Performance

If you're a car enthusiast, a car with a standard 290-horsepower V-6 engine probably sounds like a good thing. If you kept researching and learned that the power goes to the front wheels via a CVT, though, you might dismiss the car as a bloated beast that would be a handful to control, unable to hold a candle to a rear-wheel-drive equivalent.

That's too bad, though, because those are the Maxima's specs, and this car completely outclasses its competitors in terms of driving dynamics and pure fun.

The engine itself has more power than the competition — besides the turbo V-6 in the more expensive Ford Taurus SHO or the Hemi V-8 in the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger — and gets decent gas mileage: an EPA-estimated 19/26 mpg city/highway, which is nearly identical to a non-turbo Taurus.

The CVT wasn't an issue for me. I own a four-cylinder Subaru Outback with a CVT, and other four-cylinder CVT cars with sporting intentions, like the Suzuki Kizashi, often exhibit an odd sensation under hard acceleration. It's nothing most people will likely notice or complain about, but sport sedan drivers will turn up their noses at the sight of the letters C-V-T.

Without a traditional automatic's familiar shift points, the sensation of acceleration in these cars is quite different from what you're used to, and it can be unsettling. The Maxima transitions from a cruising speed to accelerating instantaneously when you hammer the gas pedal. There isn't the kickdown of a traditional automatic, just acceleration. You'd think this is exactly what driving enthusiasts would like about CVT technology.

What I loved most, though — besides the sound of the V-6 from the huge dual exhaust tips — was the Maxima's handling. At 190.6 inches long overall, it's more than a foot shorter than the Taurus and 7 inches shorter than the Toyota Avalon. This leads to a better-handling car. Never did the Maxima exhibit the body-lean issues those other two have on highway off-ramps. It felt downright nimble by comparison.

You don't give up ride comfort, either. Hit a road imperfection and you'll feel it through the tight suspension a bit more than you would in a Taurus — and definitely more than you would in an Avalon — but the Maxima is composed when cruising on smooth surfaces.

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