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First Drive: 2016 Nissan Maxima SL


For the last eight generations, the Nissan Maxima has always had a personality conflict with itself – thinking it’s a sports car trapped in a four-door body. But let the record show, just because it has a flat bottom steering wheel, a sports button, and the initials 4DSC on every corner of the body to remind you this is a 4-Door Sports Car does not actually make it a sports car.

First, its receipt is all wrong – front-wheel drive and a 300-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a CVT transmission… hmm – not exactly what we think of when we think sports car. Sure, it’s quick, pretty quick actually with 0-60 in just under 6 seconds and enough torque to send the front wheels squealing. But with 261lb-ft of it kicking you into the back of the seat, it does come at the cost of some torque steer. For a CVT, this 3500lb car isn’t half bad – partly comes down to horsepower too – the CVT holds its power band and torque curve at the higher end of the rev limiter  leaving you with constant power when needed to overtake someone rapidly on a busy freeway. And to add some familiarity to this system, Nissan programmed a D-Step program to simulate seven–forward gears with a manual shifting mode.

While there is a “sports” button to enhance the driving experience by adjusting the throttle responsiveness, transmission mapping and steering feedback – there’s still one thing missing – driver involvement. A sports car usually requires the constant need for the driver’s attention. Here with a soft suspension, notable amount of body roll, and semi-numb steering – it just feels like a big comfy sedan. Granted some of that can be fixed by opting for the performance heightened SR trim that brings in bigger 19-inch wheels, anti-roll bars, and stiffer shocks and springs.

If we were to take the Sports Sedan out of the equation, the Maxima is a really nice car. Its road mannerisms is pleasing with a pleasant ride quality and a quiet cabin space. Handling is quick to respond but often times is just too heavy at low end speeds making it difficult to park. And even though there was a nasty rattle driving us bonkers, it was, after all an enjoyable driving experience with its quick acceleration, a hearty engine grunt and that flat bottom steering wheel is kinda cool.

Now, we don’t mind a big comfy sedan, but that does make for some tough competition, competing against the prevalent Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300, and Ford Taurus – but then the Maxima definitely has one thing going for it so far – its appearance! Morphed from its original concept car, Nissan wanted to stay as close to its original design as possible – we find its close enough. There’s a lot to admire with the Maxima’s new design from the polarizing fascia and LED daytime running lights – these attractive appointed 18-inch wheels that gives it a confident stance – to even the side profile with its odd rear-quarter panel crease and sedate rear end design.

Our sampled SL trim sits right dab in the middle of the Maxima’s trim scale with the S, SV, SL, the new SR and new Platinum. To avoid options list, Nissan diverse each trim to have standard equipment instead of having to option for one or the other – so if you want Navigation, you spring for the SV or if want Navigation and the Panoramic Sunroof, than you pony up for the SL, but if you want quilted leather and ventilated front seats then you’ll have to go Platinum.

For a mid-level trim, there is a lot of tech to find behind its thirty-eight thousand dollar price tag – things like blind spot monitoring, radar guided cruise control, forward-collision alert, a dual-panel panoramic sunroof, power adjustable heated front seats and an 8-inch touch screen infotainment system with Navigation and back-up camera. At this price point we were disappointed to find there wasn’t HID headlights, LED taillights, or the available all-around view camera that you can find on most Nissan products – those are on the next trim up.

For a large cabin space, the interior has been well executed with similar polarizing design ques from the exterior and featuring three-dimensional trimming and extractions from the dash like the instrument cluster cover.  It all works well together and the funky textured trim throws passengers for a loop. The center stack and infotainment system is very well laid out for easy driver functionality and even features text message alerts and responses. The Navigation here is a little disappointing in its display having a cartoonish effect – something we’d expect from an aftermarket system – but not here. The TFT display in the center cluster is however what we expect – and with the nicely laid out steering wheel controls, it’s all easy to navigate and manage seeing we have 440 miles till empty and averaging only 24 mpg’s on its required premium fuel.

Seating wise, these Zero Gravity seats are superb! They are definitely one of the best seats in its class. Rear passengers won’t need to be calling shot gun either with plenty of leg room and an equally comfortable setting – only drawback is head room with the slopping roofline and that pano-sunroof system. And the trunk capacity is huge… did someone request epic size?

Here’s what we find with the Nissan Maxima – it’s a generational thing – someone who wants or needs a large, premium sedan but doesn’t want to age 30 years by looking at the Toyota Avalon, the Maxima is the only way to go. It’s a good, quick, comfy sedan but to call it a sports car is just a pulling the string a little too far.

Price (As Tested):
2016 Nissan Maxima SL: $36,890
Destination: $825
Performance Specs:
3.5-liter DOHC V-6 – 300-horsepower/261lb-ft of torque – 0-60 MPH: ±6.0 seconds
EPA MPG: 22/30/25 (city/highway/combined) – SSB Average: 24 MPG’s | Fuel Range: 440 miles
Featured Options:
Floor Mats, Trunk Mat, and Trunk Net: $220
Grand Total: $37,935



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