Outside of engines there’s not much difference between Nissan’s Maxima, tested a few weeks back, and the latest version of Nissan’s Altima.
The sedans are nearly identical in size now, the Altima actually having a longer wheelbase than the Maxima, which used to be the larger of the two. Overall length is just a hair from identical and weight is similar too.
So, as sedans continue to grow from what was once compact and mid-size car dimensions into full-size models, the Altima, in essence, has caught up with the Maxima in everything but power. Even that is sort of similar, but more on that in a second.
The Altima remains less expensive, but only just, at the higher trim levels.
With so much similar (and that’s all good), let’s start with the difference, which is under the hood. The tested Scarlet Ember Red Altima 2.0 Edition One VC-Turbo touts Nissan’s newest, most high-tech powerplant. Its 2.0-liter I4 features variable compression turbocharging that greatly increases power while remaining relatively fuel efficient. It’s also an industry first.
In the Altima, the new engine is rated 236 horsepower when powered by 87 octane fuel and 248 horses using premium, 93 octane, gas. That translates into a load of oomph when you touch the gas pedal. For the record, the engine’s torque rating is an impressive 273. The car feels quick and sporty, more than the Altima’s top competitors, mainly Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, can claim.
By comparison, the Maxima features a stout and reliable 3.5-liter V6 that makes 300 horsepower and 261ft.-lbs. of torque. So, power is plentiful there too. But the Altima feels peppier.
Both are hooked up to an Xtronic CVT, continuously variable transmission, which provides smooth seamless shifts and aids gas mileage.
The new turbo I4 is rated 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, while the V6 is rated 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. So, there’s a difference you may notice over time. I got a reasonable, but not stellar 24.7 mpg with the Altima and had managed 22.8 mpg with the Maxima. Both were run in snowy, cold weather. I had expected better with the Altima as the trip computer was touting 27.5 mpg.
For those on a stricter budget, the base Altima comes with a 2.5-liter I4 that makes 188 horsepower and boasts even better gas mileage. All Maxima trims feature the V6.
Your call on the engine because otherwise, these drive pretty much as clones, kissin’ cousins to be sure. The happy news is that handling is precise and sporty on both, while the ride is smooth and well controlled with no abrupt bumps penetrating the cabin to the passengers. Either would make a delightful family sedan for a road trip, even on bumpy Midwest roads.
Inside, the red Altima’s interior has been upgraded and is, like the Maxima’s, quite handsome and stylish.
Being the premium trim level, the test car featured a sharp leather interior with black dash top and tan lower dash along with a similar pattern on the doors. Seats were tan leather and the headliner also was tan to brighten the interior. Satin chrome trims the door releases and dash while the console was flat black, a good move as that cuts reflection that can disturb a driver on a sunny day. And yes, a little sunshine broke through Wisconsin’s winter gloom for this test drive.
My only interior styling concern is the gray fake wood trim on the dash and doors that looks less natural than much I’ve seen. It doesn’t fit with this stylish interior.
Otherwise, like the Maxima, everything on the dash is well laid out and easy to get at and understand. The 8-inch touchscreen is simple to use, with buttons below the screen for some functions, plus volume and tuning knobs that anyone could use easily while driving. The rearview camera offers a 360-view too.
Seats include two-level heat settings, and the D-shaped steering wheel also is heated. I liked the seat back’s well-contoured design that gave good support while cornering, however, I found the butt pocket a bit tight in the hips. In that regard, I found the Maxima’s seats more comfortable.
These are power seats, naturally, with two memory buttons to lock in a couple drivers’ favorite seating positions.
Nissan loads up the steering wheel with the usual buttons for trip computer, radio, smart cruise control and such. The wheel itself is a manual tilt/telescope model.
Overhead is a large sunroof and good lighting, an SOS system and HomeLink on the rearview mirror. Visors flip and slide.
The Altima’s interior also is relatively quiet, but not as quiet as the Maxima’s. It’s roomy enough for four full-size adults and a possible fifth if the others aren’t wide-bodies. Likewise, the trunk is huge, even bigger than the Maxima’s, with split rear seats that fold down to carry more cargo.
Like the Maxima, this top-end Edition One model includes a load of safety equipment, including ProPilot that consists of smart cruise coupled with lane departure to help keep the car in its lane if your attention wanders (put the phone down) while on the highway. Sadly, I could find no easy way to disable the lane departure, which buzzes annoyingly if you touch, or approach, a lane marker.
Safety Shield 360 also is standard. It includes automatic rear braking if you are backing up and something is in the way. Likewise, lane departure warning is part of this too, along with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking if something is in the way up front, and both forward collision warning and a system that recognizes if pedestrians are possibly in your path. All work well.
Also standard are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with USB and USB-C ports front and rear. There’s outside puddle lighting and the kick plates inside the doors also are lighted.
Most of us would be hard put to find something we need in a sedan (or truck for that matter) that isn’t in this Edition One model, or the Platinum version that Nissan offers. The test car only added splash guards for $205 and the beautiful red paint job for $395 — and worth it.
The base price for this model is $36,635, including delivery, and the test car ended up at $37,325, just a little above today’s average new car price.
But there are many options with the Altima as it comes in eight trim levels from the 2.5S with its smaller engine and a more attractive $24,795 starting price. Any trim level with the 2.5-liter engine also offers AWD as an option for $1,350. That’s not yet available on the VC-T turbo models.
An SR model aims to be even sportier than the others, which is almost hard to fathom. But the suspension is tuned for a sportier ride, not necessarily helpful on our crumbling roads. A standard SR comes with the smaller engine and starts at $26,145, while the SR with the rockin’ turbo I4 lists at $30,195.
Both the Altima and Maxima are delightful sedans with great handling, power, and ride. The Maxima’s V6 feels smoother, its interior quieter and it has dual sunroofs. But the Altima’s power comes on like a booster rocket and makes this sedan a blast to drive.
Hits: Excellent power, ride and handling. Stylish interior, 2-level seat heat and heated D-shaped wheel, sunroof, power supportive seats with dual memory, big trunk
Misses: Seats tight in the hips, fake gray wood trim looks it, no obvious way to turn off lane departure and mpg disappointing compared to EPA rating.
Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.
Engine: 2.0-liter, variable compression turbo I4, 236 horsepower
Transmission: Xtronic CVT
Weight: 3,436 lbs. (base model)
Length: 192.9 in.
Wheelbase: 111.2 in.
Cargo: 15.4 cu.ft.
MPG: 25/34; 24.7 (tested)
Base Price: $36,635 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Splash guards, $205; Premium paint, $395
Test vehicle: $37,325
Sources: Nissan, Kelley Blue Book
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.