Nissan Maxima and Lexus NX
NISSAN MAXIMA | Starting price: $32,500
Since 1981, Nissan has sold 2.9 million Maximas in the U.S., which means as four-door sedans go, the Maxima has been a force in the American landscape. For 2016, the Maxima gets a major redesign both inside and out.
The new exterior is at once bold and conservative. Heavily sculpted and chiseled lines are a striking contrast to its more understated front and rear ends. The front fascia represents a nice balance between modern design and a little bit of glitz, and unique 19-inch alloy wheels add even more flair. It certainly stands out among its competitors such as the Toyota Avalon or Chrysler 300.
Nissan has always referred to the Maxima as a 4-door sport sedan. This year, the company upped the horsepower just a bit to solidify that claim. What lies beneath the hood of the new Maxima is a 300-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine that delivers a solid 261 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 22/30 city/highway. Engineers reduced weight by 82 pounds through the use of more aluminum and high-strength steel, which also increased torsional rigidity by 25 percent. This adds up to be a lean, mean, fuel-efficient driving machine.
So, how does it drive? In a word, tight. Many full-size sedans are plagued with that wallowy, pillow-like ride quality. That’s great if you’re regularly driving parade routes. But the Maxima is designed for those who like to engage with their car. The ride quality is solid and dynamic with just the right amount of road feedback to let you know you’re in control of the situation. In fact, the Maxima almost seems to handle better under — dare I say it — a lead foot.
The CVT has been tuned to behave less like the gearless transmission it is and more like a traditional transmission. Nissan’s Xtronic software takes into account six different variables — accelerator-pedal position, road grade, acceleration and cornering g’s, road speed, and braking g’s — that factor into how the CVT reacts. The driver can also select Normal and Sport modes. In other words, the Maxima is quite pleasurable to drive, and does in fact handle like a sport sedan.
Inside, the Maxima offers refined styling and can get downright luxurious. Inspired by fighter jets, designers tilted the 8-inch center touch screen seven degrees toward the pilot… errr, driver. If the tilt of the screen isn’t enough, get your navigational direction via the 7-inch display located between the speedometer and tachometer. The flat-bottom steering wheel is a unique and sporty touch. The platinum edition boasts mahogany trim and supportive, beautifully quilted leather seats.
Ranging in price from about $33,000 to just north of $40,000, the Maxima is fun to drive no matter the trim level. With a solid 21-year reputation, the Maxima will no doubt be around for a long time to come.
LEXUS NX | Starting price: 35,000
The crossover segment remains ever popular and Lexus has added to its luxury lineup with the entry-level NX. Though it is built on an entirely new platform, the NX does share some architecture with the Toyota RAV4. Lexus tells us that the NX consists of 90 percent new parts and is 20 percent more rigid than its Toyota counterpart.
Beyond Utility, the NX is touted as tech-savvy. Lexus Corporate Marketing Manager Brian Bolaine says the NX is a blend of energy, technology, and modern style. Driving one, you can easily see that this vehicle holds true to those claims.
Like so many other carmakers, Lexus has turned to a small turbo-powered engine for this vehicle. The 2.0-liter turbo yields 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. It is definitely quick and the NX’s small size adds to its nimbleness and agility. Mated to a 6-speed transmission, you can opt for either front- or all-wheel drive models as well. You can also opt for the 2.5-liter hybrid, which gets 35 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg in the city.
The NX rides as you would expect from Lexus, with a quiet cabin and smooth operation. There is definitely a sporty feel to the NX by way of handling. Steering feels crisp and it handles curves like a sports car. Though compact, the NX carries a curb weight of 4,021 pounds, which is quite beefy. The turbo goes from 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds, which isn’t light-up-the-track fast, but fast enough for everyday drivers. Tack on the F-sport trim, which tightens up the suspension and adds paddle shifters, and you’ve got yourself an engaging drive. Overall, the ride quality is pleasant with just a touch of sportiness.
Both the exterior and interior design reflect each other: bold, aggressive, and compact. The NX was designed to capture the younger crowd, and it shows. The exterior features arrowhead-shaped LED daytime running lights and body so aggressively sculpted, it almost looks angry.
The interior instrument panel is busy, but intuitive. Notable features include an on-board charging station for your cellphone and a new touchpad control, which acts and feels just like the touchpad on your laptop. You can swipe, pinch, and zoom for intuitive navigation around the myriad of apps and offerings available on the display screen.
The seats are body-hugging, doing a good job of holding one in place. And the back seat feels just roomy enough for two grown adults. Fold the seats down and you get about 54 cubic feet of cargo capacity, so throw a mountain bike back there and head for the hills. The NX is also capable of towing 1,500 pounds.
Pricing ranges from the mid-30s for a front-wheel drive turbo, to the mid-40s for an all-wheel drive hybrid. Whatever trim you choose, this compact crossover is built for fun.
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