2016 Nissan Maxima SR Review
Automakers don’t make cars like the Maxima to make money, or at least not much. Such exercises are more about building brand image, and to that end Nissan’s all-new flagship sport-luxury sedan is a serious head-turner that will cause many to sit up and take notice. Its long, low and lean styling not only makes it look lither than its predecessor, but Nissan also made the new base Maxima 99 lbs lighter than the car it replaces. This said, the ride in the SR-trimmed Maxima is extremely firm, however, to the near unforgiving point that you can feel every ripple and seemingly each pebble you drive all over, my tester’s 245/45R19 Bridgestone Blizzak winters no doubt increasing the firm factor, but they can’t be solely responsible. The SR model also gets a beefed up sport suspension that no doubt adds to the Maxima’s rudely awakening ride.
The Maxima tracks well through fast-paced corners, but understeers when approaching its limit, which is the exact opposite of what I want a performance sedan to do, while that rigid suspension can cause the tires to break contact with the road when hitting bumps at mid-corner and, well, you can’t get any grip from air no matter how capable a tire is. It’s as if they’ve done all this car’s testing on ultra-smooth racetracks and none on real roads, because it’s set up with such minimal wheel travel that once again a few dips, dives and pavement irregularities can easily upset the car at high-speed.
The suspension, however, is not the Maxima’s weakest point: that would be the CVT. Despite the beautiful big race car-like paddles that optimally stay fixed to the steering column, this gearbox, or rather lack of a gearbox, doesn’t react the way a performance car’s automatic transmission should. Put it in Sport mode, hit the throttle, ramp up speed and then flick through the paddles and it merely interrupts the CVT’s process, hardly showing any sign of shifting at all. It’s as if the “gear” it’s changing is part of an outrageous 18-speed automatic, where each increment is so imperceptively small that it’s difficult to notice anything has happened at all. The paddles are more useful for downshifting, but again the pseudo-gear it finds is unpredictable and the results are unsatisfying compared to the many seven-, eight- and nine-speed conventional torque converted automatics on today’s market.
So let’s talk about the Maxima’s strengths. Number one, other than styling, is the interior that combines excellent design along with very high quality finishings. The cabin is beautifully detailed, its overall motif leaning towards a sporty performance look like the exterior. For instance, there’s no use of woodgrain at all, but rather my SR tester boasted particularly attractive metallic inlays across the instrument panel and doors, done out in a stunning creased diamond pattern. The entire dash top is finished in a premium quality soft touch synthetic with contrast blue stitching, while that same treatment covers the sides of the lower console that are quite comfortable against the knees, plus the door uppers and armrests, the door inserts finished in a soft, rich feeling ultrasuede.
The Maxima SR’s sports seats get a similar treatment as the dash top and door inserts, with blue stitching on the leather bolsters, the upper backrest and headrests plus the front portions of the lower squabs, the driver’s of which is extendable, while the inserts are finished in perforated suede with blue stitching in a diamond pattern. The steering wheel continues this theme, its leather and perforated suede rim also featuring blue stitching around its circumference, while its bottom section is flattened for a sportier look plus a bit more legroom, its V-shaped split center spoke doused in a silver metal-look surfacing that goes nicely with the aforementioned paddles just behind, whereas the switches on each side spoke are comprised of very high quality, nicely organized buttons and toggles that are tightly fitted and well damped.
The top half of that wheel frames a combination analog and digital primary gauge package with the usual tachometer on the left and speedometer on the right, a small temperature meter on the left bottom and gas gauge to the lower right. Its mid-point is filled with a stunningly styled high-resolution full-color TFT multi-information display that includes a large arcing compass for real-time directions, a nice digital speedometer readout, and the usual trip and odometer information, plus radio, exterior temperature, digital clock, etc.
Amid the center stack is a large, clear and colorful infotainment touchscreen surrounded in buttons for accessing its menu, navigation mapping, audio functions, and more, while the screen itself houses digital go-to buttons across its lower edge for going more in-depth with features such as hands-free text messaging, NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, SiriusXM Traffic and more. A rotating dial and three fast-access buttons provide easy control of the comprehensive system from the lower console. Although not yet infused with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, my smartphone connected easily enough and the system’s Bluetooth worked flawlessly throughout my test week, while the integrated backup camera with guidelines provided a clear rearward view.
All of the Maxima’s dual-zone HVAC system access comes via a narrow panel just underneath the infotainment display, filled with buttons and dials for adjusting temperature, auto on/off, and sync features, while the heated and ventilated seat controls are actuated via rotating dials on the lower console.
The gorgeous sport seats offer good support, although the power-adjustable lumbar could only be moved in and out, not up and down. The rear seat is also quite comfortable, and the trunk not only accommodates 14.3 cubic feet of gear but also provides the capacity for longer items via 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs that are standard, as are a whole host of features in the Maxima’s base S trim, such as the seven-inch primary gauge display, big eight-inch infotainment display along with its navigation system and rearview camera plus the dual-zone auto HVAC noted earlier, as well as 18-inch alloys on 245/45R18 V-rated all-seasons, auto on/off halogen projector headlamps, LED DRLs, fog lights, signature LED taillights, dual chromed tailpipes, remote start, proximity-sensing keyless access with push-button start, powered side mirrors, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescoping multi-function sport steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, Razor Steel trim, an eight-way powered driver’s seat and a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, overhead sunglasses storage, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, cruise control, eight-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with an aux plug, two USB ports, satellite radio, HD radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, and RDS, plus tire pressure monitoring and all the usual active and passive safety equipment, all for $32,510 plus freight and dealer fees.
The second-rung SV adds heated side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, heated front seats, leather upholstery, powered lumbar support plus a manual thigh support extension for the driver’s seat, plus front and rear parking sonar for $34,490, whereas the SL adds adjustable ambient LED interior lighting, a heated steering wheel, an upgraded eleven-speaker Bose audio system, adaptive cruise control, active noise cancellation, active sound enhancement, blind spot warning with rear cross traffic alert, predictive forward collision warning and autonomous forward emergency braking, plus more for $36,990. Lastly, my SR added aluminum sport pedals along with the already noted 19-inch alloys on 245/40R19 W-rated all-seasons, sport suspension, climate-controlled front seats, gorgeous diamond-patterned Liquid Chrome inlays, Ascot leather-wrapped steering wheel with Alcantara-suede insert and paddle shifters, and Ascot leather-trimmed seats with diamond-quilted Alcantara inserts for $37,770.
If you live in a land of ultimately smooth roads, I recommend checking out the Maxima SR, as, CVT aside, it’s an impressive sport sedan that no doubt can do wonders on ironed-out tarmac, but those not so fortunate may want to look at one of the model’s other trims for daily use. The Maxima does many things very well, and while its transmission is not my favorite it may perfectly suit your driving style, plus the car’s eye-arresting styling, luxuriant interior, long list of features, surprisingly good 22 mpg city, 35 highway and 25 combined fuel economy, full five-start NHTSA crash test rating, Top Safety Pick + IIHS ranking, and good expected reliability should make for a rewarding ownership experience.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press