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 feels equally at home wafting smoothly up to speed or charging into quick two-lane passes; and by some accounts, it can get to 60 mph in well under six seconds.
While we're not a fan of most continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs), the one in the Maxima works just fine. 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); the only 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, With its sport-tuned suspension, as well as steering and brakes that have been tuned for sportier driving, it has the makings of a solidly performing sporty sedan.
But when Nissan first rolled out this generation of the Maxima it redubbed the model the "4-Door Sports Car"--which is something this model can't deliver on, for several reasons. Firstly, while the CVT works okay in real-world driving, it's not a good substitute for either a manual gearbox or a good quick-shifting automatic when the road turns mountainous or curvy. It comes with a manual sport mode and available steering-wheel paddle shifters to access a series of simulated gear ratios for high-performance driving, but overall the CVT simply doesn't allow the level of control in high-performance driving that conventional transmissions do. Secondly, the Maxima's front-wheel drive layout, as much as it does the job, won't win any respect from sport-sedan purists.
The one other issue: Stomp down on the gas, especially out of a corner, and you'd better be holding on the steering wheel tightly; depending on the situation, there can be more than a little tugging to the side (torque steer).
Overall, the Maxima has a firm yet supple ride, allowing good handling response without sacrificing comfort. Stabilizer bars are included front and back, and in spirited driving, a new Twin Orifice Steering System helps provide good feedback from the road, while remaining rather light around tight corners. But the other reason the Maxima simply isn't a sports car is that it has front-wheel drive, which, even when combines with the Maxima's generally excellent suspension—with buttoned-down body motions and somewhat communicative steering—tends simply not to be much fun when driven near its limit. The way in which it responds, steers, and brakes is quicker and more direct than most other large V-6 sedans.