The most recent Nissan Maxima has been around since 2015, and now, about five years into its life, Nissan crafted a good old midcycle refresh to entice potential buyers with some attractive new equipment. We took the updates as an opportunity to grab a 2020 Maxima SR and put the sporty four-door through its paces during a road trip from San Jose, California, to Ashland, Oregon.

This test car wore 19-inch, two-tone wheels and lustrous Sunset Drift paint. The hue costs an extra $395, but it’s one of the best colors in Nissan’s palette. The illumination package ($545) adds 20-color customizable interior accent lighting, and exterior ground lighting. A rear diffuser for $370 rounds out the exterior, a final touch on the sedan’s factory tuner appearance. Overall, this SR was lightly optioned due to its slew of standard equipment. Nissan did specify it with floor mats, a trunk mat and net, a first-aid kit, and bag hooks, all for a total of $375. (Once you’ve lived with cargo nets, it’s impossible to go back to a barren trunk and still be happy.)

Nissan’s 3.5-liter VQ-series V-6 engine feels at home in the Maxima. In this instance, it produces 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft torque, plenty of both to scoot the Maxima through holes in traffic or to blast it down the freeway. The engine is paired with a continually variable transmission that does a fantastic job of keeping a seamless supply of power on tap. It all sounds a bit like a chainsaw when the revs are up, but the startup noise is deep and throaty.

Steering is surprisingly heavy; Nissan opted for a hydro-electric system in the Maxima, and during more aggressive driving, it delivered nimble turn in and felt weighty in the corners. The wheel itself is wrapped in leather, with additional leather inlays. As the driver’s primary point of physical contact with the car, it is rather well executed.

Suspension tuning leans toward the sportier side. Even when the Maxima is full of passengers and baggage, it is still fun to run it across southern Oregon’s twistier roads. The active suspension-damping system keeps the chassis tidy in a variety of circumstances. Meanwhile, the brake pedal is firm and responsive. The overall package offers an impressive degree of capability and old-school charm.

This full-size sedan offers plenty of utility, too. The Maxima’s trunk is large enough to fit four carry-on bags with plenty of room to spare for a fifth, or maybe even a sixth. Our backseat passengers had plenty of space to stretch out in during the six-hour journey to Oregon. The dual sunroofs were a plus to those sitting in the rear; however, the rear armrest cupholders aren’t quite large enough to accommodate two to-go coffee cups.

Every Maxima receives Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 technology package for the 2020 model year. On long stretches of freeway driving, I enjoyed deploying adaptive cruise control, letting the car lend a hand when it came to traffic spacing and lane keeping.

The interior, while it has some nice materials, shows its age with big swathes of hard plastic. The center area around the shifter is super cluttered with dials, knobs, and buttons, leaving less room than ideal for storage. However, there is a neat cellphone cubby, which is great when a device is plugged into the USB port for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto duty.

The updated Maxima turned out to be a pleasant surprise as a roadtrip companion. However, from the powertrain to the interior, Nissan’s biggest sedan could use a few more updates to keep it even fresher. At $44,030 after destination charges, the Maxima SR is stuffed with equipment and has the performance capabilities to make it a trusty all-around daily driver. The Toyota Avalon and the Kia Cadenza are probably its closest competition, and both of those cars are a bit fresher than Nissan’s longstanding offering. But with the SR trim’s suspension tuning, it’s still the sportiest of the bunch.

My biggest takeaway from the time I spent in the 2020 Maxima SR: don’t ignore sedans when it comes to road-tripping. My passengers found the Maxima to be comfortable and spacious, and I enjoyed its lower center of mass and competent dynamics to a comparable SUV. It is, however, about time for Nissan to completely overhaul its biggest sedan.

2020 Nissan Maxima SR Specifications
PRICE $42,345/$44,030 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6/300 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 261 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD Sedan
EPA MILEAGE 20/30 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 192.8 x 73.2 x 56.5 in
WHEELBASE 109.3 in
WEIGHT 3,664 lb
0-60 MPH 5.8 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph

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