The 2016 Nissan Maxima once again wears the "4DSC" badge. Longtime Maxima owners will remember it: in the early 90s, Nissan's flagship bore the moniker, which stands for 4-Door Sports Car, and surprisingly lived up to the hype with sharp handling and a powerful V6 engine.

Today though, the logo is cleverly hidden in the headlight and taillight lenses. You have to know where to look for the 4-Door Sports Car badge these days, making it a good metaphor for the 2016 Maxima itself.

Sporty good looks

The all-new Nissan Maxima certainly looks the part of a sporty sedan. The V-Motion grille stands out in traffic and along with the sculpted sides and "floating" roof -- an illusion created by painting the window pillars black -- the new Maxima looks good. Inside, the Maxima smartly skews toward luxury, with soft leather, stitched soft-touch surfaces on the doors and dash, and diamond-pattern quilting on the seats and door panels on SL, SR and Platinum models. The back seat is tighter than competitors like the Toyota Avalon and Chevy Impala, but on-par with other midsize entry-level luxury sedans, like the Acura TLX.

The Maxima SR is the sportiest model, with a $38,500 price point that slots between the leather-lined SL and kitchen-sink Platinum. It lacks the panoramic sunroof to save weight, but adds 19-inch wheels and tires, with a high-performance "summer" tire available if you don't mind giving up a little wet-weather grip. The Maxima SR also has steering-wheel mounted shift paddles, allowing the driver to manually select gears using the CVT's "D-Step" programming logic. A Sport mode sharpens steering a bit and makes the transmission and throttle response quicker as well.

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Competent road manners

It all sounds good, and if "good" means brisk drives along country two-lanes, the new Nissan Maxima feels right at home. The suspension is compliant but not too soft, the brakes grip nicely without being too soft or too grabby, and the transmission's paddle shifters do a decent job imitating a standard automatic as it slides between ratios, even if it would "upshift" at redline without being asked. The 300-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine delivers its power smoothly and quietly, with virtually no torque steer as long as you're going in a straight line. The steering feels light, but not disagreeably so, and it builds effort properly as cornering forces increase. Push too hard and it'll understeer, something we're sure the summer tires would mitigate (our test car had the standard all-season rubber). On the highway the Maxima impresses even more, with the engine lazily turning over thanks to the CVT, and a quiet interior thanks to various sound-deadening tricks like active noise cancellation.

Our initial test tells us that the new Nissan Maxima isn't a 4-Door Sports Car, but a Competent Entry-Level Luxury Sport Sedan, and nice one at that. But like those hidden 4DSC badges, we feel there's a legitimate sport sedan hiding in this stylish 4-door, one that would benefit from more bite in the suspension, sharper steering, and even a manual transmission. If it sounds like we're describing a Maxima NISMO, maybe we are, although a manual transmission might be wishful thinking. For now though, and especially for the price, the 2016 Nissan Maxima is a must-drive for anybody shopping for a comfortable, stylish, and enjoyable sedan.

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