Developing the 2016 Nissan Maxima: The Eighth Generation

.

Vishnu Jayamohan, Nissan senior product planner, says that prior to starting on the 2016 Nissan Maxima, he worked on the current-generation Altima program.

And he said that while he was dealing with sedans in both cases, there is a significant difference with what they were trying to accomplish with both vehicles. That difference can be seen in a set of numbers.

According to Autodata (motorintelligence.com), in 2014 Nissan delivered 335,644 Altimas in the U.S. The same year, the number for Maxima was 50,401, or about 15% of the Altima.

Now even though that was the last full year for the Maxima in the market so sales were off some (down 6.5%), let’s face it: the Maxima is for a much smaller segment of the market than the Altima. Jayamohan and his colleagues had to address a much broader audience with the Altima, which gave them a different set of development parameters.

With the 2016 Maxima—the 8th generation of the car, with gen 1 appearing in 1981—they were able to tailor what the company refers to as the “4-Door Sports Car” in ways that can’t be done with other vehicles in the lineup.

The 2016 Maxima continues the design theme changes that had their first manifestations on the 2015 Murano crossover. Noted Shinichiro Irie, Design Director, Nissan Design America, where the new Maxima design was executed, “While both Murano and Maxima utilize the aggressive V-Motion front end, boomerang lights and unique floating roof, Maxima takes the new form vocabulary in a different direction—a direction fitting its sports car-like proportions.”

Like the Murano, which is a pro-duction manifestation of the Resonance concept vehicle unveiled at the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), the Maxima is the visual successor to the Sport Sedan concept that was revealed at the 2014 NAIAS.

In keeping with the look of a concept, the 2016 Maxima is 1.3 in. lower (56.5 in.), 2.2 in. longer (192.8 in.) and 10% slipperier (coefficient of drag: 0.29) than the seventh generation car.

The sheet metal, particularly the fender forms, required, Jayamohan recalls, extensive discussions with the manufacturing people (the car is produced at the Nissan complex 
in Smyrna, Tennessee, where it has been built since 2003; so far, they’ve produced in excess of 790,000 Maximas at the plant) in order to assure that they could pull off the tight radii.

While many companies talk about the “jet-like styling” of their vehicles, in the case of the Maxima, there is some legitimacy to the claim. Jayamohan says that during the development of the car, a team traveled to Naval Air Station Pensacola, where they visited with the Blue Angels. And while it is similarly often the case that the rhetoric for describing the place where a driver sits as a “cockpit,” Jayamohan says that the team learned about the ergonomic placement of controls and buttons from the squadron. (He says that the center stack, for example, is angled 7° toward the driver, the only Nissan car to have this with the exception of the GT-R, which is arguably in a class of its own.)

In addition to design, there are three other criteria that guided them in the development of the Maxima.

It is worth noting that the development took account of the competitive set that the Maxima is up against in the market, which Jayamohan describes as being somewhat bifurcated.

That is, there are the conventional midsize/large sedans—as in the Chevy Impala, Toyota Avalon, Buick LaCrosse, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, and Ford Taurus—and the entry luxury sport sedans—Acura TLX, Audi A4 2.0T, BMW 328i, and Lexus IS. Maxima, he says, splits the difference, in effect.

Because of this bandwidth, the product development team addressed four key areas:
• Design
• Performance
• Craftsmanship
• Technology

The first we’ve already addressed.

As for the performance, the key aspect is the engine, a 3.5-liter, DOHC V6. It is the VQ35DE engine in Nissan parlance. It is used in other models. Like the Altima. But this version has 61% new parts. One consequence is that the version in the Maxima is rated at 300 hp, 30 more than the Altima’s. Among the changes to the engines are redesigned intake vales for improved combustion; shorter, wider intake runners for improved airflow; sodium-filled exhaust valves for drawing heat away from the combustion chamber; and a stiffer oil pan to reduce vibration and noise.

Jayamohan says that the specific output of the VQ35DE in this application is 86 hp/liter.

Like most other vehicles in the Nissan lineup, the Maxima has a continuously variable transmission. They’ve provided it with a wider ratio for purposes of making it more of a sporty feel. There is adaptive shift control that takes into account parameters including 
the accelerator pedal position, grade information, lateral G forces, acceleration G forces, braking G forces, and vehicle speed. In addition to which, they worked to reduce the friction in the transmission by 40% (to improve acceleration and efficiency) through the use of a downsized oil pump, lower-viscosity oil, and a high-efficiency chain.

Also in the Performance category is a redesigned platform that focuses on improving the torsional rigidity. The new platform weighs 82 lb. less than the previous generation, yet, thanks to measures like the deployment of advanced high-strength steels—including the first-ever use of 1.2 GPa steel in a Nissan sedan—torsional rigidity is improved by 25%.

There is a new suspension for the vehicle. It uses ZF Sachs monotube dampers for improved response, resistance to high-temperature fading, and lower mass than is the case for dual-tube shocks.

The Craftsmanship category is something that is primarily discernable in the interior of the vehicle. Jayamohan points out that while there is a move toward stitching on interior trim components, in many cases, this “stitching” is actually based on “molding”—it isn’t actually thread. But for the Maxima, there is bona fide stitching on the instrument panel, doors and center console.

The primary interior materials are either leather or Alcantara. The seats—which are another variant of the NASA-inspired “Zero Gravity” design (there is an additional foam topper pad used for initial comfort and long-term softness)—have a diamond-stitched pattern, which is to signify a premium level.

An interesting bit of trim runs between the top of the glovebox and the bottom of the instrument panel: it is what appears to be a satin chrome piece of metal, with the metallic aspect emphasized by faceting of the surface.

Then there is the technology. Naturally, there are screens in the Maxima. There is an 8.0-in. color touchscreen in the center stack that allows swiping and pinch-to-zoom like a tablet. (Navigation is standard on all trim levels.) And there is what they call an “Advanced Drive-Assist Display” in the gauge cluster, between the tach and the speedo. It measures 7.0 in. There is a knurled display command knob on the center console that can be used to control the larger screen.

There is a package called “Safety Shield Technology” that uses a sensor array to monitor the front, side and rear of the vehicle. The Maxima also offers Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW), Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), Forward Emergency Braking (FEB), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), and Blind Spot Warning (BSW). Also available is “Driver Attention Alert,” which essentially “learns” a driver’s behavior from steering inputs during the first 15 to 20 minutes of driving. If, based on changes in inputs during the course of a drive, it determines that the driver may be getting drowsy, there are visible and audible alerts sug-gesting that the driver may be in need of a coffee.

Jayamohan says that the 2016 Maxima is available in five grades, no options. He explains that they analyzed the packages that were most often selected and then grouped them accordingly for the new model. This helps make it more likely that there will be a car speced as desired on a given dealer’s lot.

And it also makes it simpler to manufacture in the Smyrna plant, by reducing complexity. Asked about whether this is an overall approach that Nissan is taking in terms of build combinations, Jayamohan answers that they tried to do something like it for the Altima, but there’s a significant difference when trying to address the needs of more than 300,000 buyers and those of some 60,000.