With the 2016 Maxima, Nissan has done what few competitors have: it produced a mid-sized sedan that has an unmistakably distinct character.
The Maxima clearly has a distinctive style.
It popped out of the mold remarkably true to Nissan‘s 2014 Sport Sedan concept car – whether it’s from the front and side…
…or from the rear.
The “floating roof” look had already hit Nissan showrooms with the Murano. Now it’s the Maxima’s turn, and concepts from other carmakers indicate that, like tailfins and pillow-top seats, its doesn’t take long for a styling element to see wide adoption.
Fortunately in the Maxima’s case, its roofline is supremely well-executed.
Rather than being showy, the roof seems instead to portray speed and rigor. There’s a tightness to it that seems to yank out the eyeballs of pedestrians who are paying attention; the restyled Avalon got a lot of looks when it debuted, but the attention the Maxima got went beyond admiration, to people actually studying it.
You can see why, with the roof’s disciplined curve sitting atop the more florid shapes below. Though they contrast, they Maxima’s diverse elements complement each other.
What you see when you approach the Maxima makes it clear that you’re climbing into something cool.
The view forward looks over a sumptuous set of hood curves, with a central bulge and gentle curves up to the sides.
I can’t remember when I’ve noticed a test car’s hood as much as the Maxima’s; it dazzled with its unique management of light and reflections.
And unlike the Murano‘s invasive upturned rear hood lip, which blocks the view out on steep inclines, the Maxima’s enhancements staying low and on the margins of your vision.
Nissan dubs the grille design “V -Motion”, for apparent reasons.
Headlights are complex with an unlikely blend of shapes, and like the rest of the car, they’re interesting; they take their time in becoming familiar. Note that the Maxima’s “4DSC” (4-Door Sports Car) tagline is molded into the turn signal lens, as it is in the tail lights as well.
The shiny beltline trim gets its own mention; as the Maxima’s most distinct character line, its contrast to the trim around it makes it the first element that pops out when you approach the car after dusk. It’s a sly underline to the car’s overall look.
The Maxima is an upscale mid-sizer; you’d look to the Altima for a sedan that starts in the low-$20K range. Maximas start at $32,410 for the S trim and top out at $39,860 for the Platinum. So it’s squarely positioned for the crowd that would go for the Chrysler 300, Toyota Avalon or Kia Cadenza, to name a few.
The Maxima SR is second from the top at $37,670. It’s the sportiest Maxima, with a distinct (there’s that word again) set of features to define it as the clear choice for serious drivers.
Most noticeably, the SR gets 19-inch wheels with Goodyear tires that were developed for this application. Summer tires are available for the extra bit of stick.
The suspension is stiffer, with a Performance Chassis Damper (seen also on the 370Z NISMO) to smooth out any body vibrations that the extra stiffness would stimulate.
High tech additions include Active Ride Control (ARC), Active Trace Control (ATC) and Active Engine Braking (AEB), and there’s a good old fashioned thicker front anti-roll bar up front.
The SR also includes Alcantara upholstery, both on the seats…
…the steering wheel (shown here with SR-exclusive paddle shifters)…
…and other touch points.
Exhaust pipes have Liquid Chrome finishers.
One thing you can’t get with the SR is the panoramic moonroof available on other Maximas. Here Nissan follows Honda’s lead in offering its Accord Sport only with a steel top, to increase rigidity and lower the car’s center of gravity.
The rationale is understandable, but it still seemed like an unfortunate omission in the particularly sunny week we had the SR.
The plastic dots in front of the rear reading lights are part of the Active Noise Cancellation feature. These two outlets, along with a third near the center sunglasses holder above the front seats, pipe in contrasting sounds when the system detects excess engine boom. We can report that the Maxima was remarkably quiet, with just enough engine burble to remind you that you’re in a sportster.
Noise cancellation a part of the Bose stereo that’s standard in the SR, which impressed with its rich and highly configurable sound.
Over the road, the Maxima makes a credible effort at maintaining its rep of being a “4-Door Sports Car”
All Maximas get this 300-horsepower V6 engine. It’s the familiar VQ 3.5-liter, which Nissan says has 60% new parts. It’s still the sweet revver it’s always been, and it shoots the Maxima smartly from the line. The EPA says it will get 30 mpg highway, but you’ll have to buy premium gas to extract all this engine has to offer.
The transmission is a CVT, which is a dirty word to many enthusiasts, who dislike the rubber-band effect this system can exhibit.
It’s not so bad here in the Maxima – there are clear shift points, and there’s enough power to prevent the dreaded over-revving a CVT can do as it fishes around for its optimal connection point. The paddle shifters are remarkably quick-acting.
In the curves, the tested Maxima SR was taut and communicative. Much as we groused about the missing moonroof, the SR did feel impressively of-a-piece. No slop, no weirdness – the Maxima’s cleaves into curves so easily that it encourages you try for a sharper arc next time. Only downside is steering that feels unnecessarily heavy at low speeds.
The Maxima’s enthusiasm is amplified when going from Normal to Sport mode, where throttle response in particular gets even more dialed-in.
Driver appeal continues inside, with the grippy front seats.
Power adjustments include a lumbar support that does not adjust for height, but luckily, it hit my lumbar area just right.
There’s also a manually adjustable thigh support. Since the bottom cushion doesn’t rock back as much as we’d like, the extra real estate up front was appreciated.
Additionally, there’s a true cockpit feel, with the touch points for both your knees being amply padded and pleasingly double-stitched.
All this sport and style had to exact a price somewhere, and the Maxima’s compact-sized 34.2 inches of rear legroom is one place. Competitors typically have 38 inches on up, so you’ll want to do a Maxima test-sit if rear roominess is important.
Controls are easy to operate, with a bright eight-inch display and a logical menu flow.
Maxima controls offer the best of both worlds, with a responsive touch screen and a remote knurled knob.
While there is a rear camera…
…and sonar parking assist…
…the SR is not available with Nissan’s terrific Around View Monitor, which gives drivers a bird’s-eye, 360-degree view of the area surrounding the car. Around View is restricted to the Maxima Platinum. That is flatly ridiculous, especially when you can spend much less on a Nissan Versa Note and still be able to get it.
Overall, the Maxima impresses with its considerable style and sportiness. Not only is it pleasing, it is absolutely distinctive. For mid-sized buyers seeing a sea of sameness, the Maxima might be just the ticket.
Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the Maxima’s distinctive style?
2016 Nissan Maxima SR
Base Price: $37,670
Price As Tested: $38,750
Destination Charge: $825
Restrictive feature availability
Heavy low-speed steering
Compact-car rear legroom