First Test: 2009 Nissan Maxima
Thus the mission for the new, seventh-gen car: Reinject the DNA from the cult-building "four-door sports car" first sold for 1989. In fact, this time around Nissan raised the bar even higher, aiming to make the Maxima nothing less than "the best-performing front-drive car in the world.". Nissan's handling target, the car that company engineers compared with the Maxima during development laps around the Nurburgring Nordschleife: the Porsche GT3.
Engine output climbs significantly for 2009. Remapped for premium fuel, the ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6 sports a new intake, reshaped pistons, and a less-restrictive exhaust, among other refinements-helping it deliver 290 horsepower (versus 255 for the 2008 model) and 261 pound-feet of torque (up 9 pound-feet). Yet estimated fuel economy actually improves, to 19/26 city/highway mpg (compared with 19/25 for the outgoing car). An electronically controlled CVT with sport and manual modes is the only transmission offering; paddle shifters are optional.
Nissan engineers took special care to eliminate torque steer (i.e., equal-length, equal-angle half shafts), and it shows. Only when applying maximum power in the tightest corners does the wheel tug in your hands. The suspension rides comfortably but can stir up 0.85 g of grip on demand. Even judging only by seat-of-the-pants impressions, though, it'd be a stretch to say this is the best-handling front-drive car we've ever driven. Perhaps those 19-inch summer Bridgestones make all the difference?