First Drive

EXCLUSIVE FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Nissan Maxima

Nissan's redesigned eighth-generation Maxima ramps up its sporty side

2016 Nissan Maxima

Nissan is stepping up its game with its eighth-generation 2016 Maxima flagship sedan, which made its world debut at the New York International Auto Show less than a month ago.

The company’s marketing types refer to the Maxima as “a four-door sports car,” and the company has gone to great lengths with this all-new iteration to add substance to that claim.

For starters, the 2016 Maxima has a sleeker, more aggressive demeanor than its predecessors. It’s lower and longer, with the overall height dropping 33 millimetres and the distance from bumper to bumper stretched 56 mm. Its 1,860-mm width remains unchanged.

The lower profile results in the car's standard 18-inch alloy rim and tire combination filling the wheel wells, with minimal space between the rubber and the wheel arches, creating a hunkered-down look.

The designers have borrowed a visual trick from the Nissan GT-R supercar, using blacked-out A pillars, as well as mid-car B- and kick-up rear C-pillars, to create an illusion the roof is floating above the body. On my Deep Blue Pearl tester, this design cue wasn’t readily obvious, but on lighter hues I’d expect the impact to be more apparent.

Dramatically different

The new Maxima’s exterior is dramatically different from the current iteration. The front end is dominated by Nissan’s new corporate V-shaped black and chrome grille. It is bracketed by headlamp assemblies that resemble a boomerang, accented by a strip of LED daytime running lights.

Sculpted shapes containing the fog lights flank the lower section of the grille. It all comes together to create a bold, almost menacing look as the car approaches.

Distinct character lines flow along the sides of the body to the rear, which features two-piece LED taillights and two chromed exhaust outlets peeking out from the lower fascia.

If you look closely, you’ll see the “4DSC” logos discreetly etched into the side panels of the headlamps and taillights – a reminder of its four-door sports car theme.

Roomy cabin

The roomy cabin of my Platinum tester created a sense of richness more typical of high-end luxury vehicles. Splashes of faux wood on the instrument panel and doors combined with real French stitching and premium leather seat coverings to project that luxurious flavour.

Attention to detail was impressive, with such touches as diamond-shaped quilting on the seat surfaces and faceted finishes on controls such as the console-mounted infotainment knob.

My tester was also fitted with ambient lighting strips under panels on the IP and upper door panels, while the keyless start button glows like a throbbing heart when you slip into the driver’s seat. (I’m not sure if the “heartbeat” quickens when you select the Sport driving mode.)

Although my tester was a preproduction car, the level of fit and finish was flawless, with the contrast-stitched seams lining up and gaps between panels tight and even.

Nissan likes to beat the drum about its Zero Gravity front seats, with their NASA-inspired design. Marketing hype aside, I did find these power-adjustable seats well-bolstered and supportive – just what one would want when spirited or long-distance drives are undertaken.

Heated seat surfaces are standard while upscale trim levels add true climate control for total comfort in any conditions.

In a tip to the sporty edge of the Maxima, the interior designers added a D-shaped steering wheel. While it may make it easier to slip one’s legs past it when getting in and out, I was put off a bit when cranking the wheel hand over hand, only to grab air instead of the wheel rim. I expect one would quickly adapt, but it did initially prove to be a bit bothersome.   

Stiffer and lighter

A key goal for Nissan engineers developing this new Maxima was to reduce the car’s weight significantly, so increased applications of high-strength steel were implemented in the all-new chassis. This decision not only improved torsional rigidity by 25%, but resulted in a 37-kilogram weight reduction.

Combined with a 10-horsepower increase in engine output, the new Maxima has a better power-to-weight ratio than some of its key competitors, such as the BMW 335i and Acura TLX V-6.

This Maxima gets its kick from what may seem to be a familiar source – Nissan’s 3.5-litre VQ V-6 engine. Agreed, the VQ series engines have been earning accolades for years, but this iteration steps beyond its predecessors.

It has been given a major makeover. In fact, 60% of its components are new, including sodium-filled valves (a technology borrowed from the GT-R.) The compression ratio has also been increased to 10.6:1.

This all-aluminum engine now cranks out 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque while delivering better fuel economy, compared to its predecessor.

On the road

In a test drive, the engine responded quickly and smoothly to throttle inputs and there was a snarly exhaust note that suggested this wasn’t a typical family sedan. In fact, sounds from the engine are directed into the cabin when Sport mode is selected, adding to the sporty ambience.

