2016 Nissan Maxima Review - Four Doors Yes, Sports Car No

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

Today, every other outlet publishing driving impressions of the all-new 2016 Nissan Maxima is going to leverage nostalgia – just like Nissan wants them to – as they reference the return of the ‘4-Door Sports Car’, or 4DSC for short. While the four character alphanumeric has never really disappeared since its inception, Nissan is putting a renewed marketing focus on the term with the express purpose of conjuring up mental images of California canyon carving while Timmy Jr. rides booster seat in the back.

I’m not going to do that.

At 30 years old (or young, depending on your relative position along the lifecycle timeline), I hold no nostalgia toward the return of Nissan’s marketing term from yesteryear. I grew up with the Foo Fighters (and the very tail end of Nirvana), $5 Colt 45s and – when I could finally afford a car – a 2000 Honda Civic purchased used when I reached the grand age of 20. By the time cars entered my radar, most of the original 4DSCs (the third-generation Maxima built from model years 1989 to 1994) had succumbed to rust or one of the many ails claiming many a car along the salty east coast I call home.

I’ve not a single memory of the first 4DSC, and that’s a problem.

Nissan flew me to Nashville, Tennessee – the home of Nissan in America – to test the new Maxima. They put me up for an extra night because United doesn’t know how to operate planes, apparently, and offered me a wide selection of red meats to satiate my hunger, which I accepted. My girlfriend put me on a salad-based detox upon my arrival home.

Before we get into the marketing of Nissan’s newest mid-full-size* car, a talk about its nuts and bolts are in order.

* Nissan markets the Maxima as a full-size competitor, but due to interior volume it’s classified as a mid-size sedan by the EPA.

Just like the current year Maxima, the 2016 model is powered by a 3.5L VQ35DE V6, now with a revised output of 300 hp versus 290 as before while pushing out an identical 261 pound-feet of torque. The valves are sodium-filled just like the GT-R, because GT-R. Also, Nissan made sure all journos in attendance were aware of the Maxima’s stiffer oil pan, because that sounds sporty. (In reality, a stiffer oil pan is to reduce NVH and has absolutely nothing to do with performance.)

And, just like the current year Maxima, the new car also sends power solely to the front wheels by way of a continuously variable transmission. It, too, has been revised with a wider effective gear ratio along with a taller final drive. For those who enjoy the sensation and aural cues of a conventional automatic, the CVT features D-Step logic (fancy talk), or fake shifts (common sense talk). Even with those ‘shifts’ nibbling away a small percentage of fuel economy and output efficiency, Nissan claims the CVT is still more efficient while delivering the same effective gear ratio range as a conventional eight- or nine-speed automatic.

Turning the front wheels to-and-fro is a hydro-electric power steering system while coil springs with independent struts keep the rubber firmly planted where it should. At the rear, a multi-link independent setup is used. All four corners see new ZF Sachs twin-tube shocks as standard while sportier SR models gets a sport-tuned setup, Yamaha performance chassis damper and Integrated Dynamics-control Module (IDM), which includes Active Ride Control (ARC), Active Trace Control (ATC) and Active Engine Brake (AEB).

Yet, any way you cut it, front-wheel drive and a CVT does not a sports car make. For the rest of the review, let’s call the Maxima what it is – a sporting family sedan – and make the proper comparisons instead of pretending to care how quickly it can shuffle around Buttonwillow.

In the real world, where 100 percent of Maximas sold spend 100 percent of their lives on roads that 100 percent aren’t race tracks, Nissan’s all-new family sedan can shuffle around back roads with ease. In SR trim, those capabilities are kicked up a slight notch thanks to the aforementioned suspension tuning and computer wizardry. However, the Maxima is not a car that instills confidence in the driver.

Even with the decidedly non-sporty combo of naturally-aspirated V6 and rubber-band transmission, the Maxima still pulls hard, though it lacks the immediacy of a true geared automatic or manual. Upon dropping the hammer, revs tend to climb for short periods of time without any change in forward acceleration rate. However, once the CVT finds the ratio it seeks, acceleration is smooth and brisk.

