Things used to be simple. The Nissan Maxima was the slightly bigger, more luxurious, ostensibly more sporting and more expensive Nissan sedan. And the Nissan Altima was almost always the smaller, more basic, more everyday four-door people-hauler.
It was kind of like the relationship between the Toyota Camry and Toyota Avalon. But now the Altima is huge.
Somehow I missed this fact when the new Altima came out, but then friend of the site and automotive photographer Kevin McCauley pointed it out on Twitter:
Not one to trust a generated Google result, I went to the Nissan website—the automaker website, not the North Carolina computer salesman—and looked at the specifications of the Maxima myself...
...and compared it to the Altima.
Not only is the Altima’s wheelbase nearly two full inches longer, the overall length of the car is indeed barely greater than the Maxima as well. Both the front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions of the Altima are also slightly taller than the Maxima, with the Maxima only slightly wider than the car it’s supposed to overshadow.
Inside, the Altima has substantially more leg room for front passengers and slightly more for rear passengers, and it also has one full cubic foot more cargo room.
It is, all things considered, a bigger car than the Maxima, in a large part thanks to its new platform.
To go back to our Camry vs. Avalon comparison, the Avalon is indeed still bigger; it’s three inches longer overall, two inches longer in wheelbase, nearly half an inch wider and about 300 pounds heavier than a Camry. The two are close, but the differences are real.
So where does that leave the Nissan sedans? You can either get the newer Altima, with a variable-compression four-cylinder and more space, or you can get the Maxima, which is supposed to be “sportier” with its larger V6, but is front-wheel drive only unlike the Altima, and still only comes with a CVT transmission. They don’t even look significantly different anymore!
Now, the only trouble I see is that the Altima these days can only be had with a choice of four-cylinder engines, neither of which trump the Maxima V6's 300 HP. But that’s the only thing holding me back from saying there’s no point in buying a Maxima. They really could just do a serious Altima Nismo and existentially threaten the Maxima, and maybe that’d be worth it.
I think this is more a symptom of Nissan’s weird model lifecycle scheduling, with the Maxima getting caught in a weird space by perhaps not growing enough itself in its latest generation before the Altima came. And with sedan sales circling the drain, who knows if the one-time four-door sports car even has a future.
I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Or not.