Almost by definition, family sedans, like minivans, are dull to drive. Automakers will slap the term “Sport” on the back of a mid-size four-door or add an X to the name in an effort to inject a little excitement. But you can’t really escape the buzz-killing implications of the word family.
Or can you? One company that has tried to rev up the world of sedans with a different approach is Nissan. For three decades now, this Japanese brand has chosen to offer two separate sedans instead of one to cover the mid-size segment.
The Altima is Nissan’s high volume mainstream family hauler, but positioned slightly above Altima is the similar-sized Maxima, a four-door with a different, more focused mission.
For 2016, an all-new, eighth generation Maxima hits the market and Nissan has doubled its efforts to connect to consumers looking for a little more excitement from a sedan.
The marketing pitch from Nissan continues to urge buyers to think of Maxima as a “four-door sports car.” Frankly, that’s a stretch. While the 300-hp V-6 Nissan does accelerate hard — it takes under six seconds to reach 60 mph and exhibits good handling traits for a front-wheel drive car — its sheer size undermines the notion of a sports car personality.
In terms of straight-line performance, the Maxima will stay with more upscale rivals such as the Acura TLX and BMW 328i, but the thrill factor is weakened by use of a dreaded CVT transmission. Granted, the Nissan CVT doesn’t rev madly and noisily while you wait for the car’s speed to catch up (as do most CVTs), but it still lacks the slick-shifting character of a conventional automatic transmission.
Calling the Maxima a sports car may be misleading, but that’s not to say this Nissan is not sporty, and it is convincingly more entertaining to drive than more sedate rivals, notably the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon. Nissan engineers have also made the Maxima sound sporty thanks to a so-called active sound enhancement system which can amplify the engine note if the driver wishes.
In terms of safety and luxury features, the new Maxima lacks for nothing. It comfortably outpoints the Altima and adds bells and whistles lacking in considerably more expensive models that fall into the luxury segment. One clever safety feature is a forward-looking collision warning radar system that can determine the speeds of not just one, but the next two vehicles in front. Deciding on the appropriate suite of features to offer in the five different Maxima models took careful thought, but Nissan product planner Vishnu Jayamohan says the company has the “right features at the right price,” and the car competes well with other well-equipped rivals such as the Hyundai Sonata.
Nor does the Maxima make any bones about its sporting pretensions when it comes to design. With its aggressive grille and unusual “floating roof ” styling, you will not mistake this Nissan for any other rival on the road. It’s a similar story inside where the Maxima accentuates its sporting character with extra supportive seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a driver oriented cabin layout.
These days the family sedan market is being sliced into finer and finer slices as automakers try to eke out competitive advantages. For consumers the variety may seem a little overwhelming but careful research can unearth some attractive options. And for those seeking a sporty edge the new Maxima makes a strong case for itself.
John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at email@example.com