2016 Nissan Maxima: Stylish and sumptuous sedan

We've wondered what Nissan had in mind for its flagship sedan, the Maxima – a nameplate that dates to the early 1980s – ever since we test-drove a unit with a 6-speed stick shift about 15 years ago. That's the car Nissan arranged to distribute among automotive writers. A full-sized flagship sedan with a stick shift. Really? We didn't hate the car, in part because the shifter was quite responsive and forgiving, but we didn't understand its purpose.

It's all becoming more clear now that Nissan has re-introduced the Maxima for 2016 after a one-year hiatus. To “get” Nissan's point, you don't have to read up on horsepower ratings and other performance data. All you have to do is gaze admiringly upon this stylish sedan, which looks fast just standing still.

The new Maxima delivers the heart-thumping style and performance that are missing from Nissan's workhorse sedan, the midsize Altima. Its role, therefore, is markedly different from that of, say, the Toyota Avalon or BMW 7 Series, each bigger but less inspiring than their midsized stablemates, the Toyota Camry and BMW 5 Series.

Inspired by modern fighter jets, the Maxima is something of a throwback to the 1950s and '60s, when it was common for automakers to replicate recognizable features of rockets and military aircraft. For example, the “floating” roof design mimics the canopy of a jet fighter.

Our Maxima was the performance-oriented SR. Like all Maximas, it was powered by a 300-horsepower version of Nissan's acclaimed 3.5-liter V-6. The Xtronic continuously variable transmission gives the impression it's really a conventional 7-speed automatic, and does its job well. The CVT also contributes to a good fuel-economy rating of 30 mpg on the highway. One caveat: Nissan calls for premium gasoline in this model.

The cabin is sumptuous. The quilted seats, promoted by Nissan as “Zero Gravity,” clearly are designed for long, fatigue-free drives. All materials are of high quality, and the standard-features list includes such luxuries as heated steering wheel, remote start, 8-inch color display, heated and cooled front seats, satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert, predictive forward collision warning, navigation system and intelligent cruise control. The Maxima SR also is equipped with NissanConnect, an infotainment suite.

For the driving enthusiast, the Maxima SR has a “Sport” drive setting, which adjusts steering effort, shifting and throttle response for a more engaging experience at the wheel.

The sport-tuned suspension in our test car delivered a firmer ride than one might expect in a near-luxury family sedan. For those desiring smoother, softer road manners, the top-end Platinum line or even one of the lower trim levels might be preferable. The base Maxima S starts at $32,410.

Although it's a new model, the Maxima has been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and judged a Top Safety Pick Plus. Nissan, a Japanese company, builds Maximas in Smyrna, Tenn., for the North American market.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

Price: $38,750

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 300 horsepower, 261 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: Xtronic continuously variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,471 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 19x8-in. polished alloy

Tires: 245/40R19 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.3 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 18 gallons

Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded