Faster, not bigger. Given the 2020 Nissan Maxima’s name and its position at the top of the brand’s sedan lineup, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s also Nissan’s biggest sedan.

But it’s not. In fact, it has the exact same dimensions as the mainstream Nissan Altima. So, what is it that sets it apart?

The biggest answer is under the hood. Every version of the Maxima comes with a 3.5-liter V6 making 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. That’s a lot for a mid-size sedan, especially one with front-wheel drive, and the car will do the 0-60 mph sprint in under six seconds.

But for all that power, the Maxima can’t shake its econo-car roots. The willing V6 is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which drones and holds revs too high. We’d rather have an option for all-wheel drive, too.

Looking the part. To live up to its engine, the Maxima received a new sporty look in a 2019 refresh. Nissan’s V-grille works well here, set off by slanting chrome and LED headlights.

The effect continues around the sides, with distinctive lines and a trendy floating roof. It’s all nicely put together, striking without being offensive. If sportiness were judged on looks alone, the Maxima would be a winner.

This generation of Maxima dates back to 2015, and the button-filled center stack betrays its age. Depending on how you feel about touchscreens, that may not be a bad thing. Sporty touches like a flat-bottomed steering wheel help to rescue the Maxima’s interior, and material quality is generally good.

Nissan Maxima

Comfort and compromise. The Maxima is never going to be a true sports car, so it needs to follow through on the comfort of a mid-size sedan. Up front, it does so nicely.

Front seats are supportive and power adjustable, even when upholstered in cloth. Upper trims can wear synthetic suede or real leather, both of which are nice.

But the second row suffers, with just 34.2 inches of leg room. The Toyota Camry offers 38 inches, and the Honda Accord more than 40. The difference is noticeable, and it means that the Altima won’t be very comfortable for five adults. The sloping roofline eats into some of the available head room, too.

The trunk is similarly inhibited, holding only 14.3 cubic feet of cargo. Again, that’s down on competitors, with the Camry carting 15.1 cubes and the Accord 16.7.

Despite sharing dimensions, Nissan’s own Altima beats out the Maxima on both leg room and cargo capacity. If your sedan is primarily for family duty, you may want to look across the showroom.

Value at the extremes. All Maximas start with a good set of base features, including an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen and full smartphone compatibility. But that’s expected for the price.

Even better is Nissan’s comprehensive suite of safety tech, which includes lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. With those features, the base Maxima is a reasonable value.

But it still doesn’t quite feel like a sports sedan. For that, buyers should look to the SR trim. At $42,345, it’s a pricier choice, but it adds a stiffer suspension, more responsive brakes, and a sharp exterior with blacked-out accents and 19-inch wheels. It comes closest to duplicating the excitement that made the Maxima a hit in the first place.

Final thoughts. Nissan makes a noble effort toward a sports sedan in the 2020 Maxima. The style is alluring, and the SR trim very nearly lives up to the billing, but the V6 engine is held back by a slow CVT, and it lags behind competitors in interior space.

The deck isn’t stacked in Nissan’s favor – the market for sports sedans seems to be shrinking. You could do worse than the Maxima, but these days, we’re not sure that’s enough.

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