The new Nissan Maxima is a rolling controversy. Critics have assailed its arched roofline as derivative of Audi or, worse yet, the pedestrian Saturn Ion. And its unusual skylight window running fore to aft in the roof makes the Maxima look like a piggy bank, detractors say. Not me. I find the Maxima elegantly sculpted, and I love that roof window, which reminds me of a skylight in an artist's loft. And the Maxima's luxe interior is plush and handsome, with motorcycle-style gauges, plenty of legroom and a great stereo. My problems are in the sport sedan's traditional areas of strength: ride and handling. On the road the Maxima felt harsh and rough. And its 265-horsepower V-6 didn't pack the punch I've grown used to in other hot-rod models from Nissan, like the Infiniti FX45. Even the Maxima's six-speed manual couldn't satisfy my boy-racer jones. The long stick shift felt ungainly and the gearbox was maddeningly vague--I was constantly shifting from fifth to fourth, instead of up to sixth. To make it a truly sophisticated sports sedan, Nissan needs to smooth out the rough edges and pump up the power.
Tip: For a few thou more, upgrade for the high-tech rear-center console. It makes the back seat feel like a limo.