Based on the way it looks, drives and feels, the 2014 Nissan Maxima should be considered a luxury performance sedan. Instead, its Nissan badges relegate it to being a comfortable and compliant family sedan that offers near-luxury accommodations for five passengers. It also has an ambitious, sporting character capable of competing with midsize performance sedans such as BMW, Audi and Volvo. And it achieves all of this at a reasonable price.

The Maxima's blend of build quality, visual appeal, interior refinement and driving prowess makes it one of the most balanced sedan offerings for its price. The Maxima is not a status symbol, but in these difficult economic times that might be a good thing. Front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) remove the Maxima from most driving enthusiasts' shopping list, but amenities such as a 9-speaker Bose audio system, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel and graphite-finished 19-inch aluminum wheels go a long way in making the Maxima the preferred choice of those who shun traditional (and sometimes boring) family sedans.

What's New for 2014?

A new S Limited Edition Package adds HID headlights, fog lights, rear spoiler and 18-in Dark Hyper Silver wheels to the base 3.5 S, while the 3.5 SV trim gains as standard a rearview monitor, USB connectivity and a 7-inch color monitor.

What We Like

Well-built; agile handling; powerful engine; near-luxury cabin; abundance of available features

What We Don't

Pricey options; limited rear seat headroom; not quite a status symbol; no manual transmission offered

How Much?

$31,810-$39,500

Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive Maxima is powered by a potent 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque. This engine is managed by a CVT. The Environment Protection Agency estimates fuel economy for the Nissan Maxima at 19 miles per gallon city/26 mpg hwy. The city figure is low relative to entry-level luxury competitors.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Nissan Maxima comes in just two trims: 3.5 S and 3.5 SV.

Standard features for the 3.5 S ($31,810) trim include auto on/off headlights, power glass moonroof, power windows with one touch up/down for the front windows, dual-zone climate control, Intelligent key entry and push-button start, cruise control, Bluetooth, 8-way power driver's and 4-way power passenger seat and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. 

The 3.5 SV ($34,900) adds a rearview monitor, power-adjustable lumbar support, extending thigh support for the driver's seat, 7-inch color monitor, USB/iPod connectivity, leather upholstery and a universal home remote. 

Many of the Maxima's most popular options are bundled into packages. The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats, steering wheel and side mirrors. The Premium Package adds a dual panel moonroof with power retractable sunshades, reverse tilt-down side mirrors, a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, premium leather and paddle shifters. The Sport Package adds sport suspension, 19-in wheels, heated and cooling driver's seat, smoked headlight covers and a heated steering wheel, among other items. The Tech Package adds hard-drive-based voice-activated navigation, Sirius NavTraffic and streaming Bluetooth. The 9-speaker Bose audio system is a standalone option that can be ordered only with the SV trim. 

Safety

Standard safety features for the Maxima include ABS, stability control, traction control, six airbags and active front head restraints. For 2014, the Maxima earned the highest front and side crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Maxima three out of five stars in the front-end crash test, and five stars in the side-impact and rollover tests. 

Behind the Wheel

Aside from lacking a manual transmission, the 2014 Nissan Maxima is as robust and exhilarating as any well-regarded sport sedan. A manual mode that uses steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to simulate the experience of a 6-speed gearbox compensates for that shortfall.

The Maxima is strong off the line and very confident in mid-sprint. It's effortless at highway passing and does so with an aggressive snarl. Furthermore, handling is impressive with steering that's both quick and precise, allowing the Maxima to corner with the agility and nimbleness of a smaller sports car. The tires offer plenty of grip, and the car remains virtually flat through sharp turn-ins.

Yet the Maxima's ride is very compliant. Regardless of its sporting personality, it delivers a feel that is comfortable for the daily commute as well as long-distance highway cruising, making it a fine choice for a family sedan. 

Other Cars to Consider

Chrysler 300 -- The 300 is more elegant, while the Maxima leans more in the direction of sport. The Maxima's smaller overall package helps make it a better handler.

Hyundai Genesis -- Both are legitimate sport sedans, but the Genesis offers more luxury and refinement than the Maxima. The Genesis has quickly made a reputation for itself as a premium-level car. For that reason, it is more of a status symbol.

Volkswagen CC -- Many will argue that the Volkswagen is better built due to its German engineering roots, but the Maxima is right on par in quality. The two cars are comparable in performance. 

AutoTrader's Advice

Our recommendation for the Maxima is the up-level SV. It adds leather upholstery and more comfortable and supportive seats, both of which will make your daily drive or weekend road trip more enjoyable and comfortable. The SV trim is also eligible for the best options, including the Bose system, navigation and the Sport and Premium packages. Sure, you can live without this stuff, but isn't it better not to? 

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