Sporting Intentions | 2016 Nissan Maxima First Drive

Sporting Intentions | 2016 Nissan Maxima First Drive

By BOB GRITZINGER | Contributing Editor

Nissan would like potential buyers to think of the new 2016 Maxima as a sports car that just happens to sport four doors. Make no mistake: Though its heritage, styling, performance and “4-Door Sports Car” marketing give the impression of a smaller, sportier car, the eighth-generation Maxima is a relatively large sedan.

Nissan's 2016 Maxima delivers a sports-car feel in a full-sized sedan.

Nissan’s 2016 Maxima delivers a sports-car feel in a full-sized sedan.

Competing with the likes of the Acura TLX and Toyota Avalon, the 2016 Nissan Maxima is 2.2 inches longer than the model it replaces, but is also 1.3 inches lower, 82 pounds lighter and 25 percent stiffer in torsional rigidity. Nissan says those figures, along with a 10-hp boost in power, coupe-like exterior styling and a Blue Angels jet-fighter-inspired cockpit, enhance Maxima’s sporting credentials.

A 7-inch instrument panel provides driver information.

A 7-inch instrument panel provides driver information.

Stitched diamond-pattern in seats echoes the trim pattern found on the dashboard.

Stitched diamond-pattern in seats echoes the trim pattern found on the dashboard.

The Maxima's center stack is canted toward the driver.

The Maxima’s center stack is canted toward the driver.

We’ll give the Maxima props for its luxury-level interior; every trim level offers a different take on a diamond-pattern appearance, with contrasting stitching on all leather or Alcantara-trimmed surfaces such as seats, the dash, door panels and center console. A racy, flat-bottomed steering wheel is standard on all models (and a first for Nissan—not even the GT-R comes with that type of wheel).

Nissan notes its flagship’s 3.5-liter V6, which produces 300-hp and 261-lb-ft of torque, gives the 3,500-lb sedan a better power-to-weight ratio than the 2015 BMW 335i and 2015 Acura TLX V6. The Maxima isn’t a drag racer, but its low-slung powertrain does an admirable job of putting its full might to the front wheels with very little wheel spin or torque steer. The lack of torque steer is actually surprising, given the amount of power feeding through the Maxima’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) to its front wheels.

Usually the mention of a CVT would end any argument as to a car’s sporting potential, but Nissan’s engineers have done a good job of mimicking a stepped, seven-speed automatic transmission (Nissan says eight speeds, but we never achieved a velocity that allowed us to find that last ratio) whenever driving becomes the least bit spirited.

A driver selectable Sport mode provides more aggressive throttle and transmission response, increases steering weight and amplifies engine sound in the cabin via the car’s Active Sound Enhancement system (though given the engine’s relatively gruff tone, we’re not sure that’s necessarily good). Whether in default Normal mode or in Sport, when serious acceleration is necessary, transmission response is instant with definitive “shifts” near the engine’s 6,600-rpm redline. But in steady and smooth driving, the transmission reverts to an innocuous CVT, offering infinitely variable ratios to achieve maximum fuel economy. EPA estimated fuel economy is competitive for a V6 at 30 mpg highway/22 city/25 combined.

While marketing lingo and driver-centric cockpits might not add up to a top-shelf sports car, Maxima’s power figures do help build the case.

The Maxima’s new suspension, which features performance-oriented monotube rear shocks on all models, does an admirable job of managing body motion without creating an overly harsh ride. For those seeking an even sportier feel, Nissan offers its uniquely tuned SR trim, which includes a front chassis damper designed to limit vibrations from the stiffer suspension, and electronic chassis management for better body control.

2016 Nissan MaximaFor the 2016 model year, Nissan has taken all of the guesswork out of Maxima buying, offering five trim levels (S, SV, SL, SR and Platinum) and just six factory-installed accessories. But you won’t find a stripper among the Maximas. Even on the base S, navigation and a rearview camera are standard, with an 8-inch center screen providing the interface, paired with a 7-inch instrument cluster. Keyless locking and ignition, with a pulsating, lighted “START” button and remote start, are also standard, as are power driver and passenger seats. SV includes upgrades such as leather seats and heated front seats. Buyers have to jump to SL or above to get a moonroof, Bose audio and Nissan’s suite of sensors that provide forward collision warning and emergency braking along with adaptive cruise control. SR deletes the moonroof but adds paddle shifters, 19-inch wheels and unique Goodyear tires. Platinum is the full boat, with Ascot leather, power tilt/telescoping steering column, and 360-degree around-view cameras.

The Tennessee-built Maxima is on sale now, starting at $33,235 and topping out at $40,685 (including $825 destination charge). Nissan says most sales will be in the $36,000 range.

2016 Nissan Maxima

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Bob Gritzinger got his first taste of grease and oil as a kid tearing down small engines and repairing go-karts, mini-bikes, motorcycles and cars in the backyard. That eventually led to his first real job as an auto mechanic while still in high school, but Bob’s career took a sharp turn into journalism when he joined the high school newspaper staff. Read more about Bob here.