It's hard to believe the Maxima nameplate has been with us so long- first appearing on a stretched six-cylinder version of the 810 way back in 1981. So far back, in fact, that the Maxima nameplate predates the Nissan one in the United States. ( Anyone remember "DatsunWe Are Driven?" )
Way back in the day it was a luxury offering with two-tone paint and crushed velour seating that reflected the tastes of the "Brougham Era." It wasn't until the third generation Maxima debuted in 1988 that the 4DSC ( Four Door Sports Car ) that all enthusiasts fell in love with was born.
The eighth-generation Maxima is all new for 2016, and it falls somewhere between the Brougham and the Sports Car. It's a large mid-sized sedan with front wheel drive, a transverse mounted 3.5-liter V6 engine and comes only with a fancy CVT transmission that Nissan calls Xtronic. There are plenty of other options though, mind you, and Maxima comes in no fewer than five distinct trim levels which range in price from $32,510 for a base S all the way up to $39,960 for the top of the line Platinum which we drove.
I should point out that our Platinum test car was well appointed indeed, including such features as a dual pane moonroof, an around view monitor, driver attention alert, LED headlamps, adaptive cruise control, a rear power sunshade, navigation, remote start, Bose audio with 11 speakers and heated and cooled quilted leather seats. The only option on the test car was a $220 set of floor mats, and that plus the $825 destination charge brought our full-spec Maxima in at $40,905.
Any discussion of the Maxima starts with its appearanceit's highly styled both inside and out and the look is polarizing. I had several unsolicited comments both pro and con during the week, so It's certainly expressive, with the widest mouth this side of a bass farm, front fender bulges from a '70s Corvette, random creases and speed lines along the flanks, boomerang tail lamps and the odd black C-pillar that apparently is mandatory on all new Nissans. If you want to drive a sampler platter of current design trends, here is your car- but the whole thing just looks overdone to me and I wonder how well it will age.
The interior is somewhat less controversial, and is quite luxurious. The dash pad and door caps are soft vinyl with contrasting stitching and exude a premium look, as do the quilted leather seat inserts. The faux mahogany wood trim is styled on the bias and the counterstrike texture in the panel is engaging. The instruments and controls have a premium feel. There's a bit of a disappointment once the eye is cast downward onward- the molded plastic lower door panels seem out of place on a car costing 41 grand, and the carpeting looks so cheap I mistook it for trunk lining. I guess that's why our test car had those nice embroidered mats. But neither of these annoyances are actually very evident from behind the wheel and the overall effect is quite upscale. Perhaps it's just that the rest of the interior is so nice that these cost concessions seem blatant.
The driving experience is more engaging than one would expect of a front-wheel drive car with a CVT. The Nissan 3.5 liter V6 is one of my favorite engines, and this version latest version has more than 60 percent new parts. Horsepower is up 10 to an even 300 ponies while torque remains unchanged at 261 lb/ft. Some testers have noted harshness in the upper rpm ranges but I did not- perhaps our 10,000 mile test car was fully broken in. The engine note is aggressive but artificially enhanced. I'm not a fan of CVT transmissions in general but the Xtronic ( with six simulated gearshifts and a sport mode ) was responsive and well paired to the engine. The steering is quick and the ride controlled, but it's not the car you would take to track day. It's all in all a Four Door Sporty Car: a comfortable tourer and you might well enjoy within that context.
Sales figures have so far borne out the new car. With just more than 20,000 delivered year to date ( through April ) it may not be a barn burner but it's light years ahead of last year's 8800. So all in all, the new Maxima seems to be finding a niche. If you're looking for a comfortable tourer with sporting overtones and like the looks, you might give it a try. Those expecting the four-door sports car of years gone by will probably be underwhelmed.
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