- Arresting new shape
- Stronger V-6
- Sport suspension tuning can handle country roads
- Limits of front-wheel-drive performance
- Still has CVT
- Fuel economy isn't best in class, though not worst, either
The 2016 Nissan Maxima locks in an arresting shape and charming front-drive road manners, in its quest to distance itself from the Altima.
As Nissan's Altima grew in size and stature, mainstream buyers wondered why the nearly-identical Maxima commanded a higher price. Luxury buyers, meanwhile, could get more style and prestige from an entry-level Infiniti. With the 2016 Maxima, Nissan hopes to clear up a years-long corporate identity crisis.
Design is critical to the Maxima's success, and this new one has lots of flair. The production model looks a lot like the show car on which it's based, starting with a trapezoidal grille crowded by chunky, angular elements that seem more appropriate to an SUV than a sports sedan. Boomerang-shaped headlights complement the geometric theme.
Aggressively sculpted lines at the front and rear fenders emphasize ready-to-pounce muscularity. A relatively high sill line kicks up even higher at the back door, where it dovetails with the downward slope of the fastback roofline. Blacked-out A- and B-pillars, and horizontal strip of black trim at the C-pillar, give the roof the appearance of a floating canopy.
In three-quarter view, the Maxima's dramatic contours give it an almost lithe appearance. In profile, however, when the undulating curves seem to flatten into character lines, the sheetmetal's proportions can look bulky and stubby—rather like those of a sleek crossover.
Of critical importance, though, is the fact that no one will mistake the 2016 Nissan Maxima for its workaday Altima stablemate.
A heavily updated 3.5-liter V-6 produces 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. It's linked to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with wide gear ratios and a shifting logic that gets more aggressive when the throttle is held open. It also anticipates the need for acceleration in high-G cornering. There are two driving modes: Normal and Sport.
Front-wheel drive—and the lack of an all-wheel-drive option—keeps the Maxima from stepping on premium Infiniti toes. This is a Nissan, after all. There's a fully independent suspension, disc brakes all around, and 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels as standard, with 19-inch variants on some models.
Nissan has positioned the SR model as a serious performance car by deleting the moonroof on the grounds that it lessens rigidity. The SR features paddle shifters, and reduces high-frequency vibration from its sport-tuned suspension with a chassis damper like that used in the 370Z NISMO.
We've spent all our time in the sporty SR so far, and think it's made the upgrades and updates it needs not just to distance itself from the Altima, but to put itself in the same consideration set as the Acura TLX and Lincoln MKZ. The Maxima has excellent ride quality even with summer tires and 19-inch wheels; very good tracking, even if its electric power steering is lacking for feedback; and gutsy acceleration that isn't hamstrung by its continuously variable transmission (though trust us, Nissan, we're ready for a dual-clutch Maxima any time you are).
Comfort and space
The Maxima's sporting theme continues inside with a cockpit-styled dashboard that orients controls to the driver and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. It's a capacious interior, with firmer front sport seats that are aimed for country roads versus interstate slogs. Back-seat room is hardly changed from the Altima, and that's a good call—the amount of head and leg room for 6-footers will leave them comfortably seated for hours between Starbucks stops.
Standard features at the base level include a navigation system, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, keyless ignition, remote start, SiriusXM capability, Bluetooth connectivity, and an eight-way power seat for the driver and four-way power for the passenger seat. The SR gets Alcantara seating inserts and aluminum sport pedals.
Top-spec Platinum models come with NissanConnect, a subscription-based telematics program powered by SiriusXM with three tiers of service. Notable features are automatic collision notification and a stolen vehicle locator; the Premium plan adds functions like remote start and door lock/unlock; Premium Plus brings concierge services and more.
The most dramatic Maxima feature (for SL and Platinum) is a dual-panel panoramic moonroof. Heated and cooled seats, an 11-speaker Bose audio with active noise cancellation, leather upholstery, LED projector headlights, and ambient LED lighting are also available as buyers move up through trim levels. There are no stand-alone options.
Safety and features
All Maximas come with the usual safety features, including seat-mounted and roof-mounted side-impact airbags. But most of the available driver assists require an upcharge: forward-collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, drowsy/distracted driver alert, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts. The federal government has already crash-tested the Maxima and it's achieved top five-star results in all primary areas and it's a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS.
There are five trim levels: S, SV, SL, SR, and Platinum.
Standard only on the SR are a few performance-oriented safety features: active trace control, which applies braking to each wheel so the car stays on the corner line as steered; active engine braking that uses the engine to slow the car to the desired speed as the driver applies the brakes; and active ride control that smooths body movement over bumps in the road.
The Maxima earns 22 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined. No other powertrain versions are offered or expected in the luxury sport sedan.