The completely and rather uniquely redesigned 2016 Nissan Maxima is a little puzzling. It has the price tag and badge of a mainstream full-size sedan, but less interior space than most cars in that class. It lines up well with many entry-level luxury cars except for the Maxima's lack of an actual luxury badge. At the same time, its marketing boasts the performance and handling of a sport sedan, but it has a very non-performance-oriented drivetrain combination of front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The sport-oriented SR trim further adds to the confusion with an unpleasant, jittery ride. So it's either out of place no matter what you want to call it, or an interesting alternative to all of the above.
What Is It?
The Nissan Maxima is the brand's largest and most expensive sedan and it has been completely redesigned for 2016. It's a few inches longer and lower, but it remains a midsize sedan with a 3.5-liter V6, front-wheel drive and a CVT. It also continues to straddle the line between the mainstream and luxury sedan segments with a luxurious cabin, copious available features and strong performance.
There are a total of five trim levels from which to choose. The base S trim starts at $33,235 and includes 18-inch wheels, power-adjustable cloth seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera and, notably, a navigation system. The SV and SL trim levels add luxury equipment like leather upholstery, heated seats, premium audio and advanced accident avoidance tech, while an SR trim we tested ($38,485) goes a step further with 19-inch wheels, partial faux-suede upholstery and trim, paddle shifters and, crucially, a sport-tuned suspension that improves handling but sullies the ride. We also tested the pricier, plusher Platinum trim that hits the register at $40,685.
How Well Does It Ride and Handle?
Nissan likes to refer to the Maxima as the "Four-Door Sports Car," a moniker that dates back to the third-generation car of the early 1990s. It was marketing hyperbole then, and although the 2016 version makes great performance strides, it remains more marketing hype than substance.
So what is it, then, and how does it drive? Nissan's familiar 3.5-liter V6 engine has been reworked and now produces 300 horsepower, a more-than-healthy figure good enough to propel the Maxima from zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. That's impressively quick, but it's actually the same time we clocked for the less powerful Nissan Altima 3.5 as well as the V6-powered Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. If anything, that says something about those family sedans, since entry-level luxury cars like the Acura TLX V6, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS 2.0T and Mercedes-Benz C300 are actually a hair slower.
In the real world, there are no complaints about power, as the Maxima moves away with authority. The CVT provides a smooth, uninterrupted power delivery under relaxed, normal acceleration, but then simulates gear ratios during hard acceleration to re-create the feel and sound produced by a car with a traditional automatic. This latter element certainly aids the Maxima's sporting intent, but ultimately, the CVT lacks the crisp response and aural experience delivered by the traditional automatic or automated manual transmissions offered by most luxury segment rivals.
The Maxima's front-wheel-drive layout also betrays its sport sedan aspirations. When accelerating hard or when powering out of a tight corner, those 300 horses tug and pull on the steering wheel (a.k.a. torque steer). It isn't the bucking-bronco variety of some past overpowered front-drivers, but it's present in a segment where most competitors are immune to it given their rear- or all-wheel-drive layouts.
Offering all-wheel drive would not only quell the torque steer and assist foul weather traction, but would further enhance what is otherwise a sharp handling sedan, especially in the SR trim. The Maxima SR feels impressively low, wide and glued to the pavement through high-speed sweepers, but even other Maximas with the standard suspension deliver handling that's well above average for a front-wheel-drive sedan.
The steering, though oddly heavy at parking speeds, manages to be light in effort everywhere else, while delivering feedback that is admirably fluid and linear in its movement. There are actually two steering effort levels, Normal and Sport, and unlike most such systems, we liked elements of both settings in most driving situations.
At the same time, the Maxima begins to lose its sport sedan feel in tighter corners, where the as-tested all-season tires easily surrender their grip. The overly aggressive stability control system and front-drive layout also hamper quick transitions and acceleration out of corners. Those all-seasons also didn't do much for the Maxima's stopping distances either, as its shortest emergency stop from 60 mph took a thoroughly average 122 feet. Both the Platinum trim and more sport-oriented SR produced virtually identical stopping distances.
Now, if the Maxima SR truly performed like a "Four-Door Sports Car" or even a proper sport sedan, it would be easier to forgive the jittery and jiggly ride it produces over even seemingly smooth pavement. However, it doesn't, so we can't.
While big bumps are well damped and don't send shudders through the car, other pavement irregularities are are always felt, jostling you and your passengers aboutstill noticeable. It grows tiresome quickly, and we think potential buyers should steer clear of the SR trim since the handling difference between it and the Platinum are minimal.will be difficult to notice in most driving conditions by most drivers. Other Maxima trims, includinged the Platinum, iron out those irregularities, demonstrating a an impressively controlled ride that soaks up bumps without making the driver feel completely isolated.
How Luxurious Is the Interior?
Just as the 2016 Nissan Maxima's price straddles the line between standard family sedan and entry-level luxury, so, too, does its cabin. The interior design suggests it's biased more toward the luxury side of the scale, and most materials are high quality. In particular, the upper trims' leather and/or Alcantara upholstery give the Maxima a premium and sporty feel.
