BMW’s 3 Series infamously lost the sport sedan plot a couple of generations ago by coddling the premium car crowd, leaving the tiny enthusiast segment with an opening big enough to accommodate everything from the Cadillac ATS to the Jaguar XE to the Alfa Romeo Giulia. There was even room for a front-wheel-drive sedan whose nickname, Four-Door Sports Car, has for decades been more of a marketing ploy than canyon-road reality.
Fortunately, Nissan took the 4DSC trope well beyond image for the Maxima’s eighth generation. The 3 Series — which we compared with the Maxima SR in the March issue after no less a driver than pro racer Andy Pilgrim praised the Nissan during last year’s All-Stars evaluations — came about its sport sedan status as a replacement for the BMW 2002, which defined the genre in the late ’60s. With the Maxima of the ’90s and later, Nissan tried to inject into an upgraded front-drive midsize chassis the sort of dynamics that once made the rear-drive Datsun 510 a poor man’s 2002.
Nissan calls the Maxima its luxury sedan, and road test editor Eric Weiner believes its interior would do an Acura or Lincoln proud. Only the Maxima SR, with its stiffened suspension, is worthy of the sport sedan description.
“I recently drove the Nissan Maxima Platinum with the same 300-hp engine but without the aggressive suspension, wheels, and tires,” Weiner said last summer. “It doesn’t look quite as aggressive, but you get all the same tech plus a 360-degree camera, no ugly suede steering wheel inserts, and a much more comfortable ride. Most Maxima buyers would probably prefer the Platinum’s ride.” More recently, on a road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Toronto, Weiner’s girlfriend’s Canadian relatives mentioned that the ride of the SR was a bit harsh. Contributing writer Marc Noordeloos suggests the ride/handling trade-off has more to do with the SR’s 19-inch wheels and tires, though. Other Maximas roll on 18s.
The Maxima SR bounced between the West and Third coasts, and its enthusiast bona fides became most apparent when Pilgrim and executive editor Mac Morrison compared it with a BMW 340i at California’s Willow Springs International Raceway.
“Look at the torque difference (69 lb-ft more in the BMW 340i), the power difference
(20 more horses in the Bimmer), less sticky tires on the Maxima SR, and the continuously variable transmission. Is one more fun?” Pilgrim pondered. His conclusion surprised a few of us. “I had to be more careful with the steering input in the BMW because it maintained higher speeds, but the chassis moves around more, and I felt it was going to be easier for me to make a mistake. I really was concentrating hard to keep the BMW on the limit. I was able to be aggressive with steering wheel movements in the Nissan without fear I was going to go over that edge. That’s the difference.
“If I had to chose just one to take to a track day,” he continued, “I’d say the Nissan would be more fun and probably a little easier to handle with all the electronic nanny controls turned off.”
When we first took possession of our Four Seasons Maxima SR, the capacious interior with its roomy back seat and generous storage space had some thinking of the car as a full-size model. But the Maxima isn’t the bigger alternative to the Nissan Altima like the Toyota Avalon is to the Camry or the Chevrolet Impala is to the Malibu. In fact, the Maxima is only 0.9 inch longer than the Altima and shares its 109.3-inch wheelbase. But the Altima has none of the Maxima SR’s flavor or flair. According to one staffer, “Because the bland Altima is there to please the masses, Nissan can afford to go out on a limb here, and it did.”
Some consider the SR’s exterior sheetmetal over the top, and even more found the two-tone Alcantara and leather steering wheel to be a bit too much and too prone to collecting dirt and grease. We didn’t like the busy, dated center screen. “Frustrating touchscreen, skips too quickly to a street list, and then you select the wrong street inadvertently as you try to select the next letter,” Noordeloos said. That said, the physical control knobs for audio system volume and station were a plus.
Although Pilgrim and Morrison delighted in the Maxima’s steering precision and predictability on the track — “excellent feel and feedback,” Morrison said — the car arrived at our Royal Oak, Michigan, office six months prior with a couple of real steering issues.
“It makes a groaning noise when turning lock to lock, especially when cold,” we noted, “and it sometimes goes heavy at parking speeds when you want the electrically assisted power steering to be light.”
