First Drive: 2016 Nissan Maxima

Full disclosure: I've never been sold on the "four-door sports car" title the marketing folks at Nissan have bestowed upon the Maxima.

It's nothing against the Maxima, but when I think of a four-door sports car my mind's eye tends to focus on the likes of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 or BMW M3.

Even the Chevrolet SS, though not available in Canada, springs to mind before the Nissan Maxima.

I thought, though, after being invited to drive the 2016 Maxima from Ottawa to Esterel in the beautiful Laurentides region of Quebec, that I would keep an open mind.

And I'm certainly glad I did.

Wanting to give the redesigned car a fair shot at a place in the 4DSC club, I quickly chose a Maxima SR, the sportiest of the four trim levels available in Canada.

Second only to the Platinum trim in terms of luxury appointments, the SR adds a sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters, and Nissan's Integrated Dynamics-Control Module, which features engine braking and trace control systems that add a ton of fun to the driving experience.

The engine braking system automatically downshifts the Maxima's CVT when braking, readying the gears to power the car out of an apex, while the active trace control system applies the inner or outer brakes during cornering to reduce understeer.

Not noticeable on the highway, the control module really came to life on the winding roads in and around Esterel, working with the Maxima's 300-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 and the car's Sport Mode, which adds weight to the steering and improves throttle response, to make the front-wheel drive layout an afterthought.

The 3,565-lb. car was as well composed on Esterel's switchbacks, esses and dropoffs as it was on the A-50, biting the inside line as I pushed it through corners, begging for more throttle.

Even the CVT, long a punching bag for driving enthusiasts, was engaging, providing plenty of responsiveness while remaining smooth and quiet.

The cabin of the Maxima is as refined as you would want your pseudo-luxury sedan to be, with standard equipment across all trim levels including heated leather seats and steering wheel, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and a backup camera, plus much more.

Perhaps the best part about the car's interior, though, is its driver-centric focus.

The Maxima's centre stack has been tilted seven degrees to make it easier to use from the left seat, and the instrument cluster contains a seven-inch display that brings key information right to the driver’s line of sight.

Better yet, drivers can simply "swipe" directions from the navigation system in the centre stack to the drive display, with step-by-step instructions showing between the speedometer and tach.

All in all, the new Maxima is a great product, especially for the price—$35,900 to $43,300, with no options available to add, making the shopping experience simple.

Nissan expects most buyers will opt for the top-of-the-line Platinum trim, but if it were my money I'd save a few grand and go with the SR.

It has all the sportiness you want to match the refinement of the Platinum, only losing ground on features like a panoramic sunroof that take away from torsional rigidity.

Is it a true four-door sports car?

Well if the only thing separating it from those top-of-mind models is about $30,000 and a second-and-a-half in the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h, I guess not.

But if you're looking for a usable daily driver that adds some fun to the commute for a reasonable price, the Maxima hits the mark.

Welcome to the club.

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