Return of the Four-Door Sports Car?
At the end of my review of the 2013 Nissan Maxima, I said “The 2013 Nissan Maxima is a very special car, but it's time for this 'four-door sports car' to take its final curtain call and have a new model ready in the wings.” Little did anyone know outside at Nissan that the current Maxima was possibly going to be its last. A recent report says that a next-generation Maxima wasn’t on the table due to the recession and Nissan focusing on fuel-efficient vehicles. But with a bit of convincing due to Nissan’s vice president of product planning, the Maxima was able to live on.
This brings us nicely to the eighth-generation Maxima which debuted at the New York Auto Show in April. The new model is quite the departure from the last-generation Maxima in terms of looks and features available. Nissan says the 4-Door sports car is back. Well, is it? To find out, I drove two versions of the 2016 Maxima at a first drive event in Detroit.
The interior also got a major revamp. During the briefing, Nissan explained the development team went down to where the Blue Angels are stationed and studied the cockpit of their jets. What they took away was how the controls and information were in easy sight and reach of the pilot. Nissan took this and some design ideas from the GT-R and placed them into the Maxima. Sitting in the driver’s seat, you find that you are surrounded by a new instrument cluster with a 7-inch color screen and a center console that is angle towards the driver - that idea comes from the GT-R. The layout makes you feel that you are one with the car.
Nissan also worked making the Maxima feel more premium - an issue I had with the previous Maxima. Better quality materials such as machined-look wood and aluminum trim, more soft-touch plastics, and contrasting stitching. The base S trim gets cloth, while higher trim levels get leather or a combination of leather and real Alcantara. The use of these materials really help move the Maxima up in the full-size class. As for the seats, they are the Zero-Gravity variety found on the Altima. They come with a little bit more bolstering to keep up the Maxima’s sporting intentions. I found the seats to be quite comfortable and provided good support for the route Nissan has us drive on. The back seat is also a little bit more roomy than the last Maxima thanks to increase in overall length - about 2.2 inches.
The center stack boasts a new 8-inch touchscreen with navigation which comes as standard on all Maximas. It comes with a new interface which brings Nissan into the current century with a bright screen and more modern looking graphics. Nissan also falls into the pit of trying to mimic smartphones and tablets with the ability to swipe from screen to screen, and pinch and zoom on the navigation. I was worried that they system would fall apart as it would either not respond or respond slowly. The system did pretty well when it came to the swipe as the transition was very fluid and I saw no performance issues. Trying the pinch-and-zoom was another matter as it didn’t respond at all when I did the motion. There’s also a control knob near the driver which allows the driver to access more functions of the system.
Power comes 3.5L VQ V6 with 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Compared to the older 3.5, the one found in the 2016 Maxima features around 61 percent of new parts including a new cylinder head, intake manifold, and sodium filled exhaust valves to pull heat away from the combustion chamber. Nissan also quick to point that per liter, the 3.5 in the Maxima is best in class with 85.7 horsepower. The V6 paired up to Nissan’s XTronic CVT which has been altered with a wider range of ratios, new shift logic to provide ‘shifts’ when driving exuberantly, and sport tuning. Under the skin is a redesigned platform with a lot of high-strength steel. Nissan claims that with this new platform, the 2016 Maxima is about 82 pounds lighter and 25 percent more rigid. The suspension has also been given the once-over with new rear dampers and some special goodies for the sporty SR trim.
Lets move onto the drive shall we?
The first Maxima I took out was the SR. Nissan is positioning the SR as the enthusiast’s choice with a number of changes in the suspension and interior. The Maxima SR’s suspension gets a set of retuned dampers, springs and stabilizer bar. There’s also a set of Goodyear F1 Eagle tires to improve grip and steering response. Inside, SR models get leather and Alcantara on the seats and the steering wheel. You’ll also notice a set of paddles to control the transmission in sporting situations.
Putting the Maxima SR back into normal, I found that it rode smooth for the most part. I could tell that a few bumps and imperfections were making their way into the interior, but its not to the point where it will become a concern to anyone. Wind and road noise were kept to acceptable levels. As for the CVT, I found it to be ok. There was none of CVT whine that has been accustomed to previous CVTs. The stepped shifts appeared when I was making a pass on the freeway, a nice touch.
After driving the SR, I took out the top of line Maxima Platinum to see how it compared. Now the Platinum is quite a luxurious model with such appointments as quilted leather, wood trim, and the contrasting stitching. Out on the road, the Platinum felt slightly more comfortable than SR as bumps and road imperfections were kept at bay. On the curvy bits, the Maxima Platinum didn’t feel out of place when compared to SR. The steering still boasts the good weight and feel in the corners. The only real difference is in the suspension where the Platinum felt a little bit softer, which does let in some body roll. But if you’re not looking for it, then you’ll really won’t notice a difference.
The Maxima lineup begins at $33,235 for the base S trim and climbs to $40,865 for the top-of-the-line Platinum - prices include a $825 destination charge. Interestingly, Nissan isn’t offering any options on the Maxima. Instead, the Maxima will be offered in five different trim levels with additional features on higher trims. Here’s a basic outline of how it will work.
- S - Base
- SV - Leather
- SL - Panoramic Roof
- SR - Sport Suspension and 19-inch Wheels
- Platinum - Quilted Leather
So is the 4-Door Sports Car back? In short, Yes. Nissan has put a lot of work in the Maxima to it bring back into the spotlight and make it a contender in the full-size sedan class. Whether this helps the Maxima in the long run remains to be seen.
Disclaimer: Nissan Invited Cheers & Gears to a Local Drive Event
Trim: SR, Platinum
Engine: 3.5L VQ V6
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT
Horsepower @ RPM: 300 @ 6,400
Torque @ RPM: 261 @ 4,400
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/30/25
Curb Weight: 3,488 to 3,593 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Smyrna, TN
Base Price: $32,410 (S)
As Tested Price: $38,495 (SR), $40,865 (Platinum) (Includes $825.00 Destination Charge)