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2016 Nissan Maxima SR – A Boulevard Cruiser That Eats Up Miles

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The AUTOMOBILE staff is getting used to continuously variable transmissions. Yes, we can hardly believe it ourselves. The CVT-only choice in our Four Seasons Nissan Maxima SR places a huge philosophical gulf between this latest version and the ’99 Maxima, which was offered with a five-speed manual and was the first to wear the “4DSC,” or “four-door sports car” moniker.

A handful of road trips in the Maxima the last couple of months sharpened our view of what, exactly, this car is: a comfortable V-6-powered semi-premium midsize sedan with a stiffer-than-standard suspension (thus “SR” for Sport Rally). Aside from the ride, the 4DSC window stickers are little more than window-dressing, though the Nissan Maxima has more of an enthusiast-driver’s attitude than the models with which it usually is compared, the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon.

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Those two sedans are significantly bigger than the Maxima; the Chevy qualifies as a full-size car. The Maxima shares the Nissan Altima’s wheelbase, though it has unique sheetmetal, a slightly longer body, and a much nicer interior.

“The Maxima benefits from a decently comfortable ride, surrounded by what’s one of the most well-equipped, premium-feeling, and attractive Nissan interiors I’ve ever experienced,” staff photographer Patrick M. Hoey says.

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Our set of Pirelli Sottozero 3 tires easily handled what was somewhat of a weak winter in Michigan this year, as well. “Clawed through absolutely everything nature threw at them,” daily news editor Eric Weiner says about the Sottozeros. “Not too many situations with really deep snow and ice—it was a cold, but not that snowy winter—that we would have needed Blizzaks to handle. Pirellis had really good highway manners … not too squishy, though they’re really loud with lots of roar once it warmed past 50 degrees.”

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Weiner also had Auto One of Berkeley, Michigan, fill a window chip for $40. A first oil change and filter came at 10,001 miles, totaling $39.01, including parts and labor. And Suburban Nissan of Troy, Michigan, removed and replaced the Maxima’s steering column under warranty, after our complaints of scraping noises from the wheel. Now it turns without noise or drama. We also switched back from winter tires to the OEM Goodyear Eagle F1 19-inch all-season rubber after the arrival of spring.

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These fixes left Hoey with a near-perfect modern highway cruiser for a long, boring drive across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey and into Manhattan for a 10-day, 1,478-mile round-trip to the New York International Auto Show.

“While the Maxima’s refinement is a remarkable improvement over the rest of Nissan’s commuter cars, it’s not yet at 100 percent,” Hoey says. “Road noise is a real problem. I had to keep volume high while listening to talk radio and podcasts, and when a call came through Bluetooth, both the callers and I were annoyed by how loud the cabin noise was. I found myself instinctively pulling at the power window switches, but ultimately I suspect poor door/window sealing or exterior trim catching the wind is the culprit.”

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Although daily news editor Conner Golden remains “disappointed in the still-awful steering,” Hoey says its ratio was quick enough to save him when approaching the New York-New Jersey border and a truck in the right lane lost some cargo, causing two cars following the truck to dart into his lane.

“Even full-on ABS braking wasn’t enough, so I flung the Maxima’s steering wheel counter-clockwise, and the Maxima responded quickly to what I thought was a damage-minimizing maneuver.”Perhaps our photographer is underestimating his driving abilities, but he credits the Maxima’s “quick steering” for his avoiding a “nasty collision.”

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By the time I got behind that two-tone Nissan Maxima wheel for my first road trip in the Four Seasons Maxima, the rest of the staff was already talking about how seamless the CVT has become. The transmission is remarkable for the lack of remarks made about it in the logbook.

I left for the Chevrolet Cruze first drive in Nashville early on a Monday evening, stopping for the evening in Carollton, Kentucky, a bit more than 200 miles from the final destination. In the Carollton Holiday Inn Express parking lot, the Maxima’s dash display congratulated its driver with a new high fuel economy average of 35.2 mpg for the trip—not bad for a powerful 3.5-liter V-6.

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With more than 11,000 miles on the car, it earns due praise for what it lacks: squeaks and rattles. It had none. The car feels tight as new. But road noise is evident on long trips, and that seems to be the result mainly of the 19-inch tires, which bump-thump stiffly over freeway expansion strips. Perhaps the Maxima is trying too hard to live up to its “4DSC” window stickers.

On the Detroit-Nashville round-trip, the seats were relaxing, though the driver’s adjustable lumbar support could adjust a bit lower in the seatback, and the lower cushion felt soft and squished after a few hundred miles. But the car was so comfortable that the 550-mile return-trip, begun at 3 p.m. Central time, was easily, safely accomplished in one day. Our 2016 Nissan Maxima is proving to be an exceptional boulevard cruiser whose biggest shortcoming is an insistence on clinging to a long-gone marketing department-created reputation.