The entire cockpit is wrapped around the driver, with the center stack screen and controls angled for easy operation at a glance. The sharp 8-inch touchscreen display features sensible menus, large virtual buttons and pinch-to-zoom commands like a smartphone, and is supported by a dial controller (placed right where your hand rests) that does many of the same tasks as the touchscreen. This redundancy provides the driver with a choice of how he or she wants to accomplish most tasks, and contributes significantly to the Maxima's high marks for ease of use.
The generous amount of sound insulation is also noticeable, as road and wind noises are well muted. Active noise cancellation on SL and higher-trimmed models helps as well. These trims also feature active sound enhancement when Sport mode is engaged, adding select noises from the engine through the speakers if you're into that sort of thing.
The driver seat provides an impressive amount of adjustability, including an extendable thigh support cushion. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel also has a wide range of settings. However, the Maxima's seats aren't of the variety found in the Nissan Altima or Murano, meaning they aren't as cushy, enveloping and generally friendly over long distances. Instead, they are harder and more aggressively bolstered, which we found to be welcoming around corners, but less so on extended highway trips. The backseats can accommodate average-size adults with just enough head- and legroom, but taller passengers will find both lacking, and thigh support in short supply. In fact, the Maxima actually has noticeably less backseat space than the Altima.
Cargo space, on the other hand, is slightly above average with a maximum 14.3-cubic-foot capacity. The wide opening, mostly unobstructed floor and the remote rear seat releases further enhance utility. Small-item storage is excellent, with a useful center armrest bin and cupholders, as well as a deep covered bin forward of the shifter where you can plug in and store a smartphone.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
The EPA estimates the Maxima will return 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving (22 city/30 highway). We managed 28.6 mpg on the Edmunds evaluation route in an SR and virtually equaled that in a Platinum. This is quite thrifty given the power and size of the Maxima. That said, the Acura TLX V6 delivers similar numbers, as do any number of entry-level, four-cylinder luxury sedans. In other words, it's very good, but not extraordinary.
Which Safety Features Are Available?
In addition to the typical safety features found on other sedans, all 2016 Nissan Maxima models include a standard rearview camera. With the SL trim and higher, you also get a blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alerts and a forward collision warning system that can monitor two cars ahead and automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to act. The Platinum trim bolsters the package with an around-view monitor, moving-object detection and a driver drowsiness monitor.
These accident avoidance technologies were given a rating of "Superior" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety when they were tested in the Nissan Murano.
Do You Get Good Value for Your Money?
If you find the as-tested prices for the Maxima SR ($38,485) or Maxima Platinum ($40,905) rather hefty for a Nissan, you aren't alone. However, as we noted earlier, you get a lot of equipment for that price. Even the standard Maxima includes a navigation system, for instance, and a similarly equipped luxury-branded sedan would cost much more than either of our test cars.
Even an Acura TLX 3.5 V6 or Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E would top $43,000, while a two-wheel-drive Audi A4 approaches $47,000. A similarly equipped Q50 from Nissan's Infiniti division approaches $50,000. Adding all-wheel drive would drive those prices even higher. The biggest element the Maxima lacks is a luxury badge, which may or may not make a difference depending on your point of view.
Now, when you compare the Maxima to non-luxury models, the value proposition gets a bit murkier. Clearly, a like-size and similarly equipped midsize sedan like an Altima or Honda Accord will be cheaper, but will lack the Maxima's handling acumen and interior quality/ambience. The same can be said of similarly priced but substantially larger full-size sedans like the Chevrolet Impala and the Toyota Avalon.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
The above value discussion underlines how much of an oddity the Nissan Maxima is in the marketplace. Still, there are a number of similar sedans worth considering.
The Acura TLX falls somewhere between the Maxima and an Audi or Mercedes when it comes to brand cachet. Its impressive available all-wheel-drive system also gives it a leg up on the Maxima, while also boasting relatively strong value, good fuel economy, generous interior space and a more comfortable ride.
Although it's slower than the Maxima in a straight line, the BMW 320i is far more engaging and rewarding when that straight line gives way to curves. In other words, it's an actual sport sedan available in rear- or all-wheel drive. Its ride, fuel economy and interior space are also quite good, although you'll get far fewer features for your money.
Finally, the Nissan Altima 3.5 SL may not have its Maxima sibling's flamboyant styling, higher-quality cabin or superior handling ability, but it's just as quick and has a slightly more spacious cabin, comfier seats and many of the same available features.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want the performance, interior ambience and equipment of an entry-level luxury sedan, but at a much lower price. Or maybe you want all the trappings of a luxury car without looking as if you spent a lot of money.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Rear-seat room is lacking compared to cheaper midsize sedans and similarly priced full-size sedans. You could also get a sedan from a luxury brand for a similar price in exchange for giving up a few features. We also found the SR trim's handling improvements are not enough to off-set that trim's jittery, tiresome ride.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.