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When the current-generation Maxima was launched, a few years, ago, Nissan again termed it "The 4-Door Sports Car;" but we dare say that's a bit of a stretch. While the front-wheel-drive Maxima does have a sporting edge that doesn't infringe on passenger comfort, it doesn't have the packaging sacrifices in the name of performance, and the rear-wheel drive, that a certain crowd expects with that claim. First and foremost, the 2012 Maxima is the flagship sedan of the Nissan model line, offering a beautiful, finely sculpted design, plus more tech and a much more lavish interior than mainstream mid-size sedans like the Altima.
The Maxima gets a number of minor changes inside and out for 2012, but unless you're a serious Maxima geek you'd have to line the 2011 and 2012 models up side by side to see the differences. A new grille is slightly different in appearance, while the taillamp design has been tweaked and there's a new line of 18- and 19-inch alloy wheel designs. Inside, audio and HVAC knobs are new, gauge illumination is now white, and new Dark Piano and Atlantic Cherry trims have been added. The Maxima's look isn't new otherwise, but it remains one of the freshest-looking sedans in this class. It's still head-turning, with curvy sheetmetal, an aggressive front-end design, and an overall stance that makes it look like it could have rear-wheel drive. The cockpit-style instrument panel, in fact, could be right at home in a product from Infiniti.
Smooth, quick acceleration is something the 2012 Nissan Maxima does extraordinarily well. The 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine has a relaxed demeanor in ordinary driving and works well with the automatic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The CVT also includes a manual sport mode and available steering-wheel paddle shifters to access a series of simulated gear ratios for high-performance driving (there's no manual available), and the letdown is that this setup simply doesn't offer the same level of control as conventional transmissions.
Overall, the Maxima has one of the sportiest calibrations of any front-drive sedan, and it's reasonably fun to drive, while the ride is firm it's supple enough for good passenger comfort. Front seats are good in base form, excellent with the Sport Package, which gets you stronger bolsters. The back seat is officially good for three, but it's really just good for two adults and headroom can be a bit tight compared to other sedans this size. The cabin is finished in soft leather, trims feel carefully chosen and coordinated, and detailing is superb. All the typical safety features are included here, but only 'acceptable' ratings in the IIHS roof strength test keep this model from being a top safety performer.
The Maxima otherwise stays true to its name in offering an impressive list of standard luxury features and optional tech extras and comforts. Our only real beef is that if you want the top technology features, they come at a luxury-brand price—and only on the more expensive SV. A power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, keyless entry, an Intelligent Key entry and starting system, a six-disc changer, and steering-wheel audio controls are all standard, though, while a heated steering wheel and cooled front seats are among many options. A Bose premium audio system, a navigation system with 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, XM NavTraffic, XM Satellite Radio, and iPod interfaces. For 2012, a new Limited Edition Package combined HID headlamps, smoked lenses, Dark Hyper Silver wheels, a rear spoiler, and other appearance extras.