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    First Drive: 2016 Nissan Maxima


    • 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.

     


    2016 Nissan Maxima SR 1


    Lets begin with the elephant in room of the Maxima - the design. Compared to past Maximas, the new one is very much a shock. Nissan graced the 2016 Maxima with the design from the Sport Sedan Concept shown at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. Such cues as the V-Motion grille, boomerang headlights, blacked-out pillars, kicked-up belt line and a floating roof are present on the production model. A set of wheels ranging from 18 to 19-inches finish off the look. The new Maxima is very much a polarizing vehicle with a number of people who either like it or hate it. Personally, I fall into former as it gives the Maxima the ability to standout not only in the full-size sedan class, but also in Nissan’s crowded lineup.

     

    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.

     


    2016 Nissan Maxima SR 7


     

    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.

     


    2016 Nissan Maxima SR 5


    Taking it out on the route for our drive, I was impressed how the Maxima SR drove. Put the SR into the sport mode, and it becomes a ‘sports car’. The V6 accelerates harder while the CVT enters a mode to allow for stepped shifts. I was impressed with how the V6 never felt like it was out breath no matter where it was on the RPM range. In corners, the SR’s suspension hunkered down and provided excellent stability. Steering provided good weight and feel during the enthusiastic driving period. Also impressive were the seats which were able to hold me when I put it through it paces.

     

    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.


    2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum 3


     

    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

     

     

    Year: 2016
    Make: Nissan
    Model: Maxima
    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)

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    Nice Review, glad to see the old girl get a new life. Agreed that the exterior design is polarizing. I fall into the hate it camp, do not care for it at all.

     

    Over all, I wish it all the best in competing in the market.

     

    I see the idiots in marketing are pushing HP and engineering idiots are ignoring that Torque is what moves a car.  Such a waste to have 300HP and considerably less torque to move it.

     

    Give me a decent Pushrod V8 or V6 any day over these dual overhead cam crap that weighs more and does less.

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    I'm happy that Nissan took a risk with the Maxima's styling. I personally think it looks great. My only problem comes from the engine and transmission. If this is supposed to be a "4-door sports car", why does it still have a CVT? I agree with dfelt that the engine needs much more torque as well. 

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    I could probably forgive the design if not for the beaver teeth and mouth design of the front end. It makes Acura's worst beak designs look tame.

     

    Also, CVT.

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    40K for FWD and CVT? In something marketed as a 4 Door Sports Car?? Haha, hard pass.

     

    Good one Nissan. You should have just killed this thing off like you were thinking about.

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    they had so much equity in the Maxima name, good thing they kept it.  The Altima is a driving dud and at least still having this in any form keeps Nissan on the map from not being Toyota, part deux.

     

    So the trend is going to go back to driver oriented interiors again now?  instead of all the T shaped dashes that we may be all getting sick of now.  Auroras and Bonnevilles had driver oriented dashes.

     

    If all Nissan does with this is put out a 'sporty altima alternative' it will have done its job.  the interior is a big departure from the Altima.  Overall there is still a huge number of buyers who want a FWD car due to winter and want something leaning to a sport sedan so they don't have to settle for a Camry or an Accord or an Avalon.  Remember the Grand Prix and bonnevilles?

     

    The cvt has evolved but i still think one version of this car with a better auto trans would be a good idea.  No need to offer a stick with this thing anymore.  With all the crossovers being sold, i am amazed sedans are suriviving as much as they can.

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    I used to have a '95 Maxima. I loved it. It had minor electrical gremlins in its old age. I always liked them, and not because of their dumb 4DSC badging. The interior was solidly built, the car weighed only 3200 lbs, and the boot was huge, and had a full sized spare. It was a GLE with the classy dark green paint and tan leather. 

     

    The VQ35DE was a torquey monster for its time and 190 ponies and 210 ft-lbs torque out of 3.0L liters would have been competitive even 8-9 years ago, let alone 21. It was an exhilarating car and it did win MT's import car of the year award, even though Nissan had done aggressive cost-cutting in the generation.

     

    I see the appeal of this car, it's trying to be the really bold entry in this segment. Every auto mag review has said it's a legit car. I don't see why not. The interior is the real deal, and the exterior is a love it or hate it affair, but the same could be said of Toyota, Ford's (2016 Shanghai Taurus), Hyundai's, and Kia's segment players. Either the designs have been new and either ugly or exciting or just more of the same, boring or derivative. 

