Nissan claims that the eighth-generation Maxima is every inch a "four-door sports car."
While that statement might seem pretentious - and one we've heard before from the automaker - the latest "Max" covers a broad spectrum, from well-equipped luxury mount, to agile sedan capable of snaking around curves and tackling straight-aways at a reasonably rapid pace.
For 2016, the Maxima has broken free of its cocoon. The Tennessee-built car possesses more swagger and displays an aggressiveness that most other automakers would dare not attempt, especially with an entry-luxury sedan. It's a bold move that should pay big dividends with buyers wanting to stand apart from the mainstream. The Maxima's flashy chrome grille, curvaceous body panels and sweeping rear end signal that this Nissan is unlike anything else on the road.
Underpinning the attractive body is the next-generation Altima-based architecture that's lighter as well as 25 percent more rigid. The distance between the front and rear wheels is unchanged, however the new sheetmetal adds just over two inches to the car's length. The width is also the same, but a slightly lowered and elongated roofline makes the Maxima appear longer.
There's also a revised suspension with new front and rear dampers and larger stabilizer bars to improve road holding.
Inside, the Maxima is an ergonomic delight, although it's difficult to spot the designer's fighter aircraft-inspired styling cues. The controls are straightforward, the "Zero Gravity" front chairs are supportive and the pushbutton starter has migrated to the console right next to the shifter.
Back again - sort of - is the 3.5-liter V6 that sends 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. That represents a 10-horsepower gain, but the torque rating is the same. Nissan states that 60 percent of the engine's components are all new for more rigorous duty (e.g. the intake/exhaust valves are patterned after those in the GT-R super sports car) and to reduce fuel consumption.
Also significantly updated is the Maxima's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is your only choice. Nissan has been committed to CVTs for more than a decade and has clearly mastered the technology. With its seven built-in electronic "steps," most drivers will be hard-pressed to tell the CVT apart from a "normal" automatic transmission. One of the key benefits of a CVT is fuel economy as there's no torque converter (a fluid coupling) sapping power. With the improved drivetrain, the rating is 22 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway, up from 19/26.
Another benefit is responsiveness. The Maxima reacts almost instantly to throttle inputs, especially when the console-mounted drive selector is switched to Sport mode from Normal.
For 2016, Maximas are available in five distinct trim levels with virtually no options in any of them. The base S, priced at $33,000, is stuffed with dual-zone climate control and a navigation system with eight-inch touch-screen display. There's also an eight-way power driver's seat and a four-way power passenger's seat as well as a number of crash-avoidance monitors, alerts and interventions.
The SV trim adds leather seat covers (heated in front) and parking sensors, while the dual-panel panoramic moonroof and high-end Bose stereo are SL goodies.
The top-end Platinim comes with a drowsy-driver alert that warns if you're nodding off behind the wheel. There's also a system that detects people or objects approaching in the vehicle's path.
For enthusiasts, the sporty SR includes most Platinum content, but deletes the moonroof to help lower the car's center of gravity and maximize structural integrity. The SR comes with paddle shifters, 19-inch wheels (18-inchers are standard) and electronically controlled dampers that firm up the ride. In Sport mode, the SR exhibits some torque steer (a tendency for the car to pull left or right during hard acceleration), but nothing too serious.
The multi-discipline Maxima is a significant leap forward over previous generations. It's a sedan that pampers you and can provide significant thrills. Is it really a four-door sports car this time? Well, it's closer.
What you should know: 2016 Nissan Maxima
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive five-passenger sedan
Engine (hp): 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (300)
Transmission: Continuously Variable (CVT)
Market position: Near-luxury and entry-luxury sedans are holding their own despite the growing popularity of wagons. Increasingly, vehicles in this class are providing buyers with sophisticated luxury, safety and performance content.
Points: All-new attention-grabbing shape; The V6 feels much stronger than its 300-horsepower engine otherwise indicates; An all-wheel-drive option would be a great idea; SR delivers the most fun and comes closest to being an actual four-door sports car; All the safety bells and whistles, and then some; Well equipped, even in base trim.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 22/30; Base price (incl. destination) $33,000
Toyota Avalon Base price: $32,000
Camry-based sedan is a competent driver. Hybrid version is also available.
Acura TLX Base price: $31,000
Four- and six-cylinder choices plus available all-wheel-drive.
Buick LaCrosse Base price: $34,000
Sharp-looking FWD or optional AWD sedans arrive well-equipped.