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2016 Nissan Maxima First Drive Review

New Maxima Ready to Roll: Nissan Adds Power and Technology, Cuts Weight

New Maxima Ready to Roll: Nissan Adds Power and Technology, Cuts Weight

The Nissan Maxima has always been a bit of a puzzle to me. It’s the square peg in the round hole as far as midsize cars go, especially with the Nissan Altima biting at its tires as a more affordable midsize car.

It’s slated as Nissan’s flagship, though that’s an honor the GT-R holds when I think of Nissan. There is a difference between a halo vehicle such as the GT-R and a vehicle that represents the brand from top to bottom, I know. Flagships, however, earn that place instead of being named to it.

Now entering its eighth generation, the Nissan Maxima appears ready to take the lead and redefine the Nissan brand by reclaiming its four-door sports car moniker. It’s quick, fun, and very luxurious inside and out.

The Maxima arrives 1.3 inches lower and 2.2 inches longer than the outgoing model. It’s lighter, sleeker, and more powerful. All of that bodes well for improving sportiness. Does the Maxima deliver? Yes. Nissan engineers looked to the GT-R to find ways to improve the Maxima’s powerplant and ended up heavily revising the 3.5-liter V-6. They replaced roughly 60 percent of the engine parts, toughening it up and allowing it to create 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque.

The engine is mated to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission that is one of the best CVTs I’ve tested, though depending upon your take on CVTs, that may not always be good news. There were some moments while driving the Maxima around Nashville, Tennessee, when I would hear that familiar whine as the car tried to find the most efficient position, but those moments were few and far between. The transmission was much more responsive when I switched the drive mode selector to Sport, where the transmission felt like a quick-shifting six-speed.

Enthusiasts who drive everyday sedans are eventually going to need to embrace CVTs because of their ability to improve fuel economy. The Maxima manages 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. With those kinds of numbers, CVTs are here to stay.

The Maxima provides a spirited ride. The chassis is 25 percent stiffer than the outgoing model and 82 pounds lighter. The suspension holds the car flat through corners while the platform remains very stable. The steering is nicely weighted, and the car likes to cut through twisty corners with a sharpness not found in other midsize cars. Perhaps there’s a touch of overseer when going too fast, but on the highway and most country roads, the Maxima remains surgically precise.

The other big change that comes with the new Maxima is its astounding interior. Nissan says that it patterned the car after the F/A-18 fighter jet flown by the Blue Angels. Admittedly, there are some cockpit-type features, but no controls for sidewinder missiles.

The high center console and new instrument cluster do help drivers keep their eyes on the road. Additionally, all of the controls are easy to reach, and Nissan added a display commander switch that allows the driver to toggle through different screens quickly. On the optional 8-inch high-definition display, Nissan has added a swipe feature that will allow a driver to use the display screen like a smartphone. You can pinch to zoom in on a map and even push the screen from the center console to the screen on the instrument cluster.

There are also some other high-tech features, such as the driver attention alert system that can tell when a driver is getting tired. The system monitors the driver’s input patterns, and if it detects some inconsistent behavior, it will suggest stopping to get a cup of coffee. When was the last time your car really took the time to understand you?

Higher-end model series such as the SR and Platinum include diamond-quilted inserts in the seats with nice bolstering that maintains a sporty feel. The stitching along the dash and doors and some of the wooden trim pieces in the Platinum model are also nice details. Some of the other trim, which is made to look like metal, was disappointing. But I couldn’t find many flaws elsewhere in the cabin, which can seat five people comfortably and still provide a fun ride.

The exterior, with flowing lines along the side and a powerful presence up front, is perhaps its best attribute. I heard more than a few grumbles about the black floating roof but found myself liking it more every time I examined it. The standard 18-inch wheels look well-proportioned, and the optional 19-inch wheels fill in the wheelwells to make the Maxima look even more powerful.

The character lines give the exterior an edge that makes other sedans look sedate by comparison. The design that should hold up well through the coming years, a trait that other Maximas have not always held.

The biggest question surrounding the new Maxima is whether consumers will be willing to shell out more than $30,000 US for this sports sedan (prices average $840 US more for 2016, but standard content is increased). It certainly lives up to the hype behind it with great looks and solid performance. But it’s also in the no-man’s-land of midsize car prices: more expensive than most mainstream sedans but lacking the higher performance capabilities of more traditional sedans such as the Cadillac CTS, BMW 5 Series, and Audi A6, which are notably more expensive.

It’s a tough road to travel. But if you’re going to do it, the Maxima provides a great way to start the trip. And this time, it does it as a flagship.

2016 Nissan Maxima
BASE PRICE $33,235-$40,685
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 3.5L/300-hp/261-lb-ft DOHC 24 valve V6
TRANSMISSION Cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT 3500-3600 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 109.3 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 192.8 x 73.2 x 56.5 in
0-60 MPH 5.7 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 22/30/25 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.78 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Summer 2015