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2016 Nissan Maxima elevates the 4-door sportscar to new heights

The Maxima has seen some radical redesigns over the past few generations, but this is perhaps the best looking -- and the fastest.

The Nissan Maxima turns 35 this year, having started life in 1980 as a boxy machine that epitomized everything that was wrong with design cues at the time. Stylistically it sat half-way between a Chrysler K-car and a Mercedes 300D, but it hasn't aged as well as either. In fact, few of the generations of Maxima that came and went between then and now would be considered attractive. Thank goodness, the new 2016 Maxima looks great. More importantly, it's great to drive, too.

The New Maxima features a dramatic styling that might leave some confusing it with a Mazda. Perhaps that explains the huge "Nissan" badge on the nose, but though it may not be unique in every design cue, it all works. Strong, flowing creases and arches providing strong definition of fenders. The arching roofline tapers dramatically into the tail. Even the incredibly busy nose, full of lines and shapes, all comes together nicely.

The new Maxima cuts a complex shape but does it well. Tim Stevens/CNET

It's longer and lower than its outgoing predecessor, an unfortunate trend that continues unabated, but it is at least lighter than before: 82 pounds less to be specific, tipping the scales at 3,471. That extra length delivers stability on the road plus legroom inside, but the lowered profile does mean slightly compromised headroom. My six-foot frame was a little cramped in the driver's seat on cars equipped with a sunroof, while sitting upright in the rear seats is completely out of the question. It was Slouch City back there for me.

The seats are, to say the least, quite comfortable. I figure those quilted inserts are bound to look dated in a few years, but they are at least plush, hitting the right balance between supportive and comforting. There's enough give for highway droning, enough lateral support for spirited cornering.

The Maxima's interior is a very comfortable place to be. Tim Stevens/CNET

And you will likely want to do some spirited cornering, as that's part of the point of the car. As in years past, Nissan is labeling this at four-door sportscar, or 4DSC. (Quite literally: there are "4DSC" badges clumsily festooned inside and out, including on the shifter and etched in the turn signal lenses.) The term "sportscar" is perhaps slightly optimistic, but it is certainly a sporty car, especially in SR trim.

Base is the $32,410 S model, while the $34,390 SV steps up to heated leather seats and parking sensors. The $36,890 SL adds a massive moonroof, a Bose sound system, adaptive cruise and a few more safety widgets. The $37,670 SR deletes the glass ceiling, adding firmer suspension and paddle shifters that let you tickle the CVT, if you so wish. That is the sole transmission choice for all models of the Maxima, and the 3.5-liter, 300 horsepower V-6 the sole powertrain. Finally, there's the range-topping $39,860 Platinum, which adds a few creature comforts, like a 360-degree AroundView Monitor camera system that is tragically not available on any other trim. (All prices are in US dollars. Prices for other markets are not currently available.)

I sampled both the SR and the Platinum, and found both to be quite rewarding to drive. The SR is certainly sharper, though far from harsh, and the extra headroom from the deleted moon roof a definite bonus. The Platinum offers a bit more cosseting, both from the suspension and the upholstery, and those who don't need the vertical room will appreciate the big, dual-panel glass roof.

That CVT will surely be controversial, but I confess it didn't bother me too much. In the SR it was quick to drop a few virtual ratios to match throttle inputs, or of course a tap or two on the paddles will give you the revs you want more quickly. It's nowhere near as good as a dual-clutch gearbox, and the lack of a manual option is a shame, but it's certainly smoother and cleaner than an automatic.

The NissanConnect system offers all the functionality you'd expect, including OnStar-like remote unlocking and the like. Nissan is proud of the "smartphone-like" gestures made possible on the eight-inch display that makes up the system, but the responsiveness is so sluggish you'll probably want to stick to taps. A secondary display resides between the tach and speedo, which can be used to display navigation info and the like.

Tim Stevens/CNET

The new Maxima is not a cheap car, but it is punching above its weight, targeting competition from Acura, Audi and BMW. In many ways, it stands up quite admirably. The driving dynamics are good, the fit and finish fine, and it even looks good. It's the best iteration of the four-door sports car yet.

CNET accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All fuel and vehicle insurance costs are covered by CNET. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgments and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own, and we do not accept paid content.

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