     

    I don't think it's fair to judge this CVT as a total loss, especially when both C&D and M/T were okay with it to say the least. FWD does limit the car, though. At 40k+ fully loaded sounds right for the segment too, as the Impala, Azera, Taurus, and Avalon... everyone ends just north of 40K.

     

    Do I personally plan on getting one? No, I think this Maxima has a horrendous/disgusting exterior, but there's a lot of good stuff in this car everywhere else.

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    I actually don't think it looks that bad. I've become desensitized to Nissan design language after the Cube apparently.

     

    That sticker price, though...

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      2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
      “Sometimes to fully test a vehicle, you need to put it in a situation where it isn’t fully comfortable.”
      That was the case for the Mazda MX-5 Miata as it would not be only driven in the middle of one of the coldest winters in Michigan, but it would also be taking me to and from the Detroit Auto Show. Crazy? Of course. But the MX-5 Miata was wearing a set of winter tires which helped it stick to the road. Despite the cold temps and snow that would fall during the latter half of the week, the MX-5 Miata proved to be just as fun as it would have been in warmer weather. Sharp handling, an engine that loved to rev, and a slick six-speed manual transmission. It didn’t hurt that I could actually fit my suitcase into the trunk of the Miata for the show.
      2016 Scion iA
      I have a trend of driving brands or vehicles that will be ending. Most infamously was the time when I drove a Suzuki SX4 for review and then hearing the news of the brand leaving a couple of days after returning it. That was the case of the Scion iA. A few months after driving the iA, Toyota announced that it was shuttering the brand. Some of the vehicles, like the iA would continue as Toyotas. This was a smart move as the iA proved to be a winner. Being a rebadged Mazda2 was a big reason as to why I liked the iA. It was a fun vehicle to drive around town or on a special road. But it also featured a lot of standard equipment including automatic emergency braking. While the brand is gone, it is good to see the iA lives on.
      2016 Toyota Prius Three
      I have never been a fan of the Prius family. Every Prius that I have reviewed left me wondering who decided to start selling a science experiment and not an actual vehicle. But the 2016 Prius is my biggest shock of the year. Yes, the Prius will take its time getting up to speed on the freeway. But around town, the Prius was a spritely performer. More surprising was how well the Prius drove. Taking a corner, I was expecting to experience motion sickness because of how much body roll previous models had. But the Prius took it like a champ showing little body and some decent steering - thank the new TGNA architecture. It doesn’t hurt that I got 60.2 mpg as my average for the week. Well done Toyota.
      2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
      If there is one shining light at Volkswagen, it would have to be the Golf family. Last year, I named the Golf GTI as one of my favorites. This year, that honor falls to the SportWagen. Yes, it isn’t the sharpest looking vehicle in the class and the DSG transmission needs some more work. But Volkswagen got the basics right. The 1.8T is powerful and delivers excellent fuel economy. The interior spacious for both passengers and cargo - I was able to fit two massive Ikea boxes into it. Volkswagen also mastered the dark art of balancing fun to drive with comfort. I could take the Golf SportWagen down a windy road and be entertained. Afterward, I could drive it around town and not feel any road imperfections. 
      There you go, the eight vehicles that earned a coveted spot on my favorites list. Now it should be noted that some vehicles we’re close to getting onto this list, but were kicked off for one reason or another. Here are those vehicles,
      Chevrolet Malibu 2LT: Chevrolet did an excellent job with the new Malibu with fixing a number of issues that plagued the old model. But the 2LT introduced a new set of problems - questionable materials, poor road noise isolation, and the lack of options. I really do like the new Malibu, just not in 2LT form. Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible: Loved the V8 performance and noise. Hate the $54,000 pricetag. This might explain why GM has such a large amount of Camaros sitting on dealers. Hyundai Elantra: Hyundai played it safe with the updated Elantra and this would have been ok a couple of years ago. But in light of the redesigned Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic, it wasn’t enough for the Elantra to be a strong contender as it once was. Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X: This was a truck I really wanted to like. Nissan was trying something different with the Titan XD - offer something between a light-duty and heavy-duty pickup. Plus, a nice Cummins V8 diesel could have been the cheery on top. But trying to convince someone that your truck is the best is difficult since truck buyers tend to stick with one brand. Not helping is the lack of cab and bed sizes. At the time of our original review, the XD was only available as a crew cab. A regular cab has been since introduced. But it seems Nissan doesn’t fully understand the truck market. You need to have a lot of options available to buyers at launch, not down the road.
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