Derek Shiekhi | Nov 09, 2020


See the exterior of the 2020 Nissan Maxima

The popularity of trucks and SUVs over the past several years has been so hard on the sedan market that certain manufacturers have scaled back or outright discontinued production of traditional 4-door vehicles. But the companies that do continue to offer them are more motivated than ever to make them stand out.

A great example of that is the Toyota Camry. For decades, it was a reliable but uninspiring means of transportation. Now it's available for the first time ever in TRD trim, which adds an aggressive body kit, cat-back exhaust and genuine sport suspension.

The Nissan Maxima is another. Nissan thoroughly refreshed it for the 2019 model year by revising the front and rear fascias, updating the interior, adding Nissan Safety Shield 360 to the list of available tech features and offering new content packages. Just one year later, Nissan has upgraded the Maxima again. All 2020 Maximas come standard with key safety technology that used to be no-cost content on only certain trim levels. And the sporty SR model comes right off the production line with two major features that were once part of a premium package.

I got more familiar with all of those changes behind the wheel of a 2020 Maxima SR. Nissan configured my press loaner with premium paint (Sunset Drift ChromaFlair), an exterior ground and interior accent lighting bundle and floor and cargo mats, bringing its price up from $41,840 to the as-tested amount of $44,030.


2020 Nissan Maxima SR Exterior

See the exterior of the 2020 Nissan Maxima

When the current generation of the Maxima launched as a 2016 model, it showed that a mass-produced, budget-friendly sedan could look exciting, even if it was only going to be used to run the most mundane of errands. Since then, Nissan has tweaked certain exterior elements, but the Maxima still has the same basic sense of visual drama as it did four years ago. The V-motion grille's hard and fast lines shoot toward the distinctive jewel-like LED headlights.

A prominent style line swells to a peak above the front wheels and flows down and then gradually up across the doors before gently fading away. The Maxima's "floating roof," once a novel design choice now used by many other companies, adds a visual lightness that helps keep the Maxima's profile from looking too thick.

The rear end echoes the front by connecting the LED taillights with a strip of chrome trim. My test car's optional diffuser fit in well between the two banks of angled exhaust finishers. Along with the eye-catching paint and black 19-inch wheels and trunk lid spoiler, it made it immediately obvious that the SR is the sportiest version of the Maxima.

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2020 Nissan Maxima SR Interior

See the interior of the 2020 Nissan Maxima

The Maxima SR's interior design delivered the same message. Orange contrast stitching highlighted the door panels, center console and seats, which were covered in a combination of Charcoal leather and racy Alcantara inserts. The steering wheel had a flat bottom, a feature I've seen in more powerful and significantly more expensive performance cars. Even during the most sedate drives, my right foot pressed down on metal sport pedals. But it went beyond just seeing how sporty my surroundings were. I could feel it - in the way the roof arched over me and made me feel like I was in a cockpit and the immediately reachable starter button and gearshift lever.

It was the same even with the eight-inch touchscreen for the navigation and infotainment systems, which was slightly canted toward me. Like other Nissan touchscreens I've tested in the past, it was a bit slow to react to some of my inputs. Fortunately, the right-sized volume and tuning knobs were easy to grip and rip, so getting to the right station and cranking up the 11-speaker Bose audio system was a quick and easy process. If I felt like listening to a YouTube playlist, I could use the standard Apple CarPlay connectivity to stream it from my iPhone (Android Auto is also standard).

Rear headroom and legroom was more than enough for someone my size (5'10"). Back there I had the perfect view of one of the 2020 Maxima SR's newest standard features: the Dual Panel Panoramic Moonroof. It used to be a part of the Premium Package, but now it's built into the SR trim level.

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2020 Nissan Maxima SR Powertrain

See the engine of the 2020 Nissan Maxima

Nissan bills the Maxima as a "4-door Sports Car." The last Maxima I tested gave me mixed emotions about that title. On one hand, the Platinum model didn't seem as athletic as I expected it to. Torque steer was always a throttle jab away. On the other hand, as the top trim level of the Maxima range, it was more focused on luxury, so I tried to be fair to it given its positioning and intended purpose. I didn't cut the Maxima SR the same kind of slack. Nissan equips it with a sport-tuned suspension consisting of re-tuned dampers, stiffer springs and larger front stabilizer bar and pairs its Continuously Variable Transmission with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. I expected the SR to be noticeably different from the Platinum. It was. I only got the faintest whiff of torque steer when I mashed the throttle and let out all of the 3.5-liter V6's 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque.

That was plenty to keep things interesting, although the CVT's "manual" shifts were a bit lethargic. On the sweeping curves that connect the small towns outside of Austin, Texas, the Maxima seemed to flow from one point on the road to the next. It felt low to the ground, as if it was scanning and processing every foot of pavement in real time. For a couple of brief moments, it had the fluid grace I've enjoyed in Lexus's newest sedans.

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2020 Nissan Maxima SR Safety

See the safety equipment of the 2020 Nissan Maxima

Nissan focused the bulk of its upgrades to the 2020 Maxima on its safety equipment. All trim levels now come standard with Nissan Safety Shield 360's High Beam Assist, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Automatic Braking. The entire lineup also gets the Integrated Dynamic-control Module chassis management technology that used to be exclusive to the SR grade. That version of the Maxima benefits from the addition of the Intelligent Around View Monitor, the second major component of the outgoing Premium Package.

All of the Maxima's various safety systems earned it a 5-star Overall Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Top Safety Pick+ title from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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2020 Nissan Maxima SR Overall

See the exterior of the 2020 Nissan Maxima

 If you missed out on your chance to pick up a 2019 Maxima, that's OK. The 2020 model has the same unmistakable styling and even more performance and safety features. You can learn more about them in person at your local AutoNation Nissan dealership.

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2020 Nissan Maxima SR Specs

Layout

4-door, 5-passenger, AWD

Engine/Transmission

3.5-liter V6, 300 hp, 261 lb-ft
CVT automatic

Mileage

20/30 mpg (city/hwy)

NHTSA Safety Rating

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AutoNation Drive Test Drive Review: ★ ★ ★ ★


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*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.