Driver's Seat: Maxima revamp could be a contender

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The 2016 Maxima offers accommodations for four; the fifth seat merely taunts.

2016 Nissan Maxima SR: Top-of-the-line revamp.

Price: $38,750 as tested (the only add-on was $255 for sport floor mats and trunk mat).

Marketer's pitch: "The four-door sports car, all the time."

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "sporty driving character; quiet and upscale interior; plenty of features for the money," but not that the "backseat and trunk aren't very spacious given the car's size" nor the "SR model's firm ride."

Reality: Worth a second look.

All new: I got a preview of the all-new Maxima in New York City in June, and found it to be more of a delight than I expected. Its tall front fenders and long hood give it a decidedly Infinitiesque appearance, and I was drawn in, and eager to drive it more than 10 miles.

The large sedan is but one installment in the company's almost-complete revamping, which has given new looks to the Rogue, Murano, and Altima, and - coming at the end of the year - the Titan pickup.

Simple choices: The Maxima comes in five trim levels - no packages or options are available beyond that, except for minor things like the floor mats.

Up to speed: The 3.5-liter V-6 creates 300 horsepower and motivates the Maxima to highway speeds in short order. In fact, it goes well beyond posted speeds without a lot of struggle.

On the curves: The Maxima offers normal and sport modes for your driving enjoyment. I actually found the sport mode a little too sporty; the handling turned the Maxima into a high-strung, coffee-infused Chihuahua, too sensitive to my inputs.

The normal model offered plenty of enjoyment on the winding roads of Chester County.

Still, the feedback is competent at best, and somehow "fun" would not be the description I'd use for the Maxima.

Shifty: The Maxima power is transferred to the wheels through a CVT. Results from such transmissions are often disappointing, as the lack of gears keeps the power curve from feeling smooth. "Golf cart" is often Mr. Driver's Seat description.

Nissan officials made much at the June presentation about CVT intelligence that functions more like a conventional transmission, especially under hard acceleration. I have to say after a week of testing that they seem to have succeeded; I could have been fooled into thinking the Maxima had an automatic transmission.

Drivers have the ability to choose "gears," but that part of the system is not as enjoyable. The connection is kind of loose, and while the steering-wheel paddles are fine, the shift lever feels mushy.

Driver's Seat: Power adjustable seats come standard with this trim level, and the SR benefits from thigh support extension and something called "zero-gravity."

Friends and stuff: Luxurious. That would be a description I'd use of the Maxima.

The Maxima SR interior impresses. Not satisfied with just leather, Nissan uses diamond-quilted alcantara inserts to really dress up the seats. Rear-seat passengers get to stretch out thanks to all the legroom, while Mr. Driver's Seat and the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat may still enjoy spacious accommodations.

The middle rear seat is exceptionally uncomfortable, though - too high with too big a floor hump to offer any sort of comfort. Offer someone from work a ride - someone you don't like. He'll be surprised until you and your three chums stick him there.

A giant console accommodates scads of CDs; a special cellphone slot holds all but the Samsung S6.

Play some tunes: The sound system provides great acoustics, although not quite top-notch.

Fans of touchscreen and knob control will be pleased, as the Maxima provides access through both points. It can take a number of screens to get from map to menu to radio to source, but the steering-wheel buttons bring up a special screen on the dashboard that helps quite a bit.

Keeping warm - and cool: The HVAC and I seemed to need time to adjust to each other. I found it difficult to find a comfortable temperature at first, but we worked things out over time. Directing the air is challenging, and that doesn't help matters.

The seats are heated and cooled, though I found the cooling function minimalist at best.

Where it's built: Smyrna, Tenn.

How it's built: Though a new reliability rating isn't available for the 2016 model, previous incarnations have garnered better-than-average marks from Consumer Reports.

In the end: The Maxima is definitely a contender in the large family sedan category.

ssturgis@phillynews.com215-854-2558