Nissan shoots for sport with its flagship sedan

The Maxima has been around since 1981, but never has it been so focused on performance and driver engagement. All new for 2016, the eighth generation Maxima pushes the limits of what Nissan has ever done with its family sedan, making it far more appealing to those who refuse to sacrifice driving pleasure with the addition of kids. It might not be a four-door GT-R, but the Maxima has its sights squarely on the being BMW 5 Series for the everyman.

Much of that spunk comes from the 3.5-liter V-6. Naturally aspirated, the all-aluminum engine kicks out 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Ironically, a CVT sends power to the front wheels, though Nissan says it tirelessly worked to make the CVT behave less like a rubber band gun. The attention pays off, though nobody will mistake the gearbox for a traditional automatic.

Of course, power and performance are only half the story. The overall design screams to be looked at – the long nose, aggressive grille, sweeping beltline, and coupe-like rear roof make the Maxima one of the best-looking sedans on the market. Or at least one of the most stylized. The story continues inside. Out Platinum tester packed quilted leather atop Nissan’s Zero Gravity seats, contrast stitching along the center console and dash, and modern in-dash technology.

So how does all this translate into the real world? We spent a week with the Maxima to find out. Keep reading for the full run-down.

Continue reading for the full driven review

  • 2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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    3.5 L
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    5.9 sec.
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    120 mph (Est.)
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    Front Engine; Front Drive
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Video Review


2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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Nissan’s designers went for broke here. It looks like they started with wet clay and started caressing its shape and cutting its accent lines with a knife. Bold and exaggerated are rightful descriptors of the results. The large, double-V grille mirrors Nissan’s corporate look, yet stands apart form anything currently on showroom floors. The fishhook headlights carry more angles than a protractor while housing LED low beams and daytime running lights.

All told, the 2016 Maxima is one of the best-looking sedans the automaker has ever produced.

The bulbous hood curves upward over the front tires, mimicking a “power bulge” before turning downward to meet the A-pillars. This wave-like swooping action carries rearward, swelling upward again along the rear doors. The roof is of the “floating” variety, thanks to the black trim piece that trails off the rear door like tears flowing from wind-swept eyes.

The rear is less dramatic, yet doesn’t show signs of being forgotten. Fishhook taillights with detailed lighting elements add interest at night, while a large chrome piece dazzles brightly during the day.

All told, the 2016 Maxima is one of the best-looking sedans the automaker has ever produced.


2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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Our tester came fitted with the range-topping Platinum trim, making it a leather- and wood-covered attention-seeker. Minute details are present and well executed, making it fun to inspect for even the harshest critic. Overall, the dash wears an angular design with the focus directed towards the driver. The center stack sits at a slightly leftward cant, imparting the feeling of a cockpit for the hot shoe.

The most jaded driver can’t help but be impressed by the flat-bottomed steering wheel, detailed gauges, and comfortable seats. Eight-way power functions the driver the ability to dial in his desired position. The front passenger makes do with four-way controls.

The interior is a well-executed place to spend time that’s full of modern technology that doesn’t disappoint.

From behind the wheel, the driver is greeted with large gauge cluster. Two main analog gauges tell engine and ground speeds, while two smaller gauges show coolant temperature and fuel level. Front and center is a seven-inch display for vehicle, infotainment, and settings controls, all operated from the steering wheel keypads. The larger, eight-inch main touch display shows radio, navigation, and other functions in a logically arranged interface reminiscent of FCA’s Uconnect system. Dual zone automatic climate controls ride lower on the center stack. The HVAC system offers easy operation at a quick glance thanks to good-sized buttons and knobs.

The center console continues the well-sculpted trend with an aluminum accent that surround the Start/Stop button, gearshifter, and infotainment controls. To the right lies a handy storage cubby complete with a 12-volt outlet, AUX input and two USB ports. The large cup holders do a good job at accommodating a variety of drink sizes. Rearward, two knobs control front seat heat and cool functions.

Rear seat room is impressive. Even headroom is somehow uncompromised by the low-slung room, at least for the most part. Legroom and elbow room are also impressive when carrying only two passengers.

All told, the interior is a well-executed place to spend time that’s full of modern technology that doesn’t disappoint.


2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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Behind the sculpted grille lies Nissan’s 3.5-liter V-6. The transversely mounted engine has been tweaked to produce very respectable number – to the tune of 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Though the V-6 isn’t technically “all new,” Nissan says 61 percent of its components have been redesigned. This includes valves on both the intake and exhaust sides, along with the intake manifold. These improvements are what boosted the V-6 by 10 horsepower over the previous version.

Power feels more than adequate for the 3500-pound car while achieving an EPA-rated 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined.

It is surprising Nissan isn’t using modern tech like direct injection or Atkinson/Otto combustion cycle changes, but the engine accomplishes its goals nevertheless. Power feels more than adequate for the 3500-pound car while achieving an EPA-rated 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. Those aren’t class-leading stats, but considering the power output, who cares?

