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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV Sport

By: James Riswick
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There's a certain type of executive in this country, one who doesn't go to work in a big-city high rise and one who's never going to be interviewed by that screaming guy on CNBC. Instead, this working-class exec has an office attached to the company's frozen food factory or the paper distribution warehouse. He (or she, certainly) makes good money and desires a luxury car, but doesn't want to show up flaunting a fancy-pants Bimmer or Benz in the same parking lot as the employees' Saturns and Sunfires. Or perhaps more likely, the company car policy just doesn't include that Bimmer and Benz.

For our working-class exec, we can think of no better car than the 2009 Nissan Maxima. With all its luxe bells and high-tech whistles, this is an honest-to-goodness luxury sedan for those who don't want or can't have the stigma or price associated with a luxury badge. This is a darn good car that rights the deviated course of a nameplate once dubbed the "4-Door Sports Car." While the 2009 Maxima is not quite the 4DSC its marketers are touting once again, it is a car with few flaws that's one of the best-handling front-drive sedans available — and that's without our test car's Sport package that sullied the ride.

This entire working-class exec concept might seem a little counterintuitive in today's America that's obsessed with designer labels, celebrity restaurants and the biggest wheels they can fit on their ride. So really, it wouldn't be surprising if high-end Maximas like our test car struggle to move from dealerships — a $37,000 price tag on a Nissan will be a tough pill to swallow given that vehicles with more desirable badges are available for the same price. However, those similarly priced cars don't come with all of the Maxima's neat-o toys, while several are quite simply inferior. We just hope there are enough working-class execs around to take notice.

Like all Maximas, our Sport model was powered by a 3.5-liter V6 good for 290 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which provides infinite "gear" ratios that keep the engine in its ideal power band. It also maximizes fuel economy, which is an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

At our test track, the Maxima 3.5 SV Sport test car achieved a 0-60-mph time of 6.3 seconds, which is in the ballpark of top entry-level luxury cars' performance. In the real world, the potent V6 felt equally strong, and unlike other CVTs, the Maxima's is well suited to its engine. Still, those who've never driven a CVT-equipped car may initially feel like the Maxima is stuck in a hopelessly tall 1st gear, but most get used to it. The CVT can simulate six gear ratios that are controlled via steering-column paddles or the console lever. This mode can be quite fun during aggressive driving thanks to its lightning-quick shift response.

A particular bright spot in the generally shining 2009 Nissan Maxima is the wonderfully light and precise steering that should be appreciated by both driving enthusiasts and casual commuters alike. With its combination of low-friction weighting and high feedback, the Maxima's steering can be manipulated with the delicate touch of one's fingertips on the well-formed steering wheel as every nuance of the road is transmitted from tires to skin. This, in combination with a taut chassis derived from the Altima, produces impressive handling that should please all but the most demanding enthusiasts
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