Written by James Hamel
This is the true story of a comparison test between three luxury sport sedans which take very different paths to achieving their performance goals. For those with petrol in their veins, everyone should know that the aggressively styled 2017 Nissan Maxima is front-wheel drive, the 2017 Chrysler 300S is a rear driver with the only honest to goodness V8 on test here and the 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD can send power to any slipping wheels even in dry weather conditions. Both the Acura and Maxima offer V6 engines with the Acura the only one on test which offers an admittedly impressive 4-cylinder engine in base models.
Unlike many other all-wheel drive or other on-demand systems, SH-AWD is special for being able to send so much engine power to one or two wheels and we are sure it will inspire some attempted hooliganism with owner’s newly licensed children behind the wheel. But isn’t this InfotainmentExperts.com? Aren’t we obsessed with tech? Well, this is a luxury sport sedan comparison where we judge and grade the tech on offer such as in the sections for Audio, Safety Tech, Technology Ease of Use and Smartphone Connectivity. We will also tell you our opinions on the exterior, interior quality and comfort, fuel efficiency, performance and finally “Is this car worth the price?”
So, with much ado about not much else let’s find out how this comparison test turned out!
First Place: 2017 Nissan Maxima SR
While we will hold off on proclaiming it the return of the 4DSC (4 door Sports Car), we are amazed at how well the Maxima SR performed across the board be it in its fun to drive nature all the way to its impressive adjustable handling technology. There really is no place where this new Maxima, especially in the aggressive looking SR trim, trails its two competitors most especially in value for money as our vehicle stickered just over $38,000 as opposed to $43,000 and for the Chrysler and just over $45,000 for our top of the line advance trim Acura TLX SH-AWD. Admittedly our Chrysler would have matched the Acura’s price had it only been equipped with the optional all-wheel drive which for those living in snow belt states we presume is a must.
Impressive among the tech features were Nissan’s terrific Around View Parking Monitor, a full purview of active safety tech from blind spot warning to automatic forward emergency braking, a unique sport tuned suspension enhanced by the Drive Mode Selector and Integrated Dynamics-control Module. The Drive Mode selector when put into “Sport” will sharpen the vehicle’s throttle response, enhance steering feel as well as initiating Active Sound Enhancement for the standard 300-horsepower 3.5 liter V6 which when pushed emits the most glorious staccato vibrato of any V6 out there.
The Integrated Dynamics Control Module, in a sense, easily explains why we had so much fun driving this admittedly rather large four-door sedan on a long road trip. It has Active Trace Control which automatically optimizes your line through turns by applying the inner or outer brakes as well as Active Engine Braking which automatically “downshifts” the gearless CVT automatic during braking while readying the gearbox to power you out of a freeway off-ramp apex, should that be your desire.
Of course, the Maxima SR also features Apple Carplay/Android Auto compatibility, heated and ventilated front Ascot leather and Alcantara seats, an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2 audio system that provided a terrific driving soundtrack as well as Intelligent Radar Cruise control which can bring the vehicle to a complete stop and then bring you back to your set speed.
In addition, the 2017 Nissan Maxima was always comfortable for the passengers as well thanks to Active Ride Control which reacts automatically to bumps, potholes and road irregularities by subtly applying the brakes to keep the chassis level. Even the dog we rescued at the end of our road trip loved the 2017 Nissan Maxima SR and we think was rather disappointed when it just disappeared one day. We were too.
Second Place: 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD
Whereas the 2017 Acura TLX looks a bit like an ancient Japanese Shogun warrior in a neatly pressed suit of armor, the Maxima SR is much more the challengingly styled in the manner of modern Japanese Anime. But with the 2017 Acura TLX you not only get a car with a reputation for reliability as well as top notch resale values but you also get what is easily one of the most advanced all-wheel wheel drive systems out there. It’s called SH-AWD (or Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive) and it not only helps keep you on the road in slick or icy conditions but thanks to its ability to apportion torque to individual wheels it also aids dry weather cornering grip.
Our 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD came with a 3.5 liter 290 horsepower V6 engine attached to a slick shifting 9-speed automatic gearbox. As is the current luxury brand norm, the TLX with the V6 engine also has a new, utterly unique push button gear changer inside the cabin to annoy people who hate change just for the sake of it. Now, the Acura’s motor makes a swell noise when you rev it out to redline but that is nothing compared to the incomparable 10-speaker ELS Studio Premium Audio System which for years has been our favorite OEM audio system for perfect sound no matter what kind of music you play. Please, always order the Tech Package with an Acura to get the ELS Audio. It is that good.