Steering is far from communicative. Even in SR spec, and I assume this is because of the variable-speed steering, a dead-zone exists within a degree and a half or two of center. On a flat surface during a simulated evasive maneuver, the car also exhibited some quirky reaction differences between the initial evasive steering motion and the return motion to bring the car straight again. Never did I feel I was having a direct conversation with the front wheels, but I also never felt like the conversation through the variable-speed steering intermediary was being misinterpreted. If anything, my choppy directions were being listened to, translated from a Southern drawl to proper Queen’s English, and communicated to the wheels as a more svelte and sophisticated series of commands.

Ride quality is quite exceptional considering the Maxima’s sporting intentions. At no point during the drive day did I come upon a road imperfection, bump or gaping entrance to hell the car couldn’t handle. Nor did I attack a corner without being able to come out the other end – even with my poor, little brain misjudging entry speeds. Nissan has seemingly nailed the suspension tuning equation, solving for X where X equals the perfect blend of sport and luxury.

Using jet cockpits as inspiration, or so Nissan says, the interior isn’t your typical full-size family sedan environment. Like many true sports cars, the center console sits rather high in the Maxima, cradling you between it and the also rather high window sills. The clear and concise instrument panel is framed by a thoroughly chunky, fully-adjustable steering wheel (trimmed in Alcantara in SR models, just like the seat inserts) while the rest of the interior materials are either top-notch or close as makes no difference to it. Seats are well, but not overly, bolstered and provide a level of comfort slightly exceeding the segment.

The only drawback to the new Maxima’s interior experience is the new NissanConnect infotainment system. While all models come standard with navigation and an 8.0-inch screen, I found the new system a bit clunky and more confusing from a usability standpoint than the outgoing software. Also, Nissan’s Around View Monitor is only available on top trim Platinum models, which is surprising as it’s also available on the lowly Nissan Versa Note and has been for a couple of years now.

As always, styling is a subjective matter. Considering the outgoing Maxima, which has aged quite gracefully and doesn’t look played out or tired, the new design is a radical departure. It’s floating roof and edgy front end are growing on me, little bit by little bit, and I’ve come to appreciate it. In contrast to the front, the rear looks under styled for the car, almost to the point of being a yawn fest. Other than a chrome trim piece that stretches the width between the two taillights, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the Maxima’s rump, especially from a short distance. Also, there’s nothing about the overall design that shouts, “I’m a sports car!” If anything, it looks rather plump.

And that brings us full circle: the Maxima is not a sports car, no matter how many 4DSC insignias you find festooned throughout the exterior and interior. And, if you’re under a certain age as I am, the 4DSC branding means absolutely nothing to you.

[Correction: The ‘4-Door Sports Car’ and 4DSC names were first used on the third-generation Maxima between MY1989 and MY1994. Sorry, folks. I dun fucked up. This math at the end is useless, but my statement of having no personal nostalgia toward the 4DSC branding still applies. I’m leaving the following paragraph unchanged.]

If you were 16 when the first 4DSC emblazoned Maxima was introduced in 1985, some simple maths puts you at the prime age of 46 this year. Using Nissan’s own figures, a disproportionately younger demographic flocks to the Maxima in comparison to its competitors; 67 percent of Maxima buyers are under the age of 55 versus only 38 percent of the segment average. From that we can guesstimate there’s a decent percentage of typical Maxima buyers where 4DSC means nothing to them from a historical perspective, just like myself. No nostalgia. No identifiable connection. No interesting historical story to share to impress my friends.

But, it doesn’t matter. Nissan will still sell loads of Maximas. And I hope they do, if for no other reason than to prove the viability of a sportier offering, no matter what shape it takes.

The 2016 Nissan Maxima is available now in five different grades – S, SV, SL, SR and Platinum – priced between $32,410 and $39,860 with no available options.

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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  • Jayzwhiterabbit Jayzwhiterabbit on Jun 04, 2015

    The black A-pillars look a lot better than the huge and less-than-elegant painted A-pillars on almost every other sedan these days. The 1980's were the last time that A pillars were graceful.

  • Fireballs76 Fireballs76 on Jun 07, 2015

    Not a bad looking car by any means. I have a '13 Altima 3.5 which is very fun to drive so I can't wait to drive the new Maxima at some point. Albeit, yes the CVT makes things interesting but I have the paddle shifters if I want to screw around. Time will tell

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