BLUE RIDGE, Ga. -- The pedal's on the floor and those low-profile performance tires are talking as we cruise the way-curvy 515 highway coursing over Blue Ridge foothills of north Georgia in a 2011 Maxima 3.5 SV, Nissan's muscular mid-size touring sedan.
With its sport-tuned suspension, responsive rack and pinion steering, enormous disc brakes linked to electronic vehicle control devices and awesome torque flowing from a high-tech aluminum engine, Maxima is an impressive vehicle that's nimble and quick and utterly fun to drive.
We see it as a four-door sports car.
A seventh-generation remake of Maxima occurred in 2009 with the wheelbase snipped by several inches and edgy sheetmetal forging the aggressive package styling.
For 2011 editions, Nissan adds some new exterior paint choices (Brilliant Silver and Metallic Slate) and a Sport Package option.
The Sport Package applies 19-inch aluminum alloy Light Hyper Silver wheels with 245/40VR19 all-season tires, a sport-tuned suspension, tail spoiler, xenon headlamps, heated exterior mirrors, heated front bucket seats and steering wheel, paddle shifters, premium leather upholstery and rear bucket seats with console, metallic-finish cockpit trim, smoked headlamp covers and dark chrome grille.
Note the keen shape of taut skin stretching over muscular shoulders and flat side panels interrupted by bulging fenders.
Inspiration for the design came from the twin-hull format of a sleek catamaran sailboat.
Exaggerated blisters on front fenders are separated by a broad hood that slopes down from the rear-canted windshield to a low prow scored with three horizontal bars of a chrome grille.
The double-hull shape lends visual breadth but also contributes to the car's keen score for aerodynamics. In addition, the design achieves nil lift at the front end, meaning front wheels will remain pinned against the pavement when running at speed without wind interference attempting to push the vehicle upward.
At the back of an arching roof the rear pillars work out a unique design that suggests a coupe-like silhouette.
And the tail is tall with a smooth deck over the trunk.
Trailing below Maxima's back bumper are dual exhaust mufflers with new rolled-edge tailpipe finisher tips.
The base-issue wheels are big and fat -- measuring 8 by 18 inches with ten-spoke aluminum alloys painted silver.
Wheels also spread wide on the chassis, as the wheel track width measures to 62.4 inches front and back.
Pushing wheels to edges of the platform adds stability to the stance and enhances Maxima's agility when cornering.
Maxima's suspension is totally independent with lightweight aluminum components.
In front there's a strut design isolated on a subframe.
In back a multi-link arrangement -- also isolated on a subframe -- produces firm stability to keep Maxima's tail in line by minimizing camber change when tracking through a tightly wound corner.
A vented disc brake stands at every wheel and all tie by computerized links to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake assist (EBA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
Further, every Maxima model carries a traction control system (TCS) plus Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which checks lateral skidding on slippery pavement.
Other safety systems include a sturdy steel cage surrounding the passenger compartment and plenty of air bags concealed in the passenger compartment. The collection includes dual-stage frontal air bags plus side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags mounted in the roof above front and rear outboard seats.
Maxima stocks a seriously powerful engine.
The juicy VQ35 3.5-liter V6 has DOHC (dual overhead cams) and four valves for each of six cylinders plus CVTCS (continuously variable timing control system).
It delivers top-grade beef -- 290 hp at 6400 rpm with 261 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
The engine links to Nissan's Xtronic continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
It never shifts from one gear to another because the CVT eliminates step-ratio gears of a conventional automatic transmission as well as the resultant shift shock. Instead, two variable diameter pulleys and a strong steel belt work to match the engine's output with the vehicle's speed, ultimately producing seamless acceleration.
The CVT features DRM (downshift rev matching) and ASC (adaptive shift control) with MSM (manual shift mode) and the optional solid magnesium paddle shifters perched on the steering wheel for hands-on-wheel shifting manipulations.
Maxima's cockpit provides twin front bucket seats and a rear bench with two sculptured positions but room for three.
Nissan constructs the 2011 Maxima in two trims -- 3.5 S and 3.5 SV.
Maxima 3.5 S is the price-leader edition although it carries a lot of standard equipment.
The list of stock gear includes a twin-zone automatic climate system, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, cruise control and a trip computer, intelligent key with push-button starter, driver's seat with eight-way power and passenger's seat with four-way power, seats clad in premium cloth upholstery, a power moonroof and an audio system with eight speakers and AM/FM/CD6/MP3.
Maxima 3.5 S adds more premium equipment -- leather covering the seats, foglamps in front fascia, turn signal repeaters in exterior mirrors, driver's bucket with power lumbar and thigh extension, and a Bose sound kit with nine speakers and speed-sensitive volume control plus RDS (Radio Data System) and XM satellite radio service.
But optional packages apply even more equipment.
The new Sport Package adds those performance upgrades, the Premium Package installs luxurious cabin amenities, a Tech Package brings the Nissan Hard Disc Navigation System with Voice-Recognition and a Monitor Package nets a seven-inch touch-screen color monitor and RearView Monitor.
Nissan marks the MSRP on a 2011 Maxima 3.5 S at $30,810, or $33,530 for the Maxima 3.5 SV.