At our first oil and filter change, Suburban Nissan of Troy fixed and adjusted an under-lubricated boot in the steering column. The service desk also pointed to a passage in the owner’s manual that says the power steering can be reduced if used continuously at low speeds in a parking lot: “This is to prevent overheating of the power steering system and protecting it from getting damaged.” This struck us as a last-minute fix just before production began and a poor one for a car purporting to be a sport-luxury sedan. So we turned it back in for service fewer than 2,000 miles later, and the dealer service department replaced the steering column, steering intermediate shaft, and column boot. All was covered under warranty.
With that problem solved, videographer Sandon Voelker found inherent fault in the Maxima SR’s 10-spoke wheels. “They love to suck large clumps of snow right between the spokes,” he recalled. “I had to stop three times on my way to the office to clear the wheels and return them to something that resembled balance.”
Conversely, Weiner praised the Maxima SR’s acumen in the snow when equipped with Pirelli Sottozero 3 winter tires from Tire Rack. “It clawed through absolutely everything nature threw at it,” he said, though he noted the car lost a bit of its luxury luster by letting in too much road noise from the Sottozeros.
Snow-collecting wheels aside, Voelker found the combo of Sottozeros and a foot-pedal parking brake to be the perfect setup for impressing passengers. “I stealthily deactivated the traction control before entering an icy parking lot, eyed up a nice apex around a snow bank, and gave the Maxima a good kick of the parking brake,” he said. “The back end came around nicely, and all three passengers simultaneously clutched the nearest thing they could. Yes, the parking brake is the best feature.”
Imagine if it had a handbrake.
“I don’t remember another Four Seasons car as tight and rattle-free as this one after more than 10,000 miles.”
Wear and tear included a thin scratch in the paint above the driver’s door handle, probably from a belt buckle when someone in the Detroit bureau leaned over to brush snow off the windshield, which itself picked up a chip, right in the center. Auto One in Berkley, Michigan, satisfactorily repaired it for $40.
Back on the road, staff photographer Patrick Hoey appreciated the car’s quick steering when driving to the New York International Auto Show. Two cars ahead of him, reacting to a truck that lost part of its load, changed lanes abruptly on the New Jersey thruway and cut Hoey off. “I flung the steering wheel counterclockwise,” he said. “And with almost no space to escape, the Maxima made a fast response to what I thought was a ‘damage-mitigating maneuver,’ but instead I dodged a bullet the size of a Honda Accord coupe.”
The Maxima SR again proved its worth on a road trip to Nashville — Nissan North America’s hometown — for a Chevrolet Cruze first drive. “I don’t remember another Four Seasons car as tight and rattle-free as this one after more than 10,000 miles,” this author wrote in the logbook.
Later, contributor and European car enthusiast Noordeloos drove the SR around western Michigan for most of July and came away a bit less impressed. “When driven quickly or when accelerating hard, the chassis shows the limitations of front-wheel drive,” he said. “Bad torque steer, and the chassis is very sensitive to ruts in the road.” Blame those 19s again.
The Nissan then headed to HQ in El Segundo, California, where editor-in-chief Mike Floyd reconciled Noordeloos’ opinions with Pilgrim’s.
“The Maxima’s powertrain is unquestionably one of its strongest attributes,” Floyd said. “The wheel can pull a bit under hard acceleration, but, as Andy points out, that’s more to do with its response to uneven terrain than pure torque steer.”
Yes, more than 45 years after the BMW 2002 and the Datsun 510, the sport sedan segment has evolved into bigger, more luxurious cars. Now, we have confirmed, it can even include a car with front-wheel drive.
Pros & Cons
2016 Nissan Maxima SR Running Costs
4,867 mi: Oil change and filter, $47.33.
10,001 mi: Oil change and filter, $39.01
15,656 mi: Oil change and filter, tire rotation, air filter, multi-point checkup, $200.11
4,867 mi: Replace steering column boot covered under warranty.
6,729 mi: Replace steering column, steering intermediate shaft, steering column boot. Original parts returned to Nissan. Covered under warranty.
307 mi: Winter tires, Pirelli Sottozero 245/40R-19 ($947), plus shipping ($60), mounting, and balancing ($80), $1,087.18
7,101 mi: Repair stone chip in windshield with Auto One, $40
7,509 mi: Swap winter tires for summer tires, $100
EPA city/highway/combined: 22/30/25 mpg
Observed: 24.0 mpg
Cost Per Mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires): $0.18
($0.71 including depreciation)
*Estimate based on information from Intellichoice