Power is sent to the front wheels via a heavily scrutinized continuously variable transmission. Nissan says it programmed the CVT to behave like a traditional automatic, making it shift through preset gear ratios when the driver accelerates past three-eights throttle. Other bits within the CVT’s resume include an efficient drive chain and low-viscosity oil.

Nissan then added a Drive Mode Selector, which offers normal and sport modes. Sport mode sharpens throttle response, makes the CVT behave more quickly, and pumps more go-fast noises into the cabin through the Active Sound Enhancement system.


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Though the Maxima is Nissan’s flagship sedan, its prices are reasonable. Its base MSRP starts at $32,510. That gets you the base S trim, which still features the V-6, navigation, remote start, the Drive Mode Selector, and backup camera. Next up is the SV trim, starting at $34,490, followed by the SL trim at $36,990. The SR trim adds the sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels for $37,770. The range-topping Platinum, like our tester, starts at $39,960. For those who like the all-black look, the SR trim can be had in the “SR Midnight” form.

Our tester only carried one option, the $220 floor and trunk mat package. Destination charges of $825 brings the grand total to $40,905.

Driving Impressions

2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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Nissan’s work to make the Maxima a driver’s car paid off – mostly. The car is far more fun to drive than expected, offering plenty of power from the V-6 and good handling from the suspension and steering. The only downfall, though a slight one at that, is the CVT. The transmission is a tad slow to respond to big acceleration requests, then sends the engine spinning high into the rev range while the CVT accelerates the car using its… continuously variable ratios. Granted, the CVT’s tuning is evident, as it’s the best example I’ve ever sampled.

The Maxima handles well and makes for a great back-roads bomber.

It basically comes down to driver preference. Those traditional guys who like the solid engagement of a manual or conventional automatic will likely find the CVT less than exciting. Those who aren’t driving snobs will be overjoyed with the impressive amount of acceleration their new family sedan has.

As mentioned, the Maxima handles well and makes for a great back-roads bomber. It’s no Miata (or GT-R), but it gets the job done well. When not driving hard, the car settles down to a comfortable highway cruiser, making long trips a pleasant experience. Nissan’s efforts to quell interior noise do not go unnoticed. Overall, it’s a satisfying car to live with, especially if having to compromise between a sports coupe and a family car.


Toyota Avalon

2016 Toyota Avalon High Resolution Exterior
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For those not in need of a performance-minded sedan, the Toyota Avalon makes for a fantastic luxo-cruiser with Lexus-like levels of refinement and equipment. The Toyota comes powered by 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that spins the front tires through a conventional six-speed auto. For those who want it, the Avalon can be had as a hybrid.

Ride comfort and understated luxury are what the Avalon is all about. Prices for the Avalon start competitively at $32,650 For those with extra cash, the range-topping Limited trim starts at $40,450.

Read our full review on the Toyota Avalon here.

Dodge Charger

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On the American side of the spectrum, the Dodge Charger offers that classic RWD, muscle car vibe with the everyday livability found in both the Maxima and Avalon. However, the Charger’s interior is not quite up to Platinum and Limited status, but those luxury seekers will find what they want with the Chrysler 300.

The Charger, on the other hand, is all about being sporty. The mid-range trim level, the R/T, offers 370 horsepower from its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 power with an eight-speed automatic putting power rearward. Those really wanting sport at the $40,000 mark should look at the R/T Scat Pack. It comes with the volatile 485-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. Of course, there’s the 707-horse Hellcat, too. All that aside, the Charger’s standard engine, the 3.6-liter V-6, provides 292 horsepower and is competitive against the Nissan and Toyota.

Prices start at $27,995 for the base SE. Option for AWD on the SE brings the price to $30,245. The SXT begins life at $29,995 and the Hemi-powered R/T starts at $33,895.

Read our full review on the Dodge Charger here.


2016 Nissan Maxima – Driven
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So Nissan’s efforts to make a four-door sports car were not in vein. The designers and engineers came up with a design that’s both striking and functional, while the engineers somehow managed to get a FWD sedan with a CVT to perform like a proper saloon.

What’s more, its surprisingly luxurious interior – at least in our Platinum model – is well deserving of the $40,000 price tag. The level of technology and gadgets is overwhelming, making the car feel rather futuristic. The level of safety thanks to the slew of driver aids is equally impressive.

Though $40,000 puts the Maxima Platinum in a highly competitive league of sedans, it does a good job of holding its own, especially with its high level of luxury and features.

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Mark McNabb
Mark McNabb was a contributor at TopSpeed from 2013 to 2018. Growing up, Mark always had a mind for tinkering on random items throughout his home and dad’s garage, including a 1953 Ford Mainline and 1971 Corvette Stingray.  Read More
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