Nissan used the Acura TL as its benchmark when it redesigned the Maxima, as the Altima competes directly with the Honda Accord. Both cars are front wheel drive, and deliver a responsive driving experience. However, where the TL suffers from torque steer, Nissan keeps it to a minimum in the Maxima.

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The unique shape of the headlights is immediately obvious with the new Maxima. These angular casings mimic other lines on the car. The lights themselves aren't particularly advanced, with no cornering feature or LED parking lights, a recent innovation adopted by Audi and Cadillac.

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Although Nissan representatives on hand at the preview wouldn't mention the i-word, the Maxima gets some styling cues from Infiniti. The inset hood and the rising fenders can also be seen on the Infiniti G35. We like the look of the G35, and the styling works well on the Maxima.

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The Maxima uses the latest generation of Nissan's VQ engine, a 3.5-liter V-6. This engine produces 290 horsepower, up 35 horsepower from the previous generation, and 261 foot-pounds of torque, a 9 pound-feet gain.

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In our drive, we found the new Maxima responsive. It handles well, without floating on the corners, although it does lean. The car can be had as a base, sport, or luxury trim model. The sport version gets a stiffened suspension, but the suspension felt firm even in the luxury trim model we drove. Over rough surfaces, we concluded the suspension felt about right for a car priced about $30,000.

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The taillights employ a unique shape, similar to the headlights, and blend in nicely with the body lines. The lights are composed of 12 LEDs in each side. You can tell this is the sport version by the small spoiler. The luxury and base models don't have this spoiler.

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The available Bose audio system employs two rear deck speakers along with tweeters and mids in the sides. Most of the electronics in the dashboard are the same as in Infiniti models, including an iPod interface and 9.3 gigabyte hard drive storage for music.

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The paddle shifters are attached to the steering column, so they don't rotate with the steering wheel, which we like. They control Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Although we had our doubts, this transmission worked very well in both manual and automatic modes. There is also a sport position that simulates shift points, although a Nissan representative pointed out that it is faster to 60 mph in the normal automatic drive mode.

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This navigation system and interface is the same as in the Infiniti M and G series. As Nissan's newest generation navigation system, it is hard drive-based, and so performs quick route calculations and map refreshing. XM NavTraffic comes with this system.

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This destination entry screen shows Nissan's curved menu design, a theme repeated throughout the interface for navigation, audio system, and Bluetooth cell phone integration.

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The navigation-equipped Maxima also has a six CD changer, on the instrument panel below the LCD, and a compact flash slot. An iPod port is mounted in the console, and XM satellite radio is available.

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When the navigation option isn't present, you get this instrument panel. It still has a six CD changer, but the auxiliary jack moves up to the face plate. Climate control buttons take the place of the navigation system multifunction controller below the LCD.

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Lacking navigation, Nissan replaces the LCD with this LED screen. It shows audio and climate control information. The big numbers and letters are easy to read, but seemingly designed to use up the vast space afforded here.

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