The 2016 Nissan Maxima is out to right a few wrongs. For starters, it's a crime that the brand's flagship sedan sold less than a thousand examples last year in Canada, a mere tenth of what its mid-size Altima stable-mate managed to move in the same timeframe. Then there's the question of identity: communicating to potential buyers what makes a Maxima a Maxima, and why would someone choose it over other full-size options like the Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, or Chevrolet Impala?
A day spent in Nashville, Tennessee, behind the wheel of the all-new Nissan Maxima had me convinced that the automaker was serious about taking back some of the mindshare it once enjoyed at the top end. The new car is comfortable, stylish, and exceedingly well-priced. That identity crisis is still in effect, however, because no matter how hard the Maxima's marketing might push the catchphrase, this is no 'four-door sports car.'
Into The Spotlight
For 2016 Nissan elected to take the Maxima in a more fashion-forward direction, which meant moving away from the broad face of the previous-generation car and instead embracing a more muscled take on the brand's corporate identity. Squint hard and you can see hints of the Pathfinder and Rogue SUVs in the Maxima's double-U grille, but really only as it pertains to attitude. There's nothing truck-like about the sedan's shape, just a muscular strength that ripples through its curves and detail lines that give the eye more to look at than in years past.
Equally big steps have been made inside the new Nissan Maxima, with a cockpit that can be spec'd to a high degree of class when choosing the range-topping Platinum trim level. Soft-touch leather and plastic abound, and the sedan's interior trappings feel far more akin to those of an Infiniti luxury model than they do the more mass-market Nissan nameplate. Even lower-trim editions of the Maxima punch above their weight in both the front and rear positions, with the latter offering up generous amounts of leg and shoulder room.
The March Of Technology
There was once a time when Nissan could claim to be at the forefront of in-car infotainment, and the 2016 Nissan Maxima demonstrates that the automaker's system designers and UI experts haven't been sitting on their hands. The eight-inch touchscreen interface available in the Maxima is simple to use and presents clear and vibrant graphics, approaching the level of the class-leading Chrysler Uconnect 8.4. Other gear on tap with the sedan includes active noise cancellation and a host of safety equipment (adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot warning, drive attention alert), most of which is included free of charge on all but the base model.
Drives Great, But Don't Call It Sporty
Nissan is so enamoured of the 'four-door sports car' tagline that it had '4DSC' embossed on the Maxima's gear selector. This decision to focus on the perceived 'sporty' aspects of the big sedan is unfortunate, because it ignores what the car does so well in favour of highlighting a performance character that honestly doesn't exist.
The 3.5-litre V6 found under the hood of the Maxima has been refreshed and retuned to offer 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque, managed by a continuously-variable automatic transmission that deftly balances the antagonistic goals of enhancing fuel economy and maintaining swift acceleration. The vehicle's suspension system also isolates and dispatches road insults with nary a second thought, making the sedan a comfortable option for both long drives and shorter city sprints.
Any attempt to flog the Maxima in anger, however quickly reveals the limits of its chassis, which is further hobbled by its size, weight, and out-of-touch electric power steering assist that simply doesn't deliver the kind of feedback necessary to define the Nissan as a true driver's car. The company was able to trot out a litany of lap times and data points demonstrating the Maxima's superiority on a race track over a carefully-selected list of rivals, but these numbers are incapable of reflecting the fact that it's simply not fun to drive the full-size four-door in a performance environment.
Nissan Misses The Point, But Hopefully Buyers Don't
Honestly, I couldn't care less about putting the 2016 Nissan Maxima through its paces on a road course. I'm far more excited about the fact that Nissan has built a sharp-looking, well-appointed full-size car with a stunningly well-executed interior and offered it at a price that is more than a little astonishing. A base Maxima SV starts at $35,900, but a full-load Maxima Platinum rings in for less than $45,000 - and it does so while offering a long list of luxury features, good power, and a very comfortable ride.
This might not be the story Nissan is currently selling to customers, but it's definitely the one that's most relevant to their purchase decision. The 2016 Maxima is a cut above the Taurus, the Avalon, and even the Acura TLX in almost every important large car category, but especially value-for-the-money. If I were Nissan, I'd be shouting that from the mountain tops.