Review: 2016 Nissan Maxima

Jun 03, 2015 11:40 AM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

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The refrain from Bruce Springsteen's ode to growing up, "Glory Days," loomed large as we set out to drive the 2016 Nissan Maxima in the rural outer reaches of Nashville. It's been nearly 35 years since the Maxima nameplate was introduced in the United States, first as a Datsun and later as a Nissan, making it the brand's longest-running model—even older than the Sentra ('82) and Pathfinder ('85)—apart from the Z.

We've convened in Nissan's adopted home state of Tennessee to drive the sixth-generation Maxima, which takes styling cues from a brash concept car and wraps them around a hypermodern cabin and a proven chassis.

What is it?

The Maxima has historically been Nissan's four-door sedan, ceremoniously nicknamed "4DSC" (four-door sports car) before the Altima was ever a thought in a product planner's mind. In its last several iterations, the Maxima has evolved into a larger family sedan, but has also served as a canvas for aftermarket tuning. This Maxima appears to have stayed mostly the same size, maturing into a refined sedan with a sporty side.

The first thing you notice about the 2016 Maxima are its oversized elements: big headlamps and taillamps, swept-back windshield, and the exaggerated C-pillar that effects a "floating" roof. They make a big first impression, but we noticed them less and less after just a short amount of time. For 2016, there are five Maxima trim levels, ranging from bargain S to luxe Platinum, with an ordering strategy that prioritizes trim packages over a la carte options.

How does it drive?

Surely, with quick confidence. The Maxima retains the same 3.5-liter V-6, but now squeezes 300 horsepower from it, without the use of forced-air induction. Paired with a refined continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), that translates to zero lag off the line and plenty of power screaming through the front wheels. Acceleration is brisk and the brakes feel strong, while road and tire noise are noticeable at highway speed. . An SR variant of the Maxima with a sport-tuned suspension promises a more dynamic driving experience, but failed to express itself in a back-to-back drive with the Platinum,which was excellent to drive.

Overall, the Maxima's road manners match the demeanor of its interior—tight, focused, and grippy—rather than its exterior.

What's it like inside?

A mix of plush and sporty trim mixed with the relevant innovations in car tech. There is a marked separation between driver and front passenger by a thick center console and a driver-oriented cant in the dashboard. We like the driving position and the clear ergonomics, as well as the touchscreen navigation interface. The quality of the leather trim felt higher than it would in, say, a similar Japanese sedan, although some other trim pieces—door panels, wood trim, and some dashboard plastics—felt less than exquisitely assembled. Spring for a package that includes gorgeous Alcantara trim, if you can.

What's its specialty?

Playing the sedan complement to the Murano sport-utility vehicle. With these two vehicles, Nissan has targeted a segment of buyers who are willing to pay more for stylish variations of proven concepts.

Most innovative feature?

Driver Attention Alert, a technology that senses drowsiness through eye movement, has trickled down from the ranks of European luxury vehicles to the Maxima. Whether or not it detects drowsy drivers—the system always manages to come on when we sidle into the driver's seat—it does confirm that Nissan believes that coffee is part of the driving experience. Well played.

How's the competition?

Tough. There seems to be a large, front-wheel-drive family sedan from most of the major American and Asian automakers, including the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza, and Toyota Avalon. (The Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, and Hyundai Genesis are rear-wheel drive and compete in the same size class.) It's unlikely that the Maxima will compete with true entry-level luxury sedans from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and the like.

In addition to the segment giants, the Maxima will also compete in the Nissan showroom with the Altima, which is almost identical in stature and roomier inside. As the more expensive vehicle, it remains to be seen whether shoppers will understand its unique value proposition. In Nissan's own terms, the Altima as a "lower-middle" choice, while the Maxima is "upper-middle." (We prefer the "middle-out" approach.)

Add Nissan's desire to reaffirm the '16 Maxima as the "4DSC"—four-door sports car, if you're just joining us—to the struggle to be noticed, and it might be a challenge for Nissan to make this Maxima stand out.

Overall:

Beneath stylishly trendy skin, a solid performer attempts to relive its glory days.

Highs:

Smooth and responsive engine and transmission, feature-packed, roomy back seat, priced aggressively.

Lows:

Striking exterior styling that's not to everyone's taste, questionable interior trim fit and finish, still too similar to Altima in size and purpose.

The ideal setup:

The Maxima SL ($37,715) makes sense to us as the one to choose, with enough luxury and tech equipment to satisfy enthusiasts and entry-level hedonists. It looks best in Pearl white ($395).

By the numbers: 2016 Nissan Maxima

MSRP: $33,235 (includes $825 destination charge)

Power / drive wheels: 3.5-liter, 300-hp V-6 engine / front-wheel drive

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT)

EPA fuel economy (mpg): 22 city / 30 highway

In showrooms: Now

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