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Second-hand: Lighter 2009-12 Nissan Maxima 

Spirited sedan features Infiniti-style finishes inside and has lots of spunk

Is the definition of a sports sedan one that goads you into breaking the law?

?The Acura tells you when you are going too fast. My Maxima says, ?Is that all you?ve got?? seducing you into losing your license. What a machine,? reads a post by a Maxima driver.

Nissan?s ?four-door sports car? had grown into a big, weighty sedan over the years, dwarfing the seminal 1989 model that had knocked critics? socks off.

Fortunately, the new-for-2009 Maxima did a Robert De Niro and shed some pounds and inches to get back into fighting trim.

2009-12 Nissan Maxima

CONFIGURATION

The seventh-generation Maxima went on sale in mid-2008, revealing a more lithe and athletic-looking sedan. Overall length was down by 10 cm and the wheelbase lost 5 cm, although its width had bulked up by almost 4 cm to provide a sportier stance.

The new model was built on the front-drive Nissan D platform, which was shared with the Altima sedan and Murano crossover. This time, the ubiquitous VQ35DE V6 produced 290 hp and 261 lb.-ft. of torque, a good 20 hp more than the version found under the Altima?s hood.

The aluminum 3.5 L DOHC V6 worked exclusively with Nissan?s next-generation continuously variable automatic transmission ? no surprise here, given that Nissan owns Jatco, an industry supplier of CVTs, and is keen to show off its technology.

In the Maxima?s SV trim, the CVT came with metal paddle shifters that controlled six simulated gear ratios. Sadly, the last Maxima with a manual gearbox was sold in 2006. At least the car?s low-friction, high-feel power steering was tuned to provide more feedback.

Inside, Nissan upped its game with finishes that would not have looked out of place in an Infiniti G37. In fact, the similarities were pronounced, but that?s a good thing, given the trend of removing cost out of vehicles these days (that is, making them cheaper).

The Maxima is no penalty box. It?s one of the few cars in which an average-height male?s right knee doesn?t bump against the broad centre console. Owners might be hard-pressed to fit a third adult in the back seat, though, given the snug bolstering applied to what should be a three-place bench.

Standard safety features included four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, antiskid system, and front-side and curtain-side airbags. The Maxima continued with Nissan?s tradition of offering an optional dual-panel moonroof, when the standard sunroof just isn?t enough radiation.

The Maxima barely changed in subsequent years, although it did earn a new grille, taillamps and alloy wheels for 2012.

ON THE ROAD

With the growing popularity of rear-drive sedans like the Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37 and most any Mercedes and BMW, it?s getting harder to make a case for a front-drive sports sedan. Dispatching 290 horses through the same tires that steer the car and do most of the braking is asking a lot. Drivers reported torque steer is noticeable during hard acceleration.

The sporting chassis employed a stiff suspension, one that allowed the grippy Maxima to achieve 0.85 g on a circular skidpad, but one that also displayed a less than serene ride over broken asphalt, of which we have plenty.

The Maxima can accelerate to 96 km/h in 5.8 seconds and complete the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds. Some of its swiftness can be attributed to the ever-ready CVT transmission. The revs build up smoothly in proportion to thrust and, by definition, there?s never a harsh downshift.

Given its spirited performance, the Maxima is largely forgiven by most owners for its thirst for premium fuel. Don?t expect much better than 13 L/100 km (22 mpg) in mixed driving.

WHAT OWNERS SAY

Owners adore the Maxima?s muscular and refined powertrain, posh furnishings, hourglass shape and plethora of reliable electronic toys inside. The first models assembled in Tennessee in 2004 experienced some teething pains, but the latest generation appears to be well sorted with relatively few irksome mechanical faults.

The assist motor that tilts the steering column has been known to work intermittently or fail altogether. The front struts may make a groaning or creaking noise, requiring installation of adhesive-backed tubing over the top of the springs.

Other owner complaints, in small numbers, describe short-lived batteries, wheel shimmy and alignment issues, leaking brake master cylinders and prematurely worn wheel bearings. The CVT transmission has performed reliably, although a few have been stressed in high-temperature operating conditions.

2009-’12 Nissan Maxima

WHAT’S BEST: Quick on its feet, talented CVT, lots of tech for your money.

WHAT’S WORST: Stiff ride, really seats only four, uncool front-driver.

TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2009: $19,000; 2011: $23,000

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