A sedan with just one flaw: It doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­ist

The Washington Post Sunday - - CARS - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­post.com

Pro­to­types can be pro­duc­tion prom­ises not kept in the cap­i­tal­in­ten­sive global au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try. A good idea, even one ex­e­cuted in pre­pro­duc­tion me­tal, can be se­verely com­pro­mised or al­to­gether al­tered in re­sponse to de­mands for lower pro­duc­tion costs.

Here’s hop­ing that no such fate be­falls the 2016 Nissan-Max­ima sedan, the pro­to­typ­i­cal SV ver­sion of which I drove for this week’s col­umn.

It is a beau­ti­ful car, easily one of the best-look­ing mod­els Nissan has de­signed in the 35-year history of the-Max­ima line.

Nissan steps away from or­di­nary and bor­ing with this one. In­deed, it is ar­guable that the 2016Max­ima is the first-Max­ima to live up to the haughty im­pli­ca­tions of its name. It stopped traf­fic and drew rave spec­ta­tor re­views ev­ery­where in North­ern Vir­ginia dur­ing my week be­hind its wheel.

It is the first time I’ve re­ceived com­pli­ments for an au­to­mo­bile’s roof de­sign— in this case, a fast­back af­fair that seems to float above the car’s body, thanks to the in­ge­nious ap­pli­ca­tion of pi­ano-black trim be­tween the car’s roof and body lines.

In another bit of sculp­tural il­lu­sion, the new-Max­ima is a four-door sedan that seems as sleek as a two-door coupe. That ap­pear­ance of sporti­ness is en­hanced by a some­what bul­bous, won­der­fully con­toured hood fit­ted atop an ag­gres­sive, wide-mouthed grille.

The look is far dif­fer­ent from the Max­ima’s for­mer square-bod­ied, main­stream-sub­urbs, like-ev­ery­body-else de­sign. As in­di­cated by the week’s spec­ta­tor re­sponse, many peo­ple will ap­plaud the change. But the car’s new styling ap­proach might seem un­com­fort­ably rad­i­cal to oth­ers.

I go with the ap­plause, es­pe­cially in the mat­ter of the new-Max­ima’s cabin.

It is a supremely com­fort­able place, of ex­cel­lent fit and fin­ish, out­fit­ted with high-qual­ity-ma­te­ri­als. Nissan has in­stalled what it calls “zero-grav­ity” seats as stan­dard equip­ment in the new Max­ima. I don’t know what “zero grav­ity” means in ap­pli­ca­tion to car seats. But I can tell how those seats feel to the driver and front pas­sen­ger.

They au­to­mat­i­cally en­wrap you at high­way speeds. They hold you close, mak­ing you feel as if you truly are one with the car. I like them bet­ter than Volvo’s seats, which I once thought were the most com­fort­able seats of­fered by the global au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try.

Nissan again is us­ing its famed 3.5liter V-6 ga­so­line en­gine to power the new-Max­ima, but with a dif­fer­ence. The re­vised V-6 has a tad more horse­power— 300 horse­power, com­pared with 290 in the pre­de­ces­sor model. But torque, the en­gine twist­ing power that turns the car’s front wheels, re­mains the same at 261 pound-feet.

I wound up driv­ing this this one just for the fun of it, go­ing scores of miles out ofmy way to spend more time be­hind the new-Max­ima’s wheel.

I no­ticed some­thing: Nissan, which pi­o­neered the use of gear­less con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sions (CVTs), has sub­stan­tially im­proved the sys­tem in the 2016Max­ima. Credit goes to the im­proved elec­tron­ics. The new CVT feels as good as a top-notch sixspeed au­to­matic. Pre­de­ces­sor Nissan CVTs were dis­con­cert­ing in their rub­bery feel.

Nissan is to be con­grat­u­lated. And, again, I hope the pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the 2016Max­ima, in deal­ers’ show­rooms later this year, faith­fully mimic the qual­ity and en­joy­ment of the SV pro­to­type I drove. Please, Nissan, no cost-sav­ing short­cuts on this one. Boot out any cor­po­rate ac­coun­tant who sug­gests oth­er­wise.

I wound up driv­ing this one just for the fun of it, go­ing scores of miles out of my way.


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