Bold styling distinguishes the all-new flagship sedan
The styling is fresh inside and out, complete with Nissan's signature flowing body creases, "boomerang" taillights, coupe-like silhouette, and an upscale cabin festooned with double-stitched padded trim on dash, doors, and seats. Power comes from Nissan's excellent 3.5-liter V6, boosted here to 300-hp, and running through a CVT transmission'a technology Nissan executes better than almost anyone else.
The new Maxima offers five trim lines, all of which incorporate specific feature sets with no extra options available. Standard across the board are a backup camera and a navigation system with an eight-inch touch screen that responds to smartphone-style gesture commands like a swipe or pinch-to-zoom. Also standard is a remote-start function on the key fob. That lightweight transceiver fob, by the way, fits easily in a trouser pocket, unlike many on the market, which feel more like you're packing a hand grenade in your pants.
Prices range from about $33,000 for the base S to just under $40,000 for the upscale Platinum. Most Maxima buyers will probably choose the mid-trim SL for about $37,000, which has loads of gear, including heated leather seats and steering wheel, pushbutton start, panoramic moon roof, and a wide range of electronic collision-avoidance technologies.
While the Maxima is larger inside and out than the midsized Altima, it's not bigger by much. Most dimensions are pretty close to those of the roomy, midsized Honda Accord, which means the Maxima is appreciably more compact than other "flagship" sedans such as the Chevrolet Impala or Toyota Avalon. Nissan itself seems to dither on this point, with one of the 2016 Maxima's press releases calling it "a new standard... in the midsized sedan segment" and another calling it "a new standard... in the large sedan segment."
One sits quite low, which might comport with Nissan's intent to create a sporty driving feel, but the low seating and coupe-like styling mean that climbing in and out takes some exertion, and the view out straight back and to the rear corners is a bit constricted, as well.
Backseat space is quite good, but head room is somewhat skimpy there. It isn't so generous up front, either. The center rear seat is a narrow high perch with barely enough head room for a half-grown child. Rear ingress and egress are a little tough, too, because the door opening is narrow and the floor sills are high and wide.
Something most drivers will like is the control layout, which is a model of simplicity. You can control basic audio functions, for instance, with convenient knobs on the radio faceplate, from a central control knob on the console, or redundant controls on the steering wheel. Touch-screen menu displays are also crisp, clear, and intuitive.
The high-end Platinum has Nissan's 360-degree camera system, which is a terrific parking aid, and incorporates moving-object detection (MOD) to warn you of cars, bikes, or other things approaching from any direction. Also included is a nifty safety system called Driver Attention Alert (DAA), which monitors steering movements and sounds a warning if steering gets erratic, such as when a driver becomes drowsy.
No question, Nissan's 300-hp V6 has plenty of oomph, but how that power is delivered to the wheels is compromised by the CVT transmission. This car may turn out to accelerate well by the stopwatch, but it doesn't feel terribly responsive unless you mash the pedal. When the revs pile up above about 4,000 rpm, the sustained engine roar doesn't sound very pleasant, either. That's too bad because otherwise the cabin stays very quiet.
Handling is fairly responsive, there's not much body roll, and no one will complain about the steering efforts. Upping the ante at our track we found the tires grippy in corners. Overall, the car responds predictably with no nasty surprises.
The ride stays fairly calm on decent roads, but it can feel a little jittery and stiff on less-than-perfect pavement.
The Platinum version that we just bought rang in at $41,995. We'll find more when we start our testing.