Although the Nissan Altima and Maxima are nearly identical in length, the two sedans are more different than you might think. Both sedans have been a part of Nissan’s lineup for decades, serving customers who don’t want another Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or Toyota Avalon. So if your search has narrowed to the 2021 Nissan Altima and 2021 Nissan Maxima sedans, which one is the better buy? Let’s break down their differences.
Altima Over Maxima: Efficiency and Range
Thanks to its lighter weight and all-four-cylinder lineup, the Nissan Altima is more efficient than the Maxima, and it’ll take you farther on one tank of fuel. That’s true regardless of whether you’re comparing the six-cylinder 300-hp Maxima to the 182-188-hp Altima 2.5 or to the 236-248-hp Altima 2.0 VC-Turbo. The Maxima comes in at an EPA-rated 20/30 mpg city/highway, which isn’t bad. But the Altima excels, with 25/34 mpg in VC-Turbo form (the upgrade engine) to 28/39 mpg for certain front-wheel-drive trims with the base engine.
Altima Over Maxima: More Drivetrain Options
Here’s the thing about loaded mainstream sedans: Not everyone cares about power. Some drivers simply want an upscale experience and can accept a less powerful setup. That’s where the Altima’s more widespread offerings come in handy. Not only will Nissan sell you a 2021 Altima Platinum with the standard 2.5 engine, but all-wheel-drive is also available on almost every trim. The only exceptions are the base S and 2.0 SR trims; the latter has a more powerful turbo-four under the hood. With the Maxima, every model comes with a V-6 and front-wheel drive. By the way, when we tested the Altima 2.0 and Maxima, both hit 60 mph in about six seconds.
Altima Over Maxima: Lighter Steering Feel
Neither the Altima nor the Maxima are the sportiest cars in their respective segments, but the Altima actually holds an advantage here. In a First Test review of a 2020 Maxima, we said the steering was too heavy at low speeds and felt somewhat vague at higher speeds. Although the Altima isn’t as sporty as a Mazda 6 or as all-around solid as a Honda Accord, its lighter steering should make for easier day-to-day driving. In a comparison against a Camry, we said that “calling the Altima ‘sporty’ is probably a stretch, but it’s certainly more fun to drive.”
Altima Over Maxima: Screen Placement
Speaking of making things easier in day-to-day driving, the Altima’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is placed at the top of the dash, unlike the Maxima’s 8.0-inch display. It’s not a make-or-break difference, but it makes the Altima feel like the more modern car. In the aforementioned Camry versus Altima comparison, we described the ergonomics as “well thought out,” with intuitive controls that are within reach of the driver.
Maxima Over Altima: Emotional Appeal
The best reason to get a Maxima over an Altima isn’t the additional horsepower or extra features—it’s the car’s emotional appeal. Some may take pride in knowing the Maxima is the flagship sedan in Nissan’s lineup. There’s also something to be said about how comparatively rare the Maxima is: In 2020, Nissan’s Maxima sales amounted to only 13 percent of the more popular (and affordable) Altima.
Maxima Over Altima: Blacked-Out A-Pillar
The 2021 Altima and 2021 Maxima are very close in length, width, and height, but you can still tell them apart. Before you go looking for the badges on the trunk lid, check out the A-pillar. In person, the 2021 Maxima’s blacked-out A-pillar may make a real impression over the Altima. The newer Altima has a larger “V-Motion” grille than the Maxima, but we’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Maxima Over Altima: Upscale Seating Touches
Higher trims of the 2021 Maxima may look and feel more upscale than any 2021 Altima. And considering the Maxima is thousands more than the Altima, that makes sense. You can equip a Maxima with diamond-quilted seating inserts and Alcantara trim. In our 2020 Maxima First Test, we appreciated how soft the leather seats were.
Maxima Over Altima: Fun Features
If you go all-out on a 2021 Maxima, Nissan will be happy to sell you one with a dual-panel moonroof and a power rear-glass sunshade. Fancy. The Maxima also offers heated rear outboard seats and ventilated front seats. If you’re looking for a premium experience without a luxury badge, the Maxima might be a better bet than an Altima.
Altima vs. Maxima: Which One Is Better?
A Nissan fan who’s picking between the 2021 Maxima and Altima is going to find two very different cars. The automaker has done an admirable job distinguishing the two four-doors, even if they do both earn excellent IIHS and NHTSA safety scores but perform poorly in IntelliChoice value ratings. If you’re considering the 2021 Maxima SV base model, we strongly suggest also considering an Altima. Aside from being less expensive, the Altima’s advantages in efficiency, driving range, and its lighter steering feel help Nissan’s mid-size sedan shine.
When you upgrade to the Maxima SR or Platinum, the decision gets tougher. With more upscale features accompanying its slightly bolder styling, the less common Maxima is tempting. If it were our money, though, we’d reluctantly forgo the Maxima’s extra features and emotional appeal, and instead, save thousands of dollars by picking a loaded Altima.
2021 Nissan Altima vs. 2021 Nissan Maxima Pros and Cons
2021 Nissan Altima Advantages Over the Maxima
- Efficiency and driving range
- More drivetrain options
- Lighter steering feel
- Higher infotainment screen placement
2021 Nissan Maxima Advantages Over the Altima
- Less common
- Design details
- Upscale seating
- Features including an available dual-panel moonroof and ventilated front seats
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