2016 Nissan Maxima SR road test: Lots of luxury with a side of sporty

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

A recent week with the all-new 2016 Nissan Maxima SR served again to remind me that the traditional definition of a luxury car no longer really applies.

Back in the day —- ok, way back in the day —- luxury might have meant an automatic transmission, or air conditioning, or power steering and power brakes, and maybe even power windows and backup lights.

Today, the Maxima and its many mid-size sedan competitors in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, routinely include a long list of high-tech comfort and convenience features that compare favorably with similar cars that cost twice as much.

Consider this list of features included on every 2016 Nissan Maxima SR: Navigation, automatic headlights, adaptive cruise control, power front seats that can be heated or cooled, heated steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio, 11-speaker sound system with HD radio and satellite radio capability, premium leather upholstery with simulated suede trim, trip computer, 60/40 fold-down rear setbacks, keyless locks and ignition.

Nissan Maxima instrument panel

Nissan Maxima instrument panel

Sure, there are differences between the Maxima and its much more expensive counterparts —- in drivability, in engineering, in prestige —- but the list of luxury features available on the less expensive cars can come awfully close to the ones available on, say, the coveted German marques.

The Nissan Maxima SR is the sportiest of the five 2016 models, but don’t mistake that designation for a full-fledged sports sedan. Yes, it adds 19-inch wheels, a sport-tuned independent suspension, a flat-bottom steering wheel, peppy powerplant, steering-column-mounted paddle shifters and a Sport driving mode.

The bold exterior design also separates the Maxima from the herd of similarly designed mid-size sedans and gives all trim lines a distinctively sporty air. If there is a fault with the design, it is the A (front) pillars. They are wide and positioned in a way that they impede the view of vehicles approaching from the right and left.

But as soon as you enter the Maxima, the carefully crafted, high-quality interior shouts luxury. And, when you get out on to the road the word “elegant” comes to mind more quickly than the term “exciting.”

This is not say the car lacks competence. Driven aggressively on twisty two-lane roads, the Maxima responds accurately to a driver’s commands, with little body lean in the corners.

Maxima front seatsThe car steers crisply most of the time, but a sudden call for maximum acceleration brings out that steering-wheel-yanking bugaboo of front-wheel-drive sedans: torque steer. It’s relatively mild, but if you suddenly find the need to bury the accelerator on a sharp turn you will be glad you had both hands on the wheel.

For those who really do want to think of the Maxima SR as a four-door sports sedan, there is a Drive Mode selector with a Sport setting. It adjusts throttle response, steering weight, and gear-ratio selection for maximum acceleration,braking and road holding. The setting even amplifies the engine sound inside the cabin.

The driving dynamics are also helped by Active Ride Control, which uses the brakes to quiet body motions on bumpy roads, and Active Trace Control, which automatically applies braking to keep the vehicle on its intended path.

And then there is the continuously variable transmission, something I generally dislike. However, the shiftless shifter in the 2016 Nissan Maxima is the best I have yet experienced, able to adjust gear ratios under strong acceleration in a way that feels much like a traditional automatic transmission. But, driven conservatively, it can’t hide the need for the engine to drone at high speeds while the transmission searches for the ideal gear ratio.

Paddle shifters will hold the transmission in seven specific gear ratios, mimicking a traditional automatic transmission. But in most normal circumstances, they do not really enhance the driving experience. The paddles could come handy in tricky driving situations such as steep descents or snowy conditions when it is advantageous to hold the car in
a low gear.

Nissan Maxima rear seats

Nissan Maxima rear seats

Nestled in the engine compartment is an upgraded 3.5-liter V-6 engine that now features direct fuel injection and provides all the performance a driver will need and probably even desire.It generates 300 horsepower, 20 more than before, and a maximum 261 pound-feet of torque, same as before.

The 0-60 mph run can be accomplished in a little over 6 seconds, but a more important attribute is the ability to accelerate quickly in passing situations.

The EPA rates fuel consumption at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, with a combined average of 25 mpg. In several hundred miles of mixed highway and urban driving, on level roads and with a light load, I averaged the target 25 mpg.

The power steering is electrically assisted and the brakes are vented four-wheel discs that can bring the 3,564-pound vehicle to a stop in a little more than 120 feet.

As expected, safety features abound. In addition to the full complement of airbags and side curtains, the Maxima SR has traction control, stability control, blind-spot warning, rearview camera, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with automatic braking,

Nissan Maxima grille

Nissan Maxima grille

Nissan claim’s the redesigned Maxima interior is able to accommodate five, but nobody will really want to sit in the middle of the second row. Consider it comfortable for up to four adults. The trunk will hold 14.3 cubic feet of cargo.

Nissan lists the base price of the 2016 Nissan Maxima SR as $37,770. Add the $835 delivery charge and the total comes to $38,605. Nissan did not supply a price sticker with the test car so there might have been a few extras that are not included. In any case, I don’t think the total will exceed $40,000.

All in all the 2016 Nissan Maxima SR is a satisfying luxury car with some added sporting capabilities in SR trim. Cost-conscious buyers who can live without the special SR features, will find they can obtain basically the same amount of luxury for a few thousand dollars less.

You can learn more about the Maxima SR by clicking here to get Ron Moorhead’s report on a first drive.

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