Nissan markets the Maxima as a four-door sports car. While that may be going a bit far, it certainly is a sports sedan. Front-wheel drive means it isn't as naturally balanced as rear-wheel-drive cars such as the Infiniti G or BMW 3 Series. However, the Maxima has six engine mounts, and the engine is mounted quite low in the chassis for a lower center of gravity and better handling. The suspension uses aluminum components and a geometry chosen for handling capabilities. We found the front-wheel-drive generates virtually no torque-steer, even under full throttle, an impressive bit of tuning on Nissan's part.
We found the Nissan Maxima SV Sport felt agile, glued to the road and ready to play, with no hint of harshness in the ride. Of course, the Sport package is aided by the front crossbrace and the elimination of the split-folding rear seat, both of which add rigidity. (We're inclined to think the rear-seat brace makes the bigger difference.) The base model is likely plenty sporty, too, but not as precise when pushed hard.
The speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering system is shared with the 370Z sports car, and it makes the driver feel connected, truly part of the steering and driving process, and it's never over-boosted. The ABS brakes have vented rotors both front and rear, for superior fade-resistance and added braking power under severe conditions.
The Maxima comes with a strong, responsive 3.5-liter V6 engine. With 290 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 261 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, the V6 is at the top of the class in terms of power development for its size, but it's not peaky or cranky because the valve and intake systems keep it optimized for just about any gear and rev range. It has both variable valve timing and a variable intake system. The latter opens wide at about 4500 rpm, wide enough that you can hear the engine sound change dramatically, adding to the driving enjoyment. The Maxima is EPA-rated at 19 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway.
The engine is smooth right up to the 6200 rpm redline. The only time it gets loud is when the engine intake system switches over into high-flow mode above 4500 rpm. The rest of the time, the car is very quiet inside, with very little intrusion from the outside world. We are reminded once again Nissan builds superb V6s.
Power is plentiful throughout the rev range. This makes the car enjoyable to drive, and if you can keep your foot out of it, you can get better mileage than the 26 mpg EPA Highway label. If you keep your foot in it, expect 0-60 mph times of 5.8 seconds or less.
Much to the chagrin of some critics, the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is the only transmission available. As with a traditional automatic, the driver need do nothing to change ratios except step on the gas pedal. The CVT has a virtually unlimited number of gear ratios, but it also includes a manual mode with six preset drive ratios that the driver can select for sportier driving. We found it a joy to use in either mode. According to Nissan, the Xtronic CVT software contains more than 700 shifting algorithms to cope with every driving situation in every gear from idle to full-throttle, and the transmission can shift 30 percent faster than a human can manually. In the Sport Drive mode, the shifts are lightning quick, and Nissan has programmed it to include a very sporty throttle blip on every downshift.