The Sport mode also alters throttle response, increases the effort of the steering and tweaks the transmission to hold gear changes longer and deliver more aggressive shifts under braking.

Overall, the V-6 delivers enough power to satisfy the majority of drivers, but I suspect it may come up a bit short of enthusiasts’ expectations.  

The engine’s output is channelled through a new performance-oriented Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT.)

The transmission has a wider gear ratio range, allowing stronger acceleration on launch while contributing to improved fuel efficiency. Its new D-Step shifting logic has been programmed to deliver distinct, crisp shift points that mimic the gear changes in a conventional automatic tranny – a feature that was immediately noticeable during my test drive.

Adding to the sporty theme is a new shift logic that that maintains engine speed when it detects the driver is powering through a high-G corner, enabling the car to accelerate out of the corner more smoothly.

There’s also a shift mode, using the console-mounted shift lever, that the driver can engage to replicate upshifts and downshifts. Surprisingly, especially in a sedan that’s billed as “a four-door sports car,” there are no paddle shifters offered, except in the SR model.

Dynamics impress

Assessing the dynamics of this new Maxima, its combination of ride and handling truly impressed. On bumpy surfaces, the four-wheel independent suspension effectively absorbed the shocks delivered by potholes and other irregularities, transferring little of those impacts into the impressively quiet cabin.

Yet it also felt well-planted in heavy cornering and at highway speeds, with minimal body roll. I think the engineering team has nailed this suspension system, which consists of subframe-mounted struts and coil springs up front and a multi-link, double wishbone design with monotube dampeners in the rear.

Anti-roll bars – 26.0 mm front and 26.5 mm rear – augment the system, which has been tuned to be very sporty without the jarring tone typically associated with high-performance suspensions.

The steering system utilizes an electric power assist that varies with vehicle speed. I was surprised, however, by the amount of effort required to steer at low speeds. The heavy feel may not sit well with some drivers, especially when maneuvering the car in tight confines, such as trying to slip into a tight parking space.

At driving speeds, though, the steering feel was fine, response was quick and direct, and the effort needed to turn the steering wheel felt normal. The car’s turning diameter was impressively tight. Canadian drivers, in particular, will appreciate the heated steering wheel, which is standard across the lineup.

The Maxima could be brought to a stop without drama. Its four-wheel ventilated discs, with 320-mm rotors up front and 308-mm in back, hauled the car down from speed immediately.

As one would expect, the Maxima features a full array of braking technologies, including a four-wheel antilock system, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. 

Sportier SR trim

If you lean toward more sports-car performance, consider the Maxima in SR trim.

It includes suspension tweaks such as a larger front ant-roll bar and performance-tuned dampers, plus a segment-first performance chassis damper borrowed from the 370Z NISMO to reduce high-frequency vibrations in the body that can result from a stiffer suspension.

The SR’s chassis is electronically managed by an integrated dynamic-control module that includes active ride control.

Distinctive touches inside the cabin include special Alcantara panels in the seating surfaces and inserts on the steering wheel to improve the driver’s grip. What you can’t get with the SR package is the panoramic moonroof included on the SL and Platinum models. It’s deleted to help lower the SR’s centre of gravity and boost torsional rigidity.

Available soon

Production of the 2016 Maxima started this week at Nissan’s Smyra, Tennessee, assembly plant and dealers expect to have the car in their showrooms this summer.

The price for the base SV model is $35, 900, with the mid-range SL trim tagged at $38, 950. The premium Platinum trim is $43,300, while the sport-oriented SR model is $41,100.

These prices are “all-in,” except for destination/pre-delivery fees of $1,720, licence and taxes – no optional packages are offered.

The only exception in the pricing structure is added charges for some paint choices: $300 for three-coat finishes and $135 for metallic or pearl colours.

If you want specific features, such as a moonroof or an upgraded audio system, you must opt for the trim level offering those upgrades as standard equipment.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2016 Nissan Maxima

Price: $35,900 (base) to $43,300 (Platinum)

Engine: 3.5-litre VQ35DE DOHC V-6; 300 hp at 6,400 rpm, 261 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Transmission: Continuously variable Xtronic (CVT) with manual shift mode

Fuel consumption (city/highway): 7.8/10.7 L/100 km (Manufacturer’s estimate)

 

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