2016 Nissan Maxima SR: Penalized for Unsportscar-Like Conduct [Review]

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

The all-new 2016 Nissan Maxima has been redesigned and breaks out with an attention-grabbing exterior, a revised powertrain, an ensemble of active safety features, and an array of new tech and convenience features. While Nissan has some lofty aspirations for their full-size sedan, it doesn’t measure up to expectations in the sports sedan arena set by the marketing department. That’s not to say the 2016 Maxima is all bad. If we look at it as a mature sedan that offers good value, has a solid history of reliability, and can transport everyone inside safely, then yes, the Maxima excels quite well.

With a lineage dating back to 1981, the 8th-generation large sedan has been overhauled with an emphasis on comfort, safety, and the goal of delivering an almost sports sedan-like performance.

So what’s changed? On the outside, the car has a nicely sculpted body profile, a longer and wider footprint, and a very bold front end. The inside – just like the outside – was heavily inspired by Nissan’s Sport Sedan Concept. The center console is busy but functional, and the nicely stitched upholstery is more than inviting. The large infotainment screen in the center stack is angled toward the driver, and the overall feel is comparable to that of more expensive full-size sedans on the market.

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

Powertrain choices for the 2016 Maxima are limited to one, which is a revised version of Nissan’s esteemed VQ-Series 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque, mated to an updated continuously variable transmission (CVT) that comes with Sport and Manual modes. Thanks to the car’s lighter weight and improved powertrain, the 2016 Maxima is rated 22/30 mpg city/highway.

Of the five different trim levels available, the SR trim is the closest thing to a 4-door sports car and is priced from $37,670. It includes Maxima SL equipment, but loses the panoramic sunroof to incrementally lower the car’s weight and center of gravity. Nineteen-inch wheels with low profile tires, a sport suspension, a front performance chassis damper, paddle shifters, and an Integrated Dynamics Module (IDM) with Active Ride Control, Active Trace Control, and Active Engine Brake are exclusive to the Maxima SR.

The Maxima’s brakes handle their job with confidence, which feel responsive, linear, and fade resistant. The ride quality also impresses, soaking up bumps and potholes without excess impact harshness. Even at 80 mph, the Maxima’s cabin is quiet, making it easy to hold a conversation.

Switching the SR’s Drive Mode Selector to sport enhances the throttle sensitivity, changes the transmission’s shifting strategy, raises steering effort, and then amps up the engine note inside the cabin. None of that overcomes the dynamic handicap that is born of having 61 percent of the weight carried by the front tires. Lay into the Maxima on a road with delightful curves and straights, and despite having excellent body control, this sedan never comes alive, it just understeers — inescapable, grinding, shuddering understeer. Bring the speed down and the full-size sedan hums along complacently. But a sports sedan shouldn’t give up so easily.

Begrudgingly, I have to admit the CVT is responsive in Normal and Sport modes. Under normal driving conditions, the Maxima’s transmission operates unobtrusively without the drone associated with most CVTs. Under moderate acceleration, or when launched from a stop under full throttle and in Sport mode, the CVT comes close to acting like a traditional automatic. Adding to the pseudo-sport experience is the Active Sound Enhancement system that is responsible for the strong engine thrum heard inside the cabin and increasing the driver’s subjective sense of speed.

The SR trim, which is supposed to be Maxima at its most athletic form, can’t overcome the less-than-sharp steering response, the hint of torque steer under heavy acceleration, and a heavy weight bias at the front.

It turns out, though, that the Maxima is more comparable to a luxury car. The front and rear seats are spacious and soothingly comfortable. Touches of fake suede, diamond-patterned stitching, and metallic trim are welcome embellishments. At night, ambient lighting subtly illuminates the instrument-panel trim and doors. The simple and elegant round gauges have a seven-inch multi­colored screen between them to display information and route guidance. An eight-inch touch screen on the driver-oriented center console can be also be ­controlled by the knob behind the shifter.

While the 2016 Maxima isn’t a 4-door sports car, no matter how much the marketing mavens at Nissan wish it were true, it will carve itself a slice of the market from the consumers who recognized for what it really is – a stylish and well-crafted sedan with a comfortable and refined ride.

The 2016 Nissan Maxima is brand new and according to Nissan it is a 4DSC and 4DSC stand for a 4-door sports car. Stick with Roman as he unravels the dilemma of a front wheel drive car with a CVT transmission masquerading as a 4-door sports car.

MSRP $37,670
Price as tested $38,750
Engine 3.5l DOHC V6
Power (hp) 300 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 261 @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission)
Drivetrain layout transverse mounted front engine / front-wheel-drive
Curb weight 3,564 lbs
EPA-estimated fuel economy mpg 22 / 30 / 26 (city/hwy/observed)
Acceleration 0-60 mph 5.9 sec **
Top speed 135 mph **