Nissan's new, seventh-generation Maxima looks great and rides well. It has a V-6 tuned for 35 more horses than last year and new options, including the automaker's Music Box audio system that can store up to 2,900 songs and organize them by mood, artist and title on an onboard computer hard drive.
But don't confuse the 2009 Maxima with its 1990s versions in which Nissan set the bar among Japanese-brand, four-door sports cars.
The new Maxima weighs as much as a Chevrolet Impala, and for the first time has no manual transmission at a new-generation launch. There's not even an automatic transmission.
2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV
BASE PRICE: $30,160 for S; $32,860 for SV.
AS TESTED: $38,285.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, mid-size sedan.
ENGINE: 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6.
MILEAGE: 19 mpg (city), 26 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: 132 mph.
OPTIONS: Sport package (includes heated front seats and steering wheel, paddle shifters, rear spoiler, 19-inch alloy wheels, XM satellite radio, rear bucket seats, Xenon headlights) $2,300; sport technology package (includes 7-inch color monitor, six-CD changer, XM NavTraffic, rearview monitor, 9.3-gigabyte Music Box hard drive) $2,250; floor mats and trunk mat $180.
The only tranny in the new Maxima is Nissan's continuously variable Xtronic gear machine, and while the CVT's efficiency boosts fuel mileage, it seems like a strange installation in a car that requires premium gasoline and touts itself as a sports car.
Perhaps it's more accurate to view it for what it is - the best, most sophisticated, five-passenger sedan in the Nissan brand lineup. Best of all, the changes allow this top Nissan sedan to distance itself from the similarly sized and sometimes similarly styled Nissan Altima sedan.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $30,855 for a 2009 Maxima S with 290-horsepower V-6 and fabric seats is nearly $5,000 more than a 2009 Altima with 270-horsepower V-6, CVT and fabric seats.
It's also more than the $22,775 starting retail price for a mid-size 2009 Honda Civic Si sedan with 197-horsepower four cylinder and manual transmission.
But the new Maxima starts lower in price than a 2009 Acura TL with 270-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission and $35,715 price tag.
The new Maxima earned the top safety rating - five out of five stars - in federal government frontal and side crash testing. Standard safety equipment includes curtain air bags, traction control and electronic stability control but not a rearview monitor.
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