Nissan has given its premier sedan a striking redesign.
Marketing two similar sedans, one for the mainstream market and the other with near-luxury pretensions, hasn’t always been so easy for Nissan. For years, the popular Altima family sedan has been a little too closely related to the more posh Maxima four-door. Just as some potential Maxima customers may have stepped down a notch to the Altima, another group might have turned instead to a lower-end version of the stylish, more prestigious Infiniti, from Nissan’s luxury division.
Now, for 2016, Nissan has rethought the Maxima, with dramatic impact. As a result, that premium model slots into a class all its own, rather than sputtering along as a deluxe sibling of the Altima.
Although the former Maxima was rather subdued in appearance, the latest version, benefitting from a geometric design theme, flaunts plenty of flair. To a greater extent than some redesigns, this Maxima resembles the show car that served as its foundation. Among other highlights, the roof has a look similar to that of a floating canopy.
Built on a 109.3-inch wheelbase, the 2016 Maxima is 192.8 inches long and 56.5 inches high. That’s 2.2 inches longer than before, and 1.3 inches lower. Dimensions are close to those of the mainstream Altima, on the same wheelbase.
Beneath the hood sits an enhanced 3.5-liter V6, the sole engine choice, now generating 300 horsepower along with 261 pound-feet of torque. All 2016 Maximas have front-wheel drive and use a continuously variable transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive is not available. Neither is a four-cylinder engine, which is offered on the Altima.
In addition to a Sport mode that promises swifter responses, the CVT incorporates a shift logic that grows more aggressive when pushing hard on the gas pedal. Premium-grade gasoline is required.
Five trim levels are offered, including a posh Platinum edition and the sporty-performance SR, with such high-tech features as active trace control to enhance its handling talents.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel economy at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg for highway driving, or 25 mpg combined.
Based upon a concept car, Nissan’s Maxima trades its formerly tame shape for flamboyant style. With its boomerang-shaped headlights and trapezoidal grille, set within angular elements, the 2016 Maxima looks more like an SUV up front than a sports sedan. Following an angular geometric theme, the body is highlighted by sculpted lines at front and rear fenders, helping to achieve a muscular look. Some have declared that this four-door appears virtually prepared to pounce.
The 2016 Maxima looks most shapely, even svelte, when viewed from a corner. In profile, the body appears more bulky, less athletic, even a tad stubby. Already somewhat high, the sill line is raised even more at the rear door, mating with the downward slope of the fastback-profile roofline. A- and B-pillars are blacked-out, and the roof almost looks as if it’s floating.
Dimensions are nearly identical to those of the Altima, on the same wheelbase but 1.3 inches longer. Altima is taller by 1.6 inches. Despite that similarity, the 2016 Nissan Maxima forcibly attracts the eye with an exuberant new look, barely tied to that of its less-costly stablemate.
Inside, the cockpit-styled Maxima dashboard aims controls toward the driver, who faces a flat-bottomed steering wheel. Supportive front sport seats contain more bolstering than Altima’s. Getting into the back isn’t a problem, and outer seats promise sufficient head/leg room for six-footers. Headroom and seat support won’t please the center rider, however.
Interior details are in keeping with a sports sedan, including metallic trim across the dashboard. An 8-inch touchscreen is surrounded by easy-to-use controls. In addition to a generous-sized trunk, Maxima contains plenty of storage pockets and bins.
Energetic acceleration from the 3.5-liter V6 is not impeded by the CVT, with its Sport mode for quicker response, though fans of conventional automatics might lament the lack of actual gears. The CVT’s shift logic becomes more aggressive at full throttle, anticipating the need for renewed acceleration during intensive cornering. Paddle shifters let you manually select ratios.
Moderate torque steer might be felt when starting off briskly. Maxima rides and handles better than Nissan’s Altima, though electric power steering lacks feedback. Active noise cancellation dampens harsh sounds, but the engine gets quite loud at peak throttle. Aluminum-alloy wheels hold 18- or 19-inch tires, depending on model.
Without question, Maxima SR is the choice for sporty performance, sitting on the tautest suspension of the group. Handling is helped by tauter front shocks and stabilizer bars, as well as monotube rear shock absorbers. A chassis damper stops the stiffer suspension from transmitting too much unpleasantness from the road. More than other versions, the SR brings Maxima closer to such rivals as the Acura TLX and Lincoln MKZ.
In its new form, Maxima looks sharp, handles well, and performs enthusiastically. For serious sports-sedan handling capability, pick a Maxima SR.
James M. Flammang contributed to this report.