Test Drive: 2017 Nissan Maxima

Last year, Nissan introduced their new-generation flagship sedan, the Maxima. Hinted in an emotional Superbowl commercial that knotted a few throats to the sound of “Cat’s in the cradle”, the chiselled design marked the beginning of a new era for the model; it went from compact to mid-size to now a full-size sedan. It was then officially launched about a month later at the New York auto show. The Maxima has never looked so good in 35 year and 2017 builds on what 2016 started.

Having driven quite a few models from the Nissan lineup, I expected this new Maxima to fall on the vanilla side of the brand. The chocolate flavours include models such as the GT-R and even the 370Z. But I expected the full-size sedan to side with the Altima or the Rogue as a more tamed option. Far from being the historical Godzilla, the Maxima was however extremely surprising and turned out to have more of a Neapolitan triple colour flavour than just plain vanilla. And as a premium sedan that doesn’t pop the $50k seal, it even throws a few sprinkles on top.

At the first acceleration, you understand that Nissan has done things right: the 3.5L V6 livens up and all its 300 horsepower propel the sedan smoothly and vigorously. I never expected to say this, but whereas most CVT’s tend to be sluggish and delay every motion, this CVT does not punish the driver. Coming from someone who normally despises this type of transmission for their not-so-fuel-efficient, fun-sucking impact, I had to look up the model’s specs to confirm this was even a CVT. Slow clap. Where I was fooled, was in the performance-oriented  Xtronic that allows the engine to rev higher.

And just when I thought Maxima was synonymous for a quiet drive, I had to think again. This premium sedan is a true sleeper. For a flagship model that should normally be a more luxury-oriented, yacht-club dedicated ride, the Maxima checks off all the boxes and then some; it is also actually fun to drive. A pleasant surprise considering my preconceived ideas.

The chassis is sturdy and the suspension does a good job at not letting the road disturb your driving experience by tossing you around at every pothole; independent suspensions on all four wheels works wonders in this regard. On the other hand, you do not feel completely disconnected from the road either; it is a whole lot more than just computer magic getting you where you need to go. Maxima can actually be driven just for the fun of it. The steering wheel feels a little loose in your hands, a feature found in most non-sport sedans nowadays and therefore nothing I will hold against it.

I like what Nissan has done with the exterior design of the new Maxima.  The new headlights are a direct evolution from the previous generation’s arrowheads. The hood and side panels now sport sculptural and dramatic lines with an aggressive front portion, plus a V-shaped grille and strong character lines. The formerly low-key look now packs a pretty serious punch and doesn’t go quite as unnoticed. The same applies at the back with the taillights that draw inspiration from the headlights’ design, stretching to the sides of the car. The floating roof design is one of the best iterations on the market in my opinion.

Inside, the designers opted for elegant two-tone leather with diamond-quilted seats, as well as brushed chrome and wood accents, that give the $35k sedan a much more premium feel. In case there was any doubt about the sedan’s intentions to misbehave, I was surprised to  come face-to-face with a flat-bottom steering wheel with white on black stitching. The overall result is interesting as you get a blended feeling of affordable luxury and potential sportiness. The dashboard is well garnished but not overly so, with a well-balanced, symmetrical design pleasing to the eye. As the category reigning Platinum trim, the version I drove came fully equipped with navigation, smart key with push button start, Bluetooth handsfree connectivity and streaming, text messaging assistant, heated steering wheel and seats and such.

Overall visibility is pretty good, except for the massive b-pillars that increase the blind spots, especially at the left shoulder check. Sitting at the back, you also quickly notice that if the sloping roofline looks good from the outside, it impairs the Maxima’s capacity as a five-seater, a mission better suited for the Altima.

As a daily commuter or highroad roller, I found the 2017 Nissan Maxima to exceed all my expectations. It turned out to have a lot more personality,  while offering most of the advantages of a full-size sedan.

2017 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Price as tested (before taxes): $44,200.00
Freight: $1,750.00
Configuration: front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.5L V6 / Xtronic CVT
Power/torque: 300 hp / 261 lb-ft
Fuel-economy ratings (L/100km): city 10.9, highway 7.8
Warranty (basic): 5 years / 100,000 km
Competitors: Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, Buick LaCrosse

Related links:

Nissan Canada
Consumer Reports

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