2016 Nissan Maxima SR review: Hot saucy

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

The 2016 Nissan Maxima couldn’t get here soon enough. It seems ages since the last time we had a next-generation Maxima in the Nissan lineup. Before the all-new—and we mean all—2016 Maxima arrived, the last significant update came in 2012, and as Nissan and the world moved on, the Maxima was left begging for a shot of tabasco. We’re here to report that the 2016 Nissan Maxima is hot stuff indeed.

A bit of confession first, however, and that’s when automakers make vehicles available to journalists for evaluation, they send out the premium trim levels. There’s good reason. One is that the premium have the toys inside, and how can one judge, say, a navigation system if the model doesn’t have a nav system. And true, with fancier trim—leather rather than cloth and so on—auto writers are more likely to come away impressed.

2016 Nissan Maxima SR interior

The test 2016 Nissan Maxima SR came with a neat two tone interior. Note the flat-bottomed steering wheel. (click to enlarge)

Likewise we’ll confess that the auto writers tend to be enthusiast drivers, so automakers also choose sportier trims to evaluate. It’s called playing to your audience, and it’s nothing you wouldn’t do in similar circumstances.

So although the 2016 Nissan Maxima starts with the $32,510 Maxima S and from there goes up through the Maxima SV, Maxima SL, Maxima SR, Maxima SR Midnight and $39,960 Nissan Platinum, we were delivered the 2015 Nissan Maxima SR. (See our first-drive report and our first review of the Maxima).

The Maxima SR, although not equipped with all the sparkles of the Platinum trim level, comes configured with sports oriented features the luxury-laden items doesn’t have. For example, the Maxima SR has sport suspension, and sport suspension, intended to tie down the chassis down for quicker response, is usually firmer than standard or luxury suspension setting.

2016 Nissan Maxima SR front seats

The 2016 Nissan Maxima SR front seats have grippy alcontera seating surfaces. (click to enlarge)

However, sportier models often have higher performance engines. Not so with the 2016 Maxima. All 2016 Maximas are equipped with an upgraded version of Nissan’s acclaimed VQ-series 3.5-liter V-6. Now rated at 300 horsepower, Nissan says the engines across the board have sodium-filled valves, a high performance engine trick that draws heat away from the valve heads which increases durability and eliminates hot spots in the combustion chamber that can instigate engine knock. It’s a feature, for example, of the ultra-high-performance Nissan GT-R.

Nissan is wedded to the continuously variable transmission so the Maxima has it too. Nissan claims better performance because the Xtronic gearbox—actually, a beltbox—is able to select the exact ratio for every driving situation rather than stuck with six or so gear ratios that may or may not be ideal for the situation. Nissan tacitly acknowledges, however, that not everyone like the sound and feel of a CVT, so it has provided a workaround. A sport setting limits the transmission to seven distinct ratios, and with paddle shifters on the steering column, it can mimic the feel of a manually-controlled automatic. It’s not as crisp feeling as a modern conventional automatic, but it works, including rev-matching on downshifts.

2016 Nissan Maxima SR instrument panel

The 2016 Nissan Maxima SR has special screen that appears when “Sport” is selected. (click to enlarge)

But even in full automatic, the transmission will hold a gear ratio when cornering at high g so the Maxima will be set to accelerate out of the turn. Without that ability, the revs would fall as the driver lifted off the throttle, and the engine would be in the wrong rev range when it was time to put the hammer back down.

A feature new to Maxima is a Drive Mode Selector. This lets the driver choose between Normal and Sport modes. The latter stiffens the steering (reduces power steering assist), sharpens throttle response and transmission ratio mapping, and sets the Active Sound Enhancement to increase sporty engine sounds into the cabin. It’s what every Four Door Sport Car, as Nissan calls the Maxima, needs.

To crank up the Sports Car part of the Maxima—it’s hard to do anything about the number of doors even if you wanted to—Nissan provides the Maxima SR trim level. The SR gets the aforementioned firmer shock absorbers and a larger front stabilizer bar. The SR also gets monotube rear shocks, which provide better high-temperature fade resistance for more stable shock performance than twin-tube designs.  Previuously for the SR grade only, monotube shocks aided performance sufficiently that all Maximas get them for 2016.