Re-imagined and redesigned for the 2016 model year, Nissan’s flagship Maxima sedan is car that resists easy definition. Nissan calls it a “4-Door Sports Car” and goes so far as to emboss “4DSC” on the taillights and headlights. But the thing is, with its front-wheel drive layout and CVT automatic it’s never going to fit in as a true sports car, not really, no matter the number of doors.

So what is it? You could call it a bigger, better-equipped and somewhat more athletic version of the Altima and you wouldn’t be wrong (although the Altima actually has greater interior volume – go figure). You could call it a sport oriented near-luxury front-wheel drive sedan and you’d be pretty close to the mark. It’s officially a mid-size car but it’s long, wide and low, with a footprint not much smaller than Toyota’s full-size Avalon. In terms of price point my SR trim test car came in close to the base price for a BMW 3 Series, and while it may lack the smaller BMW’s luxury badge (not to mention the 3 Series’ properly sports car-like choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and manual transmission or lighting-fast conventional automatic) it comes instead with significantly more interior room and with equipment levels that would easily cost an additional $15,000 in the BMW.

The closest true competitors for the Maxima are perhaps the Buick LaCrosse, Acura TLX and Volkswagen CC. All of these, like the Maxima, are luxury-oriented mid-size sedans for those who want something that’s a little more than your basic family sedan, but who still desire practicality and don’t want to break the bank. And measured against these cars, the Maxima stacks up nicely indeed.

Externally, Nissan decided to give the 2016 Maxima not just a little more style than your average sedan, but a great big helping more style, and then a dollop more on top of that. Between the deeply curved beltline profile, the big V-motion grille, the boomerang headlights, the “floating” roof and the multitude of angular details everywhere else, the new Maxima has a lot going on. It’s 33 mm lower and 56 mm longer than the previous generation car, and Nissan calls its look “futuristic.” What you make of it will depend on your own personal taste (I thought it looked a bit like a hatchback or fastback when I first saw it), and I heard equally from both the love-it and hate-it crowds during the week I had the car. Regardless of which camp you fall into, however, you’ve got to give Nissan credit for being bold enough to bring many of its Nissan Sport Sedan Concept features into production.

Sporty Shenanigans: Why it’s Hard to Crash the Nissan Maxima

Inside the Maxima, Nissan promises a “premium, above-class” experience, and here the designers have certainly delivered – at least in my SR trim test car. The Maxima cabin is a marvellous place to spend time. In terms of materials the lower dash and door panels are rigid plastic, but everything else is built from soft-surface materials, with a genuine stitched upper dash, cloth-wrapped pillars, and high-end materials such as Alcantara suede. I really liked the suede-on-leather look of the SR interior and I was thoroughly smitten by the diamond-creased polished aluminum trim across the dashboard and doors – it’s both unique and classy, and the pattern was picked up with subtle blue diamond stitching in the suede seat inserts. I got a chance to sit in a Platinum trim version of the car and noted that it has the same diamond-crease trim, but executed (and I do mean executed) with a woodgrain finish that looked completely incongruous on the patterned trim surface. Win some, lose some, I guess.

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