Don’t let photos or even video of the all-new 2016 Nissan Maxima color your opinion of this car. Yes, its front end is controversial, and no, not everyone will love the way it looks, but this is a vehicle you have to see up close in natural sunlight to appreciate.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 300 hp, 261 lb-ft
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Price: Base, $33,235; as tested, $38,495 (including $825 in destination fees)
Fuel economy: 22 city, 30 highway, 25 combined
And that’s something I didn’t realize until testing this all-new large sedan a few weeks ago during a junket to Nashville, Tennessee, where the North American headquarters of this Japanese automaker are located. Konnichiwa, y’all.
The new Maxima isn’t particularly handsome in pictures or even on an auto-show turntable, but that changes when it’s outside, mingling with other vehicles. Its plunging grille reaches for the asphalt below, falling just shy of physical contact. A rippling hood and blacked-out pillars further enhance its sporting intentions. But perhaps the most eye-catching elements are the arching lines that run along its flanks; they look like they were applied by a calligraphist’s brush.
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New for Newness’ Sake
Concealed under all of that styling is a lot of engineering. The 2016 Maxima shares a basic structure with the smaller Altima sedan as well as the popular Murano crossover, meaning it’s built on a solid foundation. The latter of these two vehicles just earned a Top Safety Pick+ crash rating from the IIHS; it’s a safe bet the Maxima will as well.
Compared to its predecessor this car is 2.2 inches lankier, 1.3 inches closer to the ground and has lost about 82 pounds. It also has 25 percent greater structural rigidity thanks to the use high-strength steel. Without a moonroof these enlarged dimensions result in nearly 99 cubic feet of space in the passenger compartment, almost three more than the outgoing model.
With a curb weight around 3,500 pounds it should be the lightest car in its competitive set, which includes stalwarts like the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus, but Nissan is also reaching to higher segments with its latest Maxima. Arguably this sedan also tussles with Acura’s TLX and even the BMW 328i. In fact, it provides a better power-to-weight ratio than either of these luxury models.
Enabling that performance is a comprehensively reworked version of Nissan’s nearly ubiquitous VQ V6. This familiar 3.5-liter engine has received 60 percent new parts including redesigned pistons and rings, updated cylinder heads, a new oil pan and even racing-grade sodium-filled exhaust valves that are borrowed from the GT-R supercar.
The result of this overhaul is improved performance and better refinement. This engine delivers 300 horses, 10 more than last year, along with 261 lb-ft of torque. But perhaps more importantly than these figures is 15 percent, which is how much more fuel efficient the 2016 Maxima is than its predecessor.
Squeezing blood from a stone, engineers have eked out an additional four miles per gallon on the highway. Twenty-sixteen models stickers at an impressive 30. Around town they should deliver 22 MPG and combined a score of 25, which is greater than key rivals by a considerable margin.
Harnessing all of that VQ goodness is another Nissan staple. Only one transmission is offered in the new Maxima, and sorry my fellow enthusiasts it’s of the automatic variety, specifically a CVT. A sport-tuned version of the company’s Xtronic gearless ratio-swapper has had its internal friction cut by a remarkable 40 percent, something that improves both performance and fuel economy. A smaller oil pump, lower-viscosity fluid and a higher-efficiency chain are the chief enhancements.
To a lot of gear-heads continuously variable transmissions are repugnant, sacrificing driver engagement and fun at the altar of fuel economy. And it’s true, CVTs are often paired with feeble powerplants in bottom-feeder cars where they struggle to make the most of a very limited stable of horses. Fortunately the new Maxima’s engine is like a snifter of fine whiskey, smooth and muscular.
This refinement means the engine doesn’t drone like the leaky exhaust of an old pickup truck. In addition to this, the transmission has something the company calls D-Step programming, which simulates gear changes under heavy throttle. Bury the accelerator and the engine sprints to redline while the CVT obliges with small but perceptible drops in RPM.
Department of the Interior
While you’re enjoying those simulated up-shifts take a moment to appraise the new Maxima’s cabin. In lock-step with its bodywork, this car’s interior is exemplary. The cockpit abounds with premium materials, sensible technology and outstanding assembly quality; in fact it delivers a better experience than an Acura TLX, which feels cold and complicated in comparison.
Nissan’s Zero Gravity seats are as comfortable as ever, providing generous back support to keep fatigue at bay during extended periods in the saddle. Plus, as they were in the sporty SR model I evaluated, trimmed with Alcantera that’s treated with a diamond-stitch pattern. This material even makes its way to the flat-bottomed steering wheel where it provides a surfeit of grip.
Textured accents on the dashboard and doors invite your fingers to run across them; the climate system is adjusted with a series of no-nonsense controls that are generously portioned and mounted up high for easy access; even the touch-screen infotainment system is snappy and quite easy to decipher. And if you’re curious, navigation is standard in every 2016 Maxima.
Legroom is quite generous in the back seat, though taller passengers might feel squeezed by a relatively low roof, no doubt a concession to styling. Active noise cancellation plus acoustically laminated glass help keep road noise at bay.
Pricing and Extras
The 2016 Maxima is available in five different trim levels ranging from the entry-level S, to SV, SL, SR and Platinum. Base price is 33 grand and change, including $825 in delivery fees. The performance-tuned SR version I evaluated stickered for $38,495 out the door. This is the sportiest model of the bunch and can even be had with summer tires for extra grip.
This car’s engine reminded me why the Nissan’s VQ family has won so many awards over the years. Smooth, powerful and efficient, this is how a modern V6 should be.
Of course it can run, too. The Maxima feels like it’d be able to reach 60 miles an hour from a standstill in the mid six-second range, though we did not get an opportunity to properly time the car and Nissan hasn’t released any official figures. In summation, this car is brisk, though it needs a few revs on the clock before it pulls with real vigor.
When fitted with 19-inch wheels and optional summer rubber the new Maxima SR has loads of grip for a husky sedan. While too large to be tossable, it is confidence inspiring enough that you can aggressively pitch it into a corner without much worry.
Enhancements the SR variant has received over lesser Maximas include unique springs and dampers in addition to larger anti-roll bars. The front structure even features additional support, which allows engineers to further fine-tune the suspension.
Sending 300 horses to the front wheels sounds like an open invitation to torque steer but that’s not the case. This car’s tiller barely quivers, even at wide-open throttle. In certain situations you do feel a tiny tug in your palms but that’s about it. In aggressive driving the Maxima remained straight and true while traversing the Volunteer State’s winding, back-country roads, though it is worth noting, these thoroughfares are in just about perfect condition, with hardly any potholes or defects to be found.
The Maxima’s lack of torque steer is commendable but its steering feel is a little odd. The wheel feels super sharp on-center, almost jumpy, but then there’s very little feedback indicating what’s going on with the front wheels. Overall it seems like a simulation, which is a shame.
Other gripes are small but worth pointing out. The Maxima has unusual forward sightlines. It’s difficult to get a sense of where you’re putting the car because the hood bulges so much; also, it feels about 18 feet wide, especially on narrow roads. Lastly, with summer tires cabin noise seems slightly higher than in similar cars though it’s hardly intrusive.
2016 Nissan Maxima Review: The Verdict
Nissan calls the 2016 Maxima a “four-door sports car” and while that may sound like total hyperbole it’s not entirely inaccurate. This sedan really is quite entertaining – more than a Taurus, Impala or Avalon to be certain, just don’t expect it to outshine a BMW M3 or something like that (obviously these two vehicles aren’t competitors but you know what I mean … and stop being difficult). In many ways the new Maxima is a winner and should be arriving at dealerships right now.
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