Maximum joy: Nissan Maxima 3.5SV
I usually start gagging when an auto maker claims that its latest, dull-as-tofu family sedan has the soul of a sports car. That's right up there with calling flavored sugar water a sports energy drink. Lair, liar, pants on fire. But I have to admit that after seven fun-filled days of piloting Nissan's swoopy-shaped Maxima four-door, I was starting to drink the Cool-Aid.Maybe it was the alluring combo of its spunky 290-horse 3.5-liter V6 and fast-responding CVT automatic. Or its laser-precise, speed-sensitive steering, sports-tuned suspension and grippy 19-inch rubberware. Either way, this thing was just a blast to drive, and a true surprise and delight. I was expecting white-rice and instead I got curry-spice. Maybe the Maxima got some of its DNA from Nissan's 350Z sportster, or the mighty Nissan GT-R rocketship. Whatever it was, it paid off. The Maxima certainly isn't the new kid on the block. It's been around since 2008 with no real major changes since. But it says much about the car's bold, curvy, head-turning styling and wide, solid stance that it still looks as fresh and modern today as it did three years ago. And being a Nissan, the Maxima is keenly priced. You can get into a well-equipped 3.5S model for $31,750 with more bells and whistles than a Brookstone store. My favorite was the $34,450 3.5SV I drove – SV stands for Special Value – with its leather seats, Bose audio system and power moonroof. Go for the $2,080 Sport Package and you get 19-inch wheels, tighter sports suspension, paddle shifters and rear bucket seats. For a total of $36,550, that's as sportier a package as Maria Sharapova. And the Maxima is practical, with its stretch-out seating for five, fold-down rear seats and 26 mpg highway economy. A four-door sports car? That's stretching it a little. But the Maxima has certainly been working out at the gym. Tampa-based auto writer Howard Walker can be reached at email@example.com.