A flagship car typically isn't the top seller, but it does set a tone for a product line. Nissan's 2016 Maxima, introduced at the 2015 New York Auto Show, put a strong exclamation point on styling, performance, and a full suite of electronic content in a four-door sports sedan. Maxima, now in its eighth generation, is one of Nissan's highest awareness vehicles, despite its comparatively modest annual sales of just over 50,000 units.
Maxima started in 1981 as a rear-wheel-drive car, but from the second generation (1985) it's been on a front-drive platform. In recent years, it had come a bit close to the Altima, but the new model creates needed separation, particularly in the styling area.
Nissan cues plus sports sedan lines
The 2016 Maxima, which goes on sale this summer, has all the cues that say it's a new Nissan, plus the flowing lines of a sports sedan. The package called for a longer, lower car, with better fuel economy—so lighter weight and improved aerodynamics.
Although the new model is on the same 109.3-in (2776-mm) wheelbase, it's 2.2 in (56 mm) longer at 192.8 in (4897 mm). At 3471-3593 lb (1574-1630 kg), it's about 80 lb (36 kg) lighter than the previous edition. Torsional rigidity is claimed to be 25% higher, although Nissan provided no comparative numbers. Coefficient of drag is significantly lower at 0.295, vs. 0.330 on the previous generation.
Under hood, the car gets a new version of the 3.5-L V6. Although the power number is up only modestly, from 290 to 300 hp (216 to 224 kW), the engine has more than 60% new parts including sodium-filled exhaust valves, which run cooler. Torque is 261 lb·ft (354 N·m).
There's a big improvement in fuel economy, up 15% to 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway, with some apparent assist from the CVT (continuously variable transmission). Nissan also has demonstrated that the Xtronic CVT can be an accepted transmission for a performance car. The ratio spread is wider at 6.3 (from 2.413: to 0.383:1) vs. the previous 5.4 (2.371: to 0.439:1). The new transmission provides stronger launch acceleration and the simulated shifting logic produces faster "shifts" (ratio changes) at large throttle openings.
Steering was changed from fully-hydraulic to electro-hydraulic.
For a smoother-running engine, the powertrain rests on six mounts, two vacuum-controlled, one liquid-filled, and three solid rubber, two of which are tied to torque struts. In addition, the oil pan was reshaped for greater rigidity to reduce engine vibration.
Although the Maxima has active noise cancellation to delete low-frequency sounds, it also has an Active Sound Enhancement system to provide a high-performance engine sound. If the driver engages the car's Sport drive mode, that sound hits an even more exuberant note. The drive mode selector also changes throttle response, transmission shifting, and steering effort.
A full range of safety electronics is a must in this market, and the new car has an available four-camera system (one in front, one in rear, one at each side) to provide a 360° view. Front and rear sonar sensors also are in the package.
The Maxima has a novel "predictive" collision-warning system based on a millimeter-wave radar sensor that looks beyond the car in front, to detect a possible obstacle (such as a stopped car) that could call for emergency braking. If this early-warning system detects the potential for a collision, in addition to driver alerts, it can brake the car to a stop.
All these sensors provide moving-object detection at speeds below 5 mph (8 km/h), blind spot warning, parking assist (from the sonar sensors) and intelligent cruise control.
The infotainment system includes a Drive Attention Alert that monitors driver steering patterns, a safety feature seen in the premium-car market. It issues warnings (including the coffee cup recommendation to stop) if it detects what appears to be driver drowsiness.
The instrument cluster has a standard 7.0-in color display and the center control stack incorporates an 8.0-in touch screen for NissanConnect with standard navigation and a built-in data modem for 911 notification as for airbag deployment. The stack, angled seven degrees toward the driver, is similar to what is used on the Murano, and it reduces the number of buttons from 25 to 10.
If the driver wishes, he/she can "swipe" the navigation screen from the control stack to the instrument cluster. A subscription-based Sirius Travel Link adds news, sports, fuel prices, etc. The console area adjacent to the cupholders has a Display Commander for control of the center stack display.
There are no options. The buyer can select from five trim/equipment levels: S, SV, SL, SR and Platinum, with the last two featuring LED projector headlamps and heated-cooled front seats.
The Maxima is assembled at Nissan's mammoth Smyrna, TN, plant, which has the highest output in North America (648,000 vehicles last year). The engines come from a nearby plant in Decherd, TN.