Test Drive: Nissan Maxima

Seven generations and a Bluebird ago, Nissan — well actually it was Datsun at that time — brought forth into the U.S. market a large sedan and called it Maxima.? (During the original generation, 1976-1980, it was called the Bluebird Maxima before the Bluebird flew away.)

Like any car wearing the same brand for 34 years, Maxima has evolved greatly and along the way it was tagged intermittently as ?The 4-Door Sports Car?? because of its sporty attributes. ?For 2010, it?s back.

Generation seven started in 2009, with a dramatic top to bottom redesign. ?The result is crisp masculine lines with muscular shoulders and tightly tailored hood.

Under the hood, is the latest generation of Nissan?s award winning V-6 engine.? The all-aluminum engine, rated at 290 horsepower, drives the front wheels with the best Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) in the business.? Nissan has mastered the CVT so that it not only maximizes fuel economy but gives the driver better control with the ability to shift between six preset ratios with shifts quicker than an automatic transmission.?? Manual shifting can be done in a special gate on the shifter or with the paddles attached to the steering column. ?The EPA gives the Maxima a 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway rating.? We averaged 24.3 mpg during our week behind the wheel.

Normally this much horsepower in a front-wheel drive car means torque steer.? However, with new lightweight suspension components, a more rigid body and frame structure plus a new CVT design, engineers virtually eliminated the sideways pull of torque steer.? The Maxima engineers even spent development time at the famed N?rburgring circuit, and we doubt many front-wheel drive cars can make that claim. ??The result is arguably the best performing front engine, front-wheel drive car in the world, plus it has class-leading acceleration, braking and handling.? Zero to 60 mph takes only 5.8 seconds and top track speed is limited to 149 mph.

Maxima doesn?t mask it?s roadworthiness with a soft ride and mushy steering, rather the ride is taunt, and the steering noticeably quick and accurate.

As the Nissan flagship sedan, Maxima gets a commensurate level of luxury, comfort and technological goodies.

Available in two trim levels, S and SV, pricing starts at $31,180, including the destination charge, for the S.? Our SV test car sticker listed $33,180 at the top and $37,310 at the bottom after adding a $3,230 Premium Package, floor mats and the destination charge.? Checking all the available option boxes takes the Maxima to just over $41,000.

The standard and options columns on our test car Monroney include things like climate controlled driver?s seat, HID headlights, a 2GB Flash Music Box?, Bose audio and moonroof.? Conspicuously absent on a test car of this level was the $1,850 hard drive-based navigation system, but at least it has the screen displaying climate, audio functions and the rear backup camera image.

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