I have many fond memories of the Maxima from my high school days. It was the mid-to-late ’90s when my best friend often arrived in my driveway or out front of school to pick me up in his mom’s third-generation 1992 GXE model. He also owned a Mazda RX-7 10th Anniversary Edition (may it R.I.P.) during our school days, and I could go on and on with stories about his second-gen Nissan Pulsar NX. It was when we were cruising around in the Maxima though that we felt like rock stars rollin’ ’round in total luxury.
It had lots of cool features, including a sonar system to help navigate tight confines, and windows and a moonroof that could be opened without the key. I used to liken it to riding on a big, puffy couch with wheels – one that could haul ass when needed thanks to its 190-horsepower three-litre V6 engine. It had a four-speed automatic with comfort and sport modes, and Nissan even stuck a 4DSC sticker in the window, thus denoting is as the “four-door sports car.” And, in our minds, it was just that.
Today, the Maxima comes in four trims – SV, SL, SR and Platinum – starting at $35,900 and rising to $43,300. All of them come with the venerable VQ35DE 3.5-litre V6 engine making 300 horsepower and the latest Xtronic continuously variable transmission.
Like it did on the third-gen Maxima, Nissan is once again playing the 4DSC card for all trims, essentially trumping up the performance potential of its beloved four-door sports car.
The sportiest member of the clan is the SR seen here. This 4DSC gets a number of exclusive touches, including a stiffer sport-tuned Macpherson front and multi-link rear suspension with a hollow front stabilizer bar and beefier solid rear sway bar, as well as a front performance body damper with front strut tower and trunk reinforcement. It’s a sporty setup that handles corners confidently, but Nissan hasn’t tuned out all of the torque steer.
One transmission is available across the range. The CVT comes with a dynamic mode selector (normal or sport) that does its best with an integrated dynamic control module, which keeps tabs on a number of active safety technologies, including ride control, trace control and engine braking. Though I wouldn’t call it a performance unit, it does have a manual shift mode and paddle shifters that are mounted on the back of the steering wheel.
The rest of the interior is laid out logically and looks nice, almost too nice for a sports car. For example, the premium Ascot leather-appointed seats with diamond-quilted Alcantara inserts and heating and cooling functions come standard. They’re well-bolstered and extremely comfortable; however, I was expecting cloth with perhaps a hint of Alcantara, which would be a bit sportier in terms of body-holding capability. That said, what weekend racer doesn’t pine for air conditioned seats?
The matching steering wheel includes the obligatory redundant controls for the infotainment and communications functions; and is complemented by Liquid Chrome trim and aluminum sport pedals. For a sport-focused model the interior is pretty dapper, though it is unavailable with a moonroof.
To me, the exterior doesn’t look muscular, which is the intent, but rather portly or stocky, much like a natural middleweight boxer that’s packed on some extra poundage to fight in a higher weight class. Despite looking like an overstuffed in-law that’s eaten too much turkey and stuffing during a holiday family feast, it does have some redeeming qualities. The 19-inch diamond-cut aluminum-alloy wheels, LED headlights, daytime runners and taillights (look closely and you’ll find the 4DSC moniker hidden here) are good examples. Even the front and rear sonar system is standard on the SR. The chrome-tipped dual exhaust system is a nice touch but, again, power heated side mirrors with LED turn signals are more luxe than sport.
The Maxima has been a very important vehicle for Nissan for a long time. As its range-topping, mid-size family sedan, it is a quite reasonable entry into the pre-luxury segment. I say pre-luxury because, when you drive it back-to-back with its cousins from Infiniti, you really do notice a difference in that department. I’m not going to compare it to the Q50 sedan. I certainly would have, had I driven the Maxima Platinum.
Okay, let’s be honest, this is no Nismo product, and the thought or tracking this car (even for a handful of laps) makes me cringe. It’s not that it couldn’t hack it (with the right upgrades, any car can be made track ready), it’s just not its strength. So, what is this car’s strength? Being sporty with a large helping of comfort and convenience features, of course.
To that end, Nissan has you covered. Along with the aforementioned goodies, some more highlights include a remote engine starter with intelligent climate controls, advanced drive assist display with seven-inch colour screen in the cluster and an 11-speaker Bose audio system with active noise cancellation and sound enhancement. Throw in an eight-inch colour touchscreen with voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Sirius XM satellite radio readiness and NissanConnect with mobile apps and you’ve got a veritable mobile entertainment centre on wheels. All this is very important when you have a vehicle full of munchkins, tweens or even adults that can’t sit still for more than a few minutes at a time.
You’re not going to win any races with this car, but you might win some rallies if your passengers are any good at calling out directions. In terms of seating and spaciousness, there no shortage of the latter (fore or aft) and the big trunk looks capable of swallowing several suitcases and such – there’s more than enough room for your average family to load up and get out of town for a weekend or longer.
Would having all-wheel drive, more power, torque or even a manual transmission make this a more sporty car? Yes, indeed. Does it still feel like you’re driving around on a big comfy couch? Yes, just not as puffy. At least on the inside. Rather than 4DSC, a better description for me is ‘family fun-haver.’ I guess I’m just getting old.
BY THE NUMBERS
$137/HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP)
11.2 L/100 KM (OBSERVED – COMBINED)
2016 Nissan Maxima SR
BASE PRICE: $41,100 (plus $1,720 destination and delivery)
ENGINE: 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6
HORSEPOWER: 300 hp @ 6,400 rpm
TORQUE: 261 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
CONFIGURATION: Front engine / frontwheel- drive
TRANSMISSION: Xtronic continuously variable transmission
DRY WEIGHT: 1,617 kg
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 10.9 / 7.8 L/100 km
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 11.2 L/100 km combined over 325 km
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES: Acura TLX, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Buick Lacrosse, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Cadenza, Lexus IS, Toyota Avalon