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2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2020 Nissan Maxima: What’s the Difference?

The fact that Nissan offers two midsize sedans is a bit peculiar in today’s automotive landscape, and with the growing popularity of crossover SUVs spelling the demise of many sedans lately, this two-vehicle strategy makes less sense today than it did five or ten years ago. Still, given that the Altima is the more economical choice while the Maxima is more upscale, there’s some logic to this approach. Here, we’ll take a look at these two midsize Nissan sedans side by side to help you understand what differentiates them and which one might be better for you.

2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2020 Nissan Maxima exterior

Exterior

The Altima received a full redesign just last year and, therefore, has a more modern exterior. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the Altima’s new styling is indicative of the brand’s modern design language. Up front, the Altima’s grille and headlight design forms a V-shape, which is a common theme throughout the Nissan lineup these days. The Atlima’s roof line is thin and culminates in the rear with a plastic trim piece that gives the roof a floating appearance. Around back, things are especially conservative, with dual exhaust tips and a rear deck-lid spoiler serving as the only features of note. See the 2020 Nissan Altima models for sale

While the Maxima has traditionally been bigger than the Altima, this is no longer the case after the Altima’s recent redesign. However, the Maxima does have an overall sportier appearance than the more economical Altima, with a more intricate headlight design, a taller belt line, black a-pillars and other black trim elements. While the gap has shrunken between the two vehicles, the Maxima is still the more engaging option. See the 2020 Nissan Maxima models for sale

2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2020 Nissan Maxima interior

Interior

Even as the more affordable option, the new Altima’s interior offers refinement and tranquility. A standard touchscreen infotainment system comes mounted on top of the dashboard, while a digital gauge cluster screen is available on upper trims. Overall, the execution is tasteful and represents a new design direction for Nissan.

The Maxima’s interior is tasteful as well, although it’s clearly from a past era. Nissan likes to market the Maxima as a 4-door sports car, and a red engine start button and other design elements further the vehicle’s case as a sport sedan. The Maxima is also available with quilted leather seats and a wood-appearance interior trim. Relative to other upscale midsize sedans, such as the recently-redesigned Toyota Avalon, the Maxima is a bit lacking in regard to rear seat legroom. That said, it’s slightly larger and more comfortable overall than what you get in the Altima.

2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2020 Nissan Maxima mechanicals

Mechanicals

The redesigned Altima offers two different engines: a basic four-cylinder and a turbocharged four-cylinder. The basic four-cylinder can be had with optional AWD. The Maxima uses one engine — a V6 — and is FWD only.

2020 Nissan Altima Engines

  • 2.5-liter inline four; 188 horsepower, 180 lb-ft of torque; 28 mpg city/39 mpg hwy/32 mpg combined with FWD; 26 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined with AWD
  • 2.0-liter VC-Turbo inline four; 236 hp, 267 lb-ft of torque; 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined

2020 Nissan Maxima Engine

  • 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft of torque; 20 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined

One of the new features that Nissan is pushing with the new Altima is the VC-Turbo engine. VC stands for variable compression, which means that the engine can change its compression ratio depending on driver input. This provides better fuel economy in lower-demand scenarios and better performance when needed. Theoretically, this allows for 4-cylinder fuel economy but V6 performance.

The Maxima’s lone engine is a no-frills 3.5-liter V6. Altogether, this power plant offers a good mix of performance and fuel economy, putting out 300 hp and returning 24 mpg combined. As these two vehicles stand currently, the Maxima offers a considerable power advantage over the Altima, even when the latter is equipped with its more powerful engine.

Finally, another thing that differentiates these two vehicles is that the new Altima is available with AWD, while the Maxima is FWD only. That said, only the Altima’s less-powerful engine can be had with AWD traction.

2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2020 Nissan Maxima safety

Safety

The 2020 Nissan Altima and Maxima both receive top marks in crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning both vehicles a Top Safety Pick award.

Both vehicles come standard with pre-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Both vehicles are also offered with Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 system, which includes lane-departure warning, rear automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and high-beam assist. This tech comes standard on the Maxima and is standard on all but the Altima’s base trim, where it’s optional.

Starting on the SV trim and up, the Altima also offers Nissan’s ProPilot Assist system which combines adaptive cruise control with lane-centering features that work together to help pilot the vehicle down the highway, even in stop-and-go traffic, making for an overall more relaxed experience for the driver. Keep in mind, though, that this system is not fully autonomous. Worth noting: ProPilot Assist is not available in the Maxima.

2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2020 Nissan Maxima tech

Technology

Both of these vehicles offer competent infotainment systems with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The Maxima adds to this standard navigation, while on the Altima, navigation comes on SL trims and up. Both vehicles are available with a 360-degree camera system.

The Maxima is available with a few more upscale features than the Altima, including a panoramic moonroof and a sport-tuned suspension.

2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2020 Nissan Maxima pricing 

Pricing

The Maxima is more luxurious than the Altima and offers more standard features, meaning that it carries a much higher base price. The base price of a 2020 Altima is $24,995 while a base Maxima comes in at $35,145 for 2020.

AWD is offered on every trim level of the Altima and requires a $1,350 premium, meaning that you can get an Altima with AWD traction for a pretty reasonable price. The least expensive turbocharged model — which, keep in mind, is FWD-only — costs just over $30,000. A fully-loaded 2020 Altima costs a little over $37,000.

The Maxima offers a variety of standard features, such as a V6 engine, remote start and a navigation system, all of which serve to justify its higher base price. A top-of-the-line Maxima approaches $44,000.

Conclusion

After the Altima’s recent redesign, the differences between these two vehicles aren’t as vast as they were in past generations. The current-generation Altima is now more spacious, more technologically advanced and offers more powertrain options than previous models, including AWD, which gives it a major advantage over much of the competition. The Maxima, which was last redesigned for the 2016 model year, is starting to feel a little dated, but the update it received for 2019 has helped to keep things feeling somewhat fresh. While in the past it was a bigger, more refined, more technologically advanced alternative to the more mainstream Altima, the Maxima’s current advantages consist mainly of driving experience and image, and the vehicle still has a lot to offer to drivers looking for equal parts luxury sedan and sport sedan — without the cost-of-entry of a luxury brand. That said, we wouldn’t buy one without driving an Altima, which now offers almost just as much car for a more reasonable price. Find a Nissan Altima for sale or Find a Nissan Maxima for sale

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Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a YouTube Channel that experts say "has potential". In his free time, he likes to hike, climb, mountain bike, snowboard, and canvas the Mountain West in his Toyota Land Cruiser. Writing bios in the third person makes him uncomfortable, but he thinks this one has turned out well.

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