2017 Maxima SR Midnight

GOLDSBORO, N.C. — For years Nissan has claimed the "four-door sports sedan" moniker for its flagship Maxima. And the all-new-for-2016 Maxima is designed for those buyers who are luxury intenders, but looking for a vehicle that is more sporting in both appearance and road manners. The Maxima delivers with more than just an alluring design — it also features a healthy 3.5-liter V-6 making 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque.

But calling it a "four-door sports sedan" measured by the standards of BMW and other European brands is a bit of hyperbole.

We have found, however, that the right mix of Maxima that brings the sports sedan claims very close to actually having relevance is the 2017 SR model with the stunning Midnight Edition package. The Midnight Maxima definitely looks the part and the "sporty" SR trim level gives the car an elevated feeling of a "driving machine" in BMW parlance.

All Maximas deliver outstanding big-sedan performance measured at 5.9 seconds from 0-to-60 and 14.4 seconds at 101 mph in the quarter mile.

The Maxima SR Black takes performance a step further offering a sport-tuned suspension, Integrated Dynamics-control Module (IDM), premium Ascot leather-appointed seats with diamond-quilted Alcantara inserts, Climate-controlled front seats, Ascot leather-appointed steering wheel with Alcantara insert, paddle shifters, aluminum sport pedals, Liquid Chrome faceted finishers,19-inch machined finish all-black aluminum-alloy wheels and 245/40R19 all-season tires developed uniquely for Maxima.

The 2017 Maxima also features a Drive Mode Selector (Sport and Normal modes) that adjusts throttle response, transmission tuning, steering feel and Active Sound Enhancement tuning. In Sport mode, the engine throttle response increases, the Xtronic transmission programming changes for more aggressive shifting under braking and gear holding, the steering weight increases and the Active Sound Enhancement system further amplifies the engine note in the cabin.

The Sport setting does alter the driving quotient in a perceptible manner, giving the sedan a more athletic personality. How much true sportiness is actually gained is debatable, but the feeling is there and that's a big plus in our book.

To get the most out of the SR experience we recommend the $1,195 Midnight Edition, which sports blacked-out everything — the wheels, diffuser, spoiler, interior, splash guards, and, of course, the paint are all black. The cabin's seats have neat-looling faux-suede inserts.

The all-black Maxima drew onlookers like mosquitoes to water including a couple of salesmen at a competing dealership while we were parked outside the showroom waiting for a friend to drop off his car for service. They both admitted the Maxima in all black for a hot looking sedan.

A note of caution — drive the SR edition against another trim level before purchase. While the other trims offer a plush, luxury-like ride, the SR with its stiffer suspension, might be too firm for many people. It suited us just fine, but we are surely in the minority. Also, be aware that black — acres of black — is a bit difficult to keep looking clean.

The Maxima, like virtually all of Nissan's sedans, comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that may instantly turn people off who are looking for a sporty ride that can also haul five people in relative comfort. But we can say that Nissan has done a commendable job in advancing the CVT's feel whether in idling around town or under pedal-to-the-metal acceleration. Nissan said they used six variables — accelerator-pedal position, road grade, acceleration and cornering g's, road speed, and braking — in determining how the transmission behaves, and artificial gear ratio changes close
ly mimic the action of a conventional automatic transmission.

We were not only impressed with the performance in a week and 300 miles of varied driving, but we had the opportunity to take the Maxima SR Midnight edition out to our usual winding rural paved-road "test track" where we were pleasantly surprised at its cornering and handling attributes.

In the safety department, the SR trim offers a rearview camera, Blind Spot Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Intelligent Cruise Control, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, a heated steering wheel, Active Sound Enhancement (a.k.a. noise cancellation), and an 11-speaker Bose premium audio system.

The SR trim carriers a price of $38,655 including destination charge. The Midnight Edition package brought the bottom line to $40,300.

— Jim Meachen