The TLX also excels in the area of advanced safety technology with our Tech and Advance Package equipped model boasting bling spot warning, front impact warning, rear cross traffic monitoring, a muti-angle back up camera, automatic rain sensing wipers, a lane keeping assist system which actively will tug on your steering wheel to keep you in your lane, a full collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation (yes, on the highway the TLX can essentially steer itself although if you take your hands off the wheel for too long it will send you a warning) and lastly a highly effective Adaptive Cruise control with low speed follow that had no problem handling terrible Southern California stop and go traffic by itself.
We can verify that from the very big traffic jam returning from Honda Headquarters on the 405 in this test TLX. It worked flawlessly, managing to both steer and manipulate the brake and throttle without driver assist. We were, however, monitoring everything so don’t think you can take a nap on your morning commute just yet. And with this 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD managing to be so agile, fun to drive and oh-so very Audi Quattro-like in its buttoned-down cornering behavior, this car is every inch the premium luxury car. As such it deserves to have a special brand.
The 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD is the car we would buy first money no object. It is just that good. And it’s styling will appear classically timeless even a decade down the road which is not a sure thing for the Maxima or for that matter the 300S. All that the TLX might appear to be lacking when compared to the Chrysler and Nissan is Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility but frankly, the infotainment system design is excellent as is and does feature Siri Eyes Free for Apple iPhone users. That, and our personal favorite feature which is Song by Voice which allows you to use the voice activation system to have the car play a song, album, artist or playlist from your smartphone or even better, the build in music hard drive storage system. With the 2017 Acura TLX, you really can’t go wrong.
Third Place: 2017 Chrysler 300S
There are really no losers amongst these three full-size, luxury performance sedans. All of them are enjoyable to drive, refined and offer all the roominess that a Toyota Avalon or Chevy Impala buyer seeks just with a bit more excitement. They all feature cutting edge active safety features like blind spot warning and can even attempt to autonomously stop the car to varying degrees if they detect an impending accident. Even in the center console Chrysler has engineered in an optional wireless charger right beside a couple of USB ports and something called an AUX-in jack.
So, theoretically, if you have a phone that is capable of wireless recharging you could hop into your 2017 Chrysler 300, toss you phone into the center console armrest cubby and stream your music to the impressive enough, albeit somewhat artificially heavy in the bass department, 10-speaker Beats audio system with a 552-watt amplifier and dual voice coil subwoofer. We can attest to the facts that our test 2017 Chrysler 300S had quite a loud sound system. Almost too loud. Best left at 7/10’s. If you’d like to keep your hearing.
Since its inception many moons ago, Chrysler’s U-Connect infotainment system has improved with leaps and bounds to the point that the 8.4 touch screen variant in our tester was easily the equal of class best. The screen is high resolution and enormous with both Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility if you choose to go that route. If you buy your 2017 Chrysler 300S with the U-Connect 8.4 with built in navigation you also get 5 years free Sirius XM Travel Link and Traffic Plus which is a great way to sell customers on the Chrysler OEM navigation rather than just using Waze.
Our test 2017 Chrysler 300S featured dark silver chrome dash inlays contrasting with black leather sport seats nicely embroidered with a red “S” in to the backrest. If you want wood trim, shinier chrome inside and your more traditional Chrysler 300 experience then check out the 300C or top of the line 300C Platinum. But this is our issue with the 2017 Chrysler 300, because even if you select 300C Platinum you still pay more for the 5.7 liter V8 as well as what they refer to the Safety Tec Plus Group—the package that is essential to bring this car up to the active safety tech level of its newer rivals here.
Oh, yeah, and for all in with every option hitting just over $47,000 we wish that so many interior components from the power window switches to the climate control were not just standard Fiat/Chrysler parts bin items. You do, however, tend to forget all that once you nail the throttle on the 5.7 liter 363 horsepower Hemi V8 which feels most of the time as if it has bottomless amounts of accelerative thrust on offer. Oh, yeah, and it sounds cool doing it. Just don’t tell that to the cop who just caught you doing 120 miles per hour on the freeway.