It’s a great car to drive. It’s exquisite to look at. It’s loaded to the gills with technology and amenities. But, why won’t it sell? Why does Nissan insist on… OK, no. I’m not doing this again. I can’t separate what it is from what it’s supposed to be so I will review the 2016 Nissan Maxima as what I think it should be: The next Nissan Altima.
In the midsize car category, the struggle to be the one consumer’s leave the dealership with is real. Normally, if the car’s sporting the wrong brand, then it’s screwed. However, in this segment a Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord are all fine. Actually, there is no real loser here as they all do very well. This also applies to the Altima.
Although the Altima’s not the bestseller, it regularly finds itself in the Top 5 thanks to its spacious cabin and value. It’s no less pretty than a Camry, but you can’t fight the Toyota like that. So, imagine a Maxima with fewer bells and whistles, slightly less fancy materials, and a 2.5L 4-cylinder as the base powertrain, slap a $25k base price on it, and what do you have? The sexiest, most refined and damn-near most desirable midsize 4-door family hauler on the market. This is #winning.
As is, the Maxima is aimed at a fraction of a fraction of a target market that is more than likely going to hop on over to Infiniti or BMW instead of shelling out $40k+ on a midrange FWD CVT equipped SR Max. Crap, I went there again…
What the 2016 Maxima needs is a better chance at mass appeal for the simple reason that it’s a stunningly good car, in the wrong price bracket, in the wrong category, aimed at the wrong people. D’oh…
You know what? I bet a $40k Altima has a better chance being purchased as part of Nissan’s midsize offering as a Maxima does, plus it would also have other lower trims! I bet it would do better, overall. Heck, a well dressed Ford Fusion Titanium AWD goes for $38k with little effort. There is the AWD issue there, but I’m off track again.
That top-line Maxima
The price range would extend from $25k-ish all the way to $43,300, the current price of the Platinum. I swear people love variety. Take the 2016 Ford Explorer: You can get one for $31k or more than $50k, and the more expensive are selling like mad. This is a winning formula.
The Platinum comes with all kinds of kit, but it’s not all about volume, it’s also about presentation. The premium Ascot leather-appointed seats with diamond-quilted leather inserts take your breath away. Thankfully, they are supremely comfortable to boot. The dashboard is covered in leather and mahogany for a truly luxurious look and feel. Other features include a Power-tilt/telescoping steering column, memory driver’s seat, and much more.
On the inside
The 2016 Maxima’s cabin is unlike any other in the set. Class, design, and elegance are unequaled elsewhere. The driving position is ideal thanks in part to the driver-centric dashboard layout. The ergonomics are good, while the HMI controls are intuitive as the redundant rotary knob and touchscreen work well.
Room for four adults is abundant with the option of squeezing a fifth occupant in the middle position of the rear bench. Unlike some of the cars from the aforementioned list, the Max’s interior does not look or feel as though it belongs in a rental car.
The battle to capture attention is a big one here. Even so, it’s not quite enough to make sure buyers will want what you’re selling; ask Mazda about the 6… Nissan has its brand position going for it, along with one of the raciest, most curvaceous cars this side of $75k.
The more you stare at the Maxima, the more complex its bodylines become. The only simple visual cue is the floating roof that, in itself, required much work from a design perspective. The beauty is that it’ll never get lost in the sea of Accords, 200s or Passats. That being said, most of the cars in the category have never looked better, with only an exception or two.
A drive like no other
What is lacking in the group is a sedan that is a good drive. Well, there’s the Mazda6 but well, it is what it is. Beyond the 6, the Accord’s lost that part of its appeal, the Fusion’s all right, but that pretty much covers it.
The Maxima provides a good ride and appreciable handling because of its solid chassis and fully independent suspension. The car manages to deliver comfort as well as a solid planted feel that is much valued by those not wanting to fall asleep at the wheel.
The best part is the car’s VQ35 3.5L V6. Its 300 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque are alive and well. The Max is quick on its toes and (gasp!) the CVT does a great job at dispensing power to the front drive wheels. My only comment here is that paddle shifters are not available on the top-line Platinum, which is weird. I do understand that most drivers never use them, but the point is that they should be part of the package.
The electro-hydraulic steering provides good precision; the flat-bottomed wheel feels as good in hand as it does to look at.
I’ll say only this much more. The 2016 Maxima is a great car with loads of potential. It kills me to see Nissan going through so much trouble for a car that deserves a much greater venue.
Now that the 2016 Altima has received a facelift, bringing it ever closer to the Maxima’s styling, I continue to scratch my head. In its narrow segment, the Max stands alone, in more ways that one.