior and interior had a cheap, thin feel. From the plastic chrome of the trunk handle which wiggled under pressure to the “diamond” pattern interior door trim, everything seemed built to a low price. Rough edges on exterior trim were common everywhere, which my finger felt as it poked and prodded the silver sedan. The corner of the door trim was particularly poorly finished, with visible unevenness and sharp edges.
Around this time I decided to look up how much the Maxima cost since I really wasn’t sure. I’d guessed around $32,000, something like that for this mid-level SV. Turned out I was quite wrong, as the entry-level SV asks a full $37,000. The upscale SR and Platinum trims are both $42,000, and lower-level trims (S and SL) are no longer available. I let that number roll around in my head as I checked out the rest of Nissan’s Maxima efforts: $37,000. That figure seemed ever steeper when my finger disappeared into the very uneven gap at the trunk lid. Fortunately, because the left side was so bad the right side was quite tidy! About the time I was finished being shocked at the trunk, I noticed the gloss trim that brought the rear side window to meet the rear windscreen. It was rough enough to need sanding. Door handles are chromed plastic and have an unlock button instead of a touch sensor like on a Golf.
Inside didn’t fare much better. After 40,000 miles the Maxima’s black leather had picked up a cheap sheen, and not the “Just applied Armor All” kind of sheen. From the driver’s seat, all expected infotainment and power features are in place but work in a clunky and outdated way. There are about eight different display options for the center screen between the gauges, all full of too much-cluttered information. The screen resets with each restart, to a “POWER” gauge with a little horizontal bar that shows how much throttle pressure is being applied. Though it’s a pretty large car (193″ L x 73″ W x 57″ H) the inside felt relatively claustrophobic thanks to the enormous center console wall and thick pillars. The hood also protruded into view at the left, center, and right, giving a constant view of the trim at the lower edge of the windshield.
I won’t go too deep into driving impressions as I didn’t drive it for an extended period, but there wasn’t much Four-door Sports Car about its CVT and artificially weighted steering. Said steering didn’t get lighter at parking speeds for some reason, so it really had to be wrangled more than necessary while maneuvering. The Maxima lacks the fun and engagement of a sports sedan, and it’s not supremely comfortable or luxurious as a cruiser. It doesn’t do anything well considering its price.
So who’s the Maxima for? What’s its purpose? It costs much more than the Altima which is the exact same size. It’s older than the Altima, does not optional have all-wheel drive like the Altima, and does not have a choice of engines like Altima. The Altima looks better generally, and its interior is more organized and up to date as well. The most expensive 2.5-liter Platinum Altima is $3,000 less than the most basic Maxima SV. Altima no longer offers a V6, so with either 182 or 236 horsepower, it’s decently less powerful than the 300-horse Maxima. And that’s about it.
I can only conclude that Nissan no longer cares about its 4DSC. There’s no effort here in materials or build quality or any recollection of the end goal: an exciting sporty sedan. It’s slapdash and dated, and nobody should buy one. But perhaps that’s why they’re Enterprise fodder now.
[Images: Nissan, Corey Lewis / The Truth About Cars]