2009 Nissan Maxima

Despite some very smart technology, still hindered by its front driving wheels

The Maxima may look like a rear-wheel-drive car, but there is little doubt of its front-wheel-drive setup when you're behind the wheel. Nissan did a fair amount of work making the sedan a sporty proposition but there is only so much you can do with nearly 300 hp running through the front wheels. Yes, the rear end does some of the work while cornering briskly, but that strong V-6 engine overwhelms the chassis quickly. Nissan fit the Maxima with a quick steering rack but the steering effort is far too light at low speeds and slightly too heavy at highway speeds. Additionally, torque steer creeps in far too often, even at higher speeds. We could forgive some of those faults if the sport package-equipped Maxima rode better, but the large wheels and stiffer suspension give the Nissan a very brittle ride. We do like that the CVT transmission works well when driving the Maxima at a normal pace. Also, the manual mode is very capably follows the driver's intent when swapping ratios. It's only when you floor the accelerator in automatic mode that you encounter the usual CVT quirk of the engine sitting at a near-constant high RPM as the car accelerates.

Trying too hard to be sporty

Nissan really did inject a fair amount of sport back into the Maxima but the end result is a car that is slightly confused. Our sport-package-equipped test car didn't handle well enough to be a sports sedan or ride well enough to be a luxury car. We expect that the standard car with its eighteen-inch wheels and softer suspension might be a better package overall. In the end, Nissan engineers didn't build a four-door sports car. They did add some much-needed style to the Maxima but if they wanted to make a true sports sedan, they should have started with the rear-wheel-drive platform that underpins the Infiniti G35/37 and the 350Z and they should offer a manual transmission. It's only when you look at the Maxima as a stylish offering in the near-luxury market and not a back roads dancer that it begins to make sense.

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