Nissan Talks AWD, Safety Features for 2016 Maxima

16Nissan_Maxima_MH_23.jpg 2016 Nissan Maxima; | photo by Mike Hanley

Nissan’s aggressive redesign of its flagship sedan, the Maxima, may offer a sneak peek at the brand’s future. After all, the Maxima’s styling — together with the Murano SUV — departs radically from other Nissan models. Can shoppers expect more of this from the next Altima or Sentra?

Related: 2016 Nissan Maxima Review

We’ll have to wait and see. Nissan’s Mike Drongowski is in charge of global product planning for the 2016 Maxima, and he wouldn’t tip his hand on future Nissan styling. But Drongowski shared plenty on where the automaker sees the Maxima today, and what it might change tomorrow.

Drongowski met with reporters Thursday at a Chicago-area Midwest Automotive Media Association event. Here’s what we learned:

All-wheel drive is possible. Nissan sells a lot of cars in snowy-weather states, and the Maxima rides the automaker’s D-platform. That platform also underpins the Murano SUV, so all-wheel-drive is “absolutely something we would be hoping to do” on the Maxima, Drongowski said. “We can do it. We’ve [just] got to prove a business case.”

It’s V-6 only, at least for now. The Maxima uses Nissan’s familiar VQ35 V-6, a workhorse engine that’s been around for more than a decade. The automaker claims 61 percent of the parts in the V-6 are new for the 2016 Maxima, but the larger question of engine choices remains. The Maxima has traditionally been a single-engine car, but some competitors offer four-cylinder engines (mostly turbocharged) in addition to six-cylinders. Others, like the Toyota Avalon, have a hybrid option too.

But Maxima shoppers shouldn’t expect expanded engine choices soon. Additional drivetrains are “something that we’re going to continue to think about,” Drongowski said, but there are “no plans” right now.

No lane departure warning. The Maxima has plenty of safety tech; Drongowski says two out of three cars sold will have Nissan’s Safety Shield package, which includes forward collision warning with automatic braking. But lane departure warning isn’t on the list, Drongowski said, because “we find that it drives customers crazy.” Nissan decided to focus on other priorities instead, he added.

Cameras for the masses? Nissan’s Around View Monitor puts cameras on all sides of the car to project a bird’s-eye, 360-degree view. It’s a nifty feature to help the driver park, but the automaker relegates it to the Maxima’s top trim level, the Platinum. That trim runs a steep $40,685, including a destination fee, but it may not be the only way to get the feature down the road. Drongowski said Around View is something Nissan will “want to bring down” to lower trim levels as this generation wears on.

It’s still an in-between car. The Maxima went on sale partway through June 2015, logging a modest 14.4 percent sales gain for the month. But the sales aren’t the only sign of popularity. In July, average transaction prices for the Maxima approached midsize luxury models like the Volvo S60 and Lexus ES 350. That’s a big increase from a year ago, when the Maxima transacted in the same territory as traditional large sedans, like the Toyota Avalon and Ford Taurus.

Nissan likes it that way. Through myriad redesigns, the automaker has steadfastly refused to turn the Maxima into a traditional full-sizer. Its footprint “is quite similar” to the Altima’s, Drongowski said, and the backseat is even a bit smaller.

“It lives like Murano does, in an interesting kind of place,” he said. “They’re shopped against [the] segment above.”

The price increase puts a big gulf between the Maxima and the Altima, even though Drongowski notes that a loaded Altima overlaps Maxima pricing. It’s enough space for Nissan to offer another car — perhaps a traditional full-size sedan — but the automaker seems to have little interest.

The full-size sedan segment “is shrinking over time,” Drongowski said, and the Maxima’s positioning “gives us good range” between full-size sedans and entry-level luxury models.

Between the Maxima and Altima, “I don’t think that we would want to sandwich anything,” he said.

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