Back in the automotive heydays, car stylists were intent on giving their cars distinctive grilles, fins, headlights, taillights, profiles, you name it. Today we must satisfy ourselves with whatever styling cues designers can muster in a cookie-cutter marketplace.
Happily, Nissan designers have fashioned a swanky looking 2016 Maxima that’s svelte in profile and features sculpted taillights similar to those on its sexy sports car, the 370Z. This is as close to pizazz in a sedan as I’ve seen in a sedan of late.
Nissan also blends sports sedan with luxury sedan, a strong mix that comes in an attractive price range of $32,125 to $40,685. My test car was a dark metallic red Platinum version, the model atop that price list. It was a dandy.
At its base, the mid-size Maxima is a stylish sedan that will haul five adults in comfort and not blend in with the car-pool lane crowd. Even the base S model features Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 that creates 300 horsepower and a torque rating of 261. Throughout the five trim levels that engine is well paired with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission that shifts smoothly and yet gives the sedan well above average oomph. Nissan uses D-step shift logic to simulate gear changes and it feels convincingly like a standard automatic, but smoother. Nissan and Subaru seem to have best mastered CVTs to this point.
There’s plenty of power to ram-rod up to highway speeds and it’s well harnessed in the front-drive sedan via the Xtronic. Handling is responsive, but not exactly sporty, with good road feel. Traction control keeps the 19-inch tires from spinning too, while 18-inch tires are standard on lower line Maximas.
You can control power and responsiveness via a vehicle dynamic control system, two buttons on the console for Normal or Sport mode. Sport blips up the engine performance and firms steering and ride a touch, just enough to get your attention on curvaceous roads.
Ride is well controlled, both comfortable and firm enough to give Maxima more of a sport sedan ride and feel. A 109.3-inch wheelbase helps cushion riders from bumps and road imperfections.
Inside, Maxima delivers a quiet luxurious interior with a flair to match the car’s exterior.
The test car featured a soft-feel black leather dash and black leather seats with white stitching to lend a youthful, sporty look. Everything is well laid out and easy to reach and the Premium model upgrades the leather used on the seats along with adding three-level heated and cooled front seats.
While it all looks delicious, the seats were slow to warm and overall the design creates a tight-fitting cockpit. The console feels high and wide, pressing somewhat against the driver and front passenger’s knees. A quick check of the numbers shows Maxima’s interior actually a bit smaller than that in Nissan’s Altima.
Nissan also uses a highly patterned, striped mahogany wood-toned dash and door trim. While distinctive, it seems a tad garish to me, but wouldn’t be a deal breaker. A carbon-fiber look trim would fit more with the car’s personality.
Still I liked the soft leather seats that were so well shaped and included a lower cushion that could be extended for long-legged drivers. Front seats are powered and the driver’s seat includes 10-way power, a power lumbar and two memory settings. Several passengers found the rear seat comfortable too, although I’d like to see heated rear seats in a family sedan cresting $40 grand. On the plus side, the leather steering wheel is well heated and has a flat bottom, creating more driver legroom and a sportier looking interior.
Dash layout is well executed with a large 8-inch touchscreen and big buttons and knobs around it. Navigation is standard and Maxima features NissanConnect telematics and a rearview camera. Like most touchscreens, this one will not respond to a gloved hand though. The tilt/telescope steering wheel here also is powered.
Other standard features on the Platinum model include a blind-spot warning system, Around-View (overhead view) monitor to help you deal with tight parking spots, Bose sound system, power rear window sun shade, rain-sensing wipers, remote start system via Smart phone and auto-collision notification that calls for help if you’ve been in an accident.
There’s also a feature that allows parents to monitor their children’s driving habits and will send them speed alerts. Handy!
Overhead are dual sunroofs, letting rear seat passengers soak up the sun, when it’s out, a rarity in Wisconsin winters unless it’s sub-zero! Note, if you leave the sun screens retracted the car’s interior does get colder overnight.
On the practical family side, there’s a big trunk for luggage, plus the rear seats are split and will fold down. Also, the Maxima’s rear window is a tad narrow, which cuts rear visibility some. That’s the price you pay for styling here.
Gas mileage is so-so. I got just 20.2 miles per gallon in near zero-degree weather. The EPA rates Maxima at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
Maxima models stretch from the S base model to the SV at $35,215, including delivery. SV models include leather seats, front and rear sonar and a driver’s power lumbar adjustment. Next up is the SL model at $37,725 with the dual sunroof, Bose sound system, blind-spot warning and predictive forward collision warning. PFCW looks out two cars ahead for any possible collision possibilities.
The SR model is the sportiest model with sport-tuned suspension (that usually means much stiffer ride), 19-inch wheels, fancier leather interior and intelligent dynamics control. All of the previously mentioned features on the lower models, minus sport suspension, are standard on the Platinum model.
Other makes and models to consider in this segment include Kia’s Optima, Chevy’s Impala and Toyota’s Avalon, all of which are attractive, but not as sporty or stylish as the Maxima. Low-end Lexus, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz models also may be considered, and Maxima will likely cost less than any of those.
FAST STATS: 2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum
Hits: Stylish sedan for five adults, powerful V6, smooth CVT, responsive handling and big trunk. Quiet, well laid out interior, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, blind-spot warning and rearview and overhead camera, dual sunroofs, flat-bottomed steering wheel and sport/normal driving settings.
Misses: Tight feeling cockpit, touchscreen won’t work if driver is wearing gloves, odd-looking striped wood dash/door trim, narrow rear window, heated seats slow to heat.
Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.
Engine: 3.5-liter, V6, 300 hp
Transmission: Xtronic CVT
Weight: 3,593 lbs.
Length: 192.8 in.
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Cargo: 14.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 22/30 (EPA)
MPG: 20.2 (tested)
Base Price: $39,860
Floor mats, trunk mat, trunk net, $220
Test vehicle: $40,905
Sources: Nissan, http://www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage