2009 Nissan Maxima

The Nissan Maxima was one of the original near-luxury cars, a fast and comfortable sedan that was a real standout, both visually and in its performance. But with the past couple redesigns, the Maxima's star dimmed. Even people within Nissan acknowledged that the car had lost its way.

Now comes an all-new 2009 Maxima, and Nissan is crowing that it's the return of the four-door sports car (that being the Maxima's 1990 tag line). While Nissan is to be credited for turning the Maxima around, this really does not turn the clock all the way back to the Maxima's halcyon days.

The car is completely restyled, and the effort has been largely successful. The length has been trimmed by almost four inches, the wheelbase by about half that much. The track, however, is wider, a fact emphasized by the bulging fenders. The front overhang has been snipped, and what's there is further visually shortened by the angled off corners, which give the new Maxima the athletic look of a rear-wheel-drive car.

We had hoped the Maxima might in fact switch to rear-wheel drive (perhaps borrowing the Infiniti G35's excellent chassis), but alas, it was not to be. The Maxima rides on Nissan's D-sized platform, which also underpins the Altima and the Murano.

Predictably, the reduced length and wheelbase shrinks interior space, which, in a measure of pure volume, is now less than that of the Altima. Still, rear-seat space is okay for adults up to six feet tall, although toe room under the front seats is tight. The outgoing car's restrictive four-seat option, with a rear-seat center console, has been dropped and we can't say that we miss it.

Nor do we miss the odd, undersized, front-to-back, fixed-glass moonroofs in the previous car. In their place is a conventional sunroof or, as an option, a two-piece full glass roof with an opening front section.

The Maxima's interior has received a much-needed, comprehensive upgrade, punctuated by a nice, fat-rimmed steering wheel. Other highs include deeply cushioned armrests, supple leather (an option), logical switches, and a nav screen interface lifted from Infiniti. Only the console and the lower door panels still appear designed to appeal to Nissan/Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn and his once-celebrated persona as "le cost cutter."

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