When Nissan unveiled the redesigned 2016 Maxima at the 2015 New York Auto Show, it looked fresh and sexy perched up on its stage, flattered by professional lighting and attended to by a guy who was paid to wipe the smallest dust mote off the car every 10 seconds. The engine, a 3.5-liter V6 good for 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque, had me a little hot and bothered as well. Good looks and a bit of brawn.
Then I noticed what Nissan calls a "4-Door Sports Car" comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
For normal, everyday drivers, a CVT is not a bad transmission. It keeps the engine operating at optimum efficiency with a band rather than fixed gears. But it doesn't offer the control over drive ratios that you can get from a manual or dual-clutch transmission. CVTs just aren't engaging, which kind of undercuts the Maxima's sport credentials.
In fact, it's hard to say where the Maxima sits on the automobile spectrum. The CVT and front-wheel-drive format take it out of the sport sedan category, the 300 horsepower V6 takes it out of the family category, and while there is a good amount of interior features, the slightly harsh ride of our SR trim line makes it a tough sell to those looking for luxury.
Despite an apparent identity crisis, the Maxima makes a case for itself. Visually it is a stunning car. It's about two inches longer than the outgoing model, but has lost over an inch of height and over eighty pounds. The floating roof and sculpted profile give it a modern look, and the wrap around taillights make for a recognizable rear. I especially like the new boomerang design of the LED headlamps.
Spot on interior
As I slipped behind the wheel, the first thing I noticed is how the seats, with their leather and diamond quilted Alcantara inserts, cradled my behind. The entire cockpit is built around the driver, with the standard 8-inch touchscreen and controls angled toward the left seat. The overall design of the interior, from the contrasting stitching along the soft-touch dash to the chrome accent along the passenger side, is flawless.
In this SR trim model, navigation comes standard, and the system is very quick to recognize touchscreen inputs. If you prefer not to smudge the touchscreen, or can't reach it, there is also a redundant dial control on the center console.
One slick feature Nissan calls Swipe to Meter lets you push navigation information from the larger screen on the center console to a smaller instrument cluster screen with a quick swipe of your finger. A host of built-in apps give you access to Google search (powered by your phone), Sirius satellite traffic and weather, as well as emergency service, remote start and lock, and valet and curfew alert.
Cabin comforts include heated and cooled front seats, push-button start, two USB ports and a handy storage bin on the center console.