As the distinction between the extravagant sheet metal of concept cars and real-world production vehicles has gotten blurrier, Nissan’s taken its styling to the unapologetic end of the spectrum. The curvy Murano crossover was the first in 2015, and the flagship Maxima has adopted a similar out-there look for 2016.
The Maxima’s no stranger to quirky-bordering-on-weird styling (remember the “mohawk” skylights in 2004?) and it wears Nissan’s new look with confidence. Full-size not-quite luxury sedans are a limited market, but also a very blurry one, with a tendency to get caught between more expensive luxury cars and high-end mid-size sedans in the price wars. Still, the Maxima’s not alone: the Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus SHO and Hyundai Azera are all plying this field as well. The Maxima stands out from them by dint of its look-at-me styling and a sharp-edged powertrain that hints at serious performance. This is billed as Nissan’s “four-door sports car,” after all. But is it different enough from the rest to do justice to the name?
The Maxima’s face is definitely one of its best assets. Leading the way is a distinctive U-shaped satin-chrome bar that cradles the grille and large family logo, and it’s flanked by boomerang-shaped headlamps with LED character lights. Out back, there are matching taillights with their own LED signature, and the front and rear are connected by complicated character lines on the side going in odd-but-it-works directions. That deep and complex side scalloping actually requires special stamping procedures to manufacture, and it does wonders for this car’s curb presence. The roof pillars are all blacked out, and combine with a unique C-pillar design to give the impression that the canopy is floating. It’s not obvious, but the new Maxima is two inches longer than its predecessor. The pinched C-pillar seems to be a current design trend, and not just for Nissan; a similar styling cue can be found in the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt. Of course there’s no mistaking the Maxima for anything but a Nissan—and even if you did, there’s a Nissan badge the size of a Texan belt buckle in the middle of the grille.
Look closely and you’ll see Nissan’s “4DSC” tag stamped in the taillights as well, a not-so-subtle nod to the Maxima’s status as a “four-door sports car.”
A cockpit-style design wraps the interior around the driver, and provides extravagant curves inside to match the exterior sheet metal. The center console is angled slightly toward the driver, and houses an eight-inch center stack display with touchscreen navigation as standard equipment. Directly ahead of the driver, the two-gauge instrument panel features businesslike white-on-black gauges and a big seven-inch center information display that can be adjusted to show navigation, engine output, fuel economy and other vehicle info. Nissan’s flat-bottomed sport steering wheel shows up in the Maxima also, as do the comfortable “Zero Gravity” seats. A dual-panel moonroof is available on all Maxima models except the SR, which foregoes the glass in favor of weight savings. The Maxima SR is the hot ticket both in terms of performance and interior appointments. Special diamond-quilted Alcantara seat inserts over Ascot leather set the SR’s cabin apart. Laminated glass and active noise cancellation are used to keep the cabin quiet on the freeway.
Nissan Connect is also standard equipment; the infotainment system features voice-control and SiriusXM-powered emergency services. An 11-speaker Bose sound system is optional, and features “surround stage” technology and re-calibrated speaker locations.
Nissan’s venerable 3.5 liter V6 is substantially revised for use in the Maxima, with over 60% of the parts redesigned or updated. Sodium-filled valves and other performance tricks are borrowed from Nissan’s GT-R, and the Maxima puts out 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Nissan has also updated the Xtronic continuously variable transmission to improve fuel economy, and the Maxima will hit 30mpg on the highway.
A sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension keeps the Maxima off the ground. Up front, coil springs and struts are mounted on a subframe, while the independent rear features double wishbones. ZF Sachs shocks are used all around and 18-inch wheels are standard. The Maxima is a large car, but it’s lithe and light on its feet. Nissan has successfully provided this car with sports-car reflexes. Upgrading to the Maxima SR adds 19-inch wheels and additional suspension tuning. To enhance ride comfort, there’s a vibration damper in the front section of the chassis of the stiffer SR.
To underscore the high-tech suspension, the Maxima SR features Active Ride Control, which uses subtle application of the brakes to smooth out road undulations and bumps.
The new Maxima scores five stars across the board from NHTSA, and earns solid “Good” marks from IIHS as well. Befitting its flagship status, the Maxima also offers a number of cutting-edge active driver aids, including intelligent cruise control, a predictive forward collision warning, with emergency braking, and a blind spot monitor with cross-traffic alert. Nissan’s Around View Monitor 360-degree camera now includes a motion sensor to pick up on moving objects in its range. Taking a page from Mercedes’ book, Nissan also offers an “attention alert” system that detects the cues of drowsy driving and will prompt a sleepy driver to take a rest break.
The Maxima starts at $32,410, which is surprisingly reasonable for a car that’s intended to be the flagship of the lineup. Five trim levels are offered: S, SV, SL, SR and Platinum. As a one-price, zero-option car, Nissan’s flagship is well-equipped on all levels, with navigation, remote start and power seats available from the baseline. The Maxima SL is packed with popular equipment like a dual-pane moonroof, most of the available active safety features, ambient interior lighting and a heated steering wheel, and starts at $36,990. The sport-oriented SR stickers for $37,770, while the all-the-toys Platinum starts at $39,960.
As an attention-grabbing top of the line sedan, the Maxima scores big; the intricate, eye-catching styling and wide range of sophisticated technological tricks make it more than worthy of being called Nissan’s flagship. It also manages this feat without treading too heavily on captive luxury brand Infiniti’s territory, another clever marketing trick. The Maxima is also attractively priced, for what it offers, which may sway buyers who aren’t impressed by the polarizing styling.