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New 2016 Nissan Maxima Review

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The Details

The basic package is a touch longer (by 2.2 inches) and lower (by 1.3) but no wider. The 109.3-inch wheelbase and most of the unibody inevitably will be shared with the new Altima due soon. Thanks to more aluminum and high-strength steel, curb weight is a claimed 82 pounds leaner and torsional rigidity is 25 percent greater. Nissan builds the Maxima in Smyrna, Tennessee, in what it says is the highest-volume plant in North America. (Some 650,000 Altimas, Maximas, Pathfinders, Leafs, Rogues, and Infiniti QX60s are scheduled for this year, plus lithium-ion batteries for the Leaf.)

Most of the parts comprising Nissan’s venerable VQ35 3.5-liter V-6 are new, upping power a touch (to 300 horsepower at 6400 rpm, a 10-hp gain), without changing the torque peak of 261 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. Revisions include sodium-filled exhaust valves, reshaped intake valves, a more efficient intake manifold, and a stiffer oil pan. One notable omission is a move to direct fuel injection; Nissan is saving that worthwhile technology for its presumably more needy turbocharged engines. Engineers hoped EPA highway mileage would climb by 4 mpg to the enviable 30-mpg level, and the EPA has indeed certified the Maxima for 22 mpg city and 30 highway.

Thankfully, there has also been a full frontal attack to reduce the negative characteristics of the Maxima’s Xtronic CVT automatic supplied by Jatco. (Originally Japanese Automatic Transmission Company, it is three-quarters owned by Nissan, with Mitsubishi and Suzuki each having minor stakes.)
A 17-percent increase in the spread between the lowest and highest ratios is the main driver underlying the gain in highway fuel mileage. In addition, the CVT’s lubricating fluid is a thinner viscosity, there’s a smaller hydraulic pump, and the drive belt is a new higher-efficiency design.

The Driving

Engineers also sweated bullets over the Xtronic’s software. Six variables—accelerator-pedal position, road grade, acceleration and cornering g’s, road speed, and braking g’s—determine how this CVT behaves. Add to that Normal and Sport modes selectable by the driver and what Nissan calls D-Step programming. With the throttle held at the low openings typical of ordinary drivers, there’s an initial surge of rpm followed by a gradual increase of road speed at a fairly constant engine rpm. But above a three-eighths throttle opening, artificial ratio changes closely mimic the action of a conventional planetary or dual-clutch automatic minus the jolts and jerks. The engine utters a lively growl (thanks in part to “Active Sound Enhancement” stereo-system augmentations), the tach needle waves just like a conventional sport sedan’s, and the driver never really knows this powertrain activity is computer-contrived.
During test drives, we concluded that this arrangement will serve all but the hardest-core skeptic without prompting complaint. The beauty of all CVTs is virtually no driveline commotion during up- or downshifts (which aren’t shifts at all, but drive-ratio changes). The beast is the rubber-band effect wherein the engine revs far in advance, out of sync with the car’s climb up the velocity ladder. In the Maxima, that evil beast is securely caged.
The best dynamic trait is a firm ride. Just enough road texture comes through to tell you this is not a Buick. Body motions never get out of step with an aggressive driver’s control inputs. In other words, the Maxima condones a heavy foot on the throttle and confident hands at the wheel. Monotube ZF Sachs rear dampers, new this year, do an excellent job of providing consistent control on entertaining back roads. The brake pedal is properly calibrated to deliver stopping power directly proportional to the pressure applied without that vague mushy feeling found in too many cars. One interesting trick is a dab of automatically applied rear braking when the car crests a major heave in the road to help provide a nicely settled landing.
What the exterior lacks in classic beauty it makes up in bold splashes of brightwork and flamboyant creases. V-themes dominate the face, the roof floats on blacked-out pillars, and brightly illuminated boomerangs mark the front and rear corners. One thing is certain—the Maxima will never be confused with a Toyota Avalon or a Buick LaCrosse.

The Design

The surprise bonus is an interior that’s beautifully detailed, lavishly finished, and sensibly configured. Instead of options, there’s a staircase of five different trim levels. Heated leather seats are standard in the SV, the first step up from the base S model. The next-level-up SL version adds a two-panel panoramic roof and a Bose sound system equipped with noise-cancellation technology. The sporty SR has column-mounted paddle shifters and 19-inch wheels and tires (all-seasons are standard, summers are available). The Maxima Platinum, which starts at $40,685, is distinguished with quilted leather seat stitching and a power-adjustable steering wheel. You get steel-look metal trim with the first three levels, what Nissan calls liquid chrome in the SR, and mahogany accents in the Platinum edition.
Inspired by jet fighters, Nissan interior designers canted the 8.0-inch center touch screen seven degrees toward the driver. The center storage bin’s lid is high and softly finished to serve as a convenient elbow rest. Beautifully stitched seams, a flat-bottom steering wheel, remote starting, navigation, and split-folding rear seatbacks are all standard, even at the bottom of the pecking order. The number of switches needed to operate the navigation system has been cut from 25 to 10, and swipe, pinch, and slide touch responses have been added. Driving directions, for example, can be slid from the center display to the 7.0-inch screen centered in front of the driver between the analog tach and speedometer. The redundant console command knob has a nicely knurled grip surface.

In spite of the high-style exterior and sloping roofline, rear seat entry is reasonably good. Two can sit back there in comfort. Any full-size adult assigned to the center-rear position will surely gripe about the lack of headroom; that said, the accommodation would be even worse if Nissan returned the Maxima to its original rear-drive configuration or added optional AWD to draw more northern-clime buyers.
Advanced safety technologies help this Nissan gain momentum over carry-over competitors. The top three trim levels pack intelligent cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, and automatic emergency braking when a crash is imminent. An array of cameras and sonar detectors gives the Maxima Platinum 360-degree exterior monitoring with moving-object detection. If a Platinum driver appears to be neglecting steering responsibilities due to drowsiness, a dash alert lights up that includes a “Take a Break?” query.
Boxed in between the quite capable Altima mainstream sedan and Infiniti’s Q40/Q50 sports sedans, the Maxima has a clearly defined role: Wave the Nissan flag vigorously to prove that there’s a lot more to life than a Toyota.


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