Is the 2016 Nissan Maxima a four-door sports car? Almost

2016 Nissan Maxima

Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC V-6

Horsepower: 300

Torque: 261 pound-feet

Wheelbase: 109.3 inches

Length: 192.8 inches

Cargo volume: 14.3 cubic feet

Curb weight: 3,471-3,593 pounds

EPA rating (city/highway): 22/30 mpg

Fuel type: Premium unleaded

NHSTA safety rating: Not rated

Base prices: $32,410-$39,860

If I would ask you what attributes make for a really great sports car, most likely you’d reply, “a powerful motor, aggressive styling and two doors.” If you’re a motorhead, you might add, “not to mention rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission.”

So you might wonder how Nissan can get away with calling their flagship, the Nissan Maxima, a four-door sports car, also known by the acronym 4DSC. After all, the new Maxima has four doors, not two. And while it has a powerful V-6 engine and distinctively aggressive styling, the Maxima funnels its power to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission. There’s even a foot-operated parking brake.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; the formula has led Nissan to sell 2.9 million Maximas since 1981. So, sure, the Maxima must be a real four-door sports car, right?

Well, it certainly looks the part.

The 2016 Maxima is 1.3 inches lower and 2.2 inches longer than the previous generation design. Nissan’s aggressive new grille, bookended by boomerang framed headlamps, endows the assertive front end with a nationalistic identity anyone can recognize. Clearly, this is a Japanese car. The lines arch back into the body as the roof arcs over the passenger compartment, and a black rear roof pillar gives it the appearance of floating. The pillar also accentuates the rear haunch that bulges upward to meet it.

Climbing inside, you’ll find a driver-oriented instrument panel. Unique touches abound, such as the starter button that pulses when the driver enters the cabin, or the flat-bottomed steering wheel trimmed in Alcantara that feels comfortable during long drives. There are soft touch surfaces everywhere, including the edge of the center console where the driver’s right leg rests as well as the center console lid. Accent stitching throughout the cabin enhances the premium feel, and most passengers will find the amount of space pleasing.

That certainly applies when it comes to the power under the hood. As before. Nissan uses its 3.5-liter V-6 engine, but the automaker has completely revised it, using 60 percent new parts. The engine is rated at 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. It’s matched with a continuously variable automatic transmission, which Nissan has dubbed Xtronic. Since the transmission lacks fixed ratios, as in other transmission, Nissan says that the Xtronic is always in the right gear at the right time. In addition, the Maxima also has a Drive Mode Selector with two modes, Sport and Normal. The system adjusts throttle response, transmission timing, steering feel and the exhaust note.

It adds up to a car that, while not a sports car, more than makes a case for being a credible sports sedan. With the DMS set to Sport, the steering feels lively, responsive, and is nicely weighted, although it does lack road feel. The engine responds with gusto, and the transmission is much more refined than any other CVT transmission. Unlike most CVTs, which respond with a delayed, or rubber band feel, the Maxima’s transmission responds as you’d expect, with the promptness of a performance-oriented automatic transmission or a well-engineered dual-clutch transmission; you just won’t feel it shift. Things are a bit less exciting in Normal mode; the steering is light and it feels like a geezer pleaser. Engineers at Nissan would be wise to make the Sport the Normal mode, and make the Sport mode even sportier. Unfortunately, every time the car shuts off, the DMS resets to Normal. A better solution would be to have it remain in whatever mode it was left in.

Of course once underway, you’ll want to push this 4DSC around because the new platform expertly balances out the dual demands of a firm ride and occupant comfort. While it lacks the impact harshness of the Europeans, it does retain enough to make the car communicative while ensuring the body remains flat during cornering.

Braking comes courtesy of four-wheel power disc brakes that are equipped with anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. Upper level SL, SR and Platinum models have additional safety features, including forward collision warning, intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot warning.

No matter which trim level you get, you’ll find the Maxima to be a truly rewarding premium sedan.

Four-door sports car? That may be stretching a point. Four door sporty car? No doubt.