Nissan's trying to sell its new big sedan as the "four-door sports car." We say: optimistic. Where we come from (planet Earth-it's not much, but it has brought us the EVO and the Skyline), sports cars don't have front-wheel drive, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), or lots of weight-adding extras like satellite navigation and sumptuously bolstered seats.
That said, the '09 Maxima (now in its seventh generation) makes a great daily driver for someone with perhaps more mature tastes and obligations. This car is based on the same platform as the Altima (both sedan and coupe) and the Murano. Pretty much anything with a 3.5L VQ-series V-6 in its nose is going to have some degree of fun and the Maxima's 290 bhp/261 lb-ft is applied to the road with an admirably moderate amount of torque steer. Nissan says it benchmarked the Acura TL while developing this car.
The CVT, usually the most hateful of all transmissions, is actually...OK. Still, no substitute for a well-made manual, but it's way quicker than that thing in the first-gen Murano. Quieter too.
The Premium trim model rivals an Infiniti for quality (the Maxima in general looks a lot like something from Nissan's upscale arm), while the Sport model is slightly stiffer. Strange that there are no plans for a hybrid version in this day and age, but Nissan is promising an oil-burning model for next year, running a 3.0L V-6 turbodiesel. But, what are the odds on diesel being $10 a gallon by then? We are getting ever closer with each passing day.
And if there ever was to be any sports car flavor in the Maxima, it might be found at the front. Look at those radical headlamps. Bearing Nissan's new favorite design cue, the ones on the new 370Z could be extremely similar. Prices for all models are in the $30,000 ballpark.
New Acura NSX:Faster Than The GT-R?
Let the games begin. Acura's next supercar, assumed to be the next-generation NSX, has been making some waves around Germany's famed Nrburgring Nordschliefe, possibly the most demanding circuit in the world. Although no one outside Honda knows for sure what the NSX is packing, the smart money is on a 550 bhp, 5.5L V-10 coupled to an eight-speed transmission with the now-obligatory paddle shifters.
Whatever it has, the NSX can polish off the 14.2-mile-long track and its 120-plus corners in an unofficial time of 7 minutes and 37 seconds-just 8 seconds shy of the Nissan GT-R's official time, which is pretty much the fastest any production car has ever done. And, because the 'Ring is open to the public, the NSX had other traffic on the course too. Considering this is still a car in development and not sporting many aerodynamic aids, it looks like the GT-R should enjoy its time in the sun while it still can. Come 2010, when the NSX and the Lexus LF-A (also rumored to have V-10 power) should be hitting the market, there may be a new king of the 'Ring. But then the GT-R V-Spec will also be out. Good times.
A Buzz Around The Hornet
Chrysler isn't dead yet. And, shock of shocks, it might even have a hit on its hands with the Dodge Hornet. Looking like something to rival a Mini Cooper, the Hornet will make the transition from interesting concept to full-blown production model with a little help from Nissan, who is building the car for Chrysler.
So, the Hornet will be based on the same platform as the currently available front-drive Versa (known overseas as the Tiida). It could be out as early as next year, as a 2010 model. It will be aimed slightly upscale to appeal to potential Mini customers. And although the BMW-produced compact has two passenger doors (well, three for a Clubman), the Hornet looks as if it has two rear suicide doors, Mazda RX-8-style.
We've haven't made much of a ruckus in our pages about the new Saturn Astra XR. Which might be doing it something of a disservice. Even though Saturn rarely fuels the dreams of gearheads, the Astra is based on an Opel of the same name. Well, it is the Opel to be exact, only with a different badge. But Opel (GMs' European operation, based in Germany) makes a darn fine-handling, front-drive compact.
And the good news is that all those automotive traits valued by people from the Old World-such as responsive steering, throttle-modulated cornering attitudes and manual gearboxes-have not been dumbed down for the residents of Hicksville, USA. It's powered by a 1.8L Ecotec four, that develops 140 bhp and 126 lb-ft of torque, reportedly hitting 60 mph from a standstill in eight seconds flat. No spine-tingler, but there are plenty of tuners who know how to get more juice from this thing. It also takes rather well to turbocharging, thanks to that tough iron block.
The Astra's base price is around $17,875. Many people (including us) gripe about not being able to buy the (relatively) sophisticated, current-generation, Euro-spec Ford Focus, so they put the Mazda3 on its own custom-built pedestal. But the three-door Astra XR provides another feasible option for those that are obsessed with European inspired performance.
Even the most dedicated of sport compact fans should get to try a few different types of cars every now and then. Especially rental cars. In a road rally. With the extra insurance box ticked.
Rental car giant Hertz is about to make dreams come true for hooliganism with a new Corvette that's a little easier to borrow than going to a Chevy showroom and trying to snag a week-long test drive. As part of the company's Fun Collection, this special-edition Corvette ZHZ is available in 24 metropolitan areas around the U.S. Sorry to those of you in the countryside, you'll have to make do with a rally rental Aveo.
This is a joint project between Hertz and General Motors, taking the base model, painting it with a bespoke Hertz livery of yellow and black, and installing a performance exhaust system for a little extra aural punch and six more horses than the original's 430 bhp. Unfortunately, it only comes available with a six-speed, paddle shifted automatic transmission.
A week's rental of the ZHZ comes to $780.49, which puts the 'ouch' into Hertz, but sometimes you don't want to abuse your own car through the One Lap of America. Just don't let Hertz catch you, or they'll release the dogs. And if anybody asks, you didn't get the idea from us.
Rumors & Lies
* It now looks pretty certain that Porsche will take over Volkswagen. If that happens, there might be a smaller sporty model wearing the famed Stuttgart badge. Think of it as a Porsche GTI, something to take the fight to the BMW 1 Series. And expect it around 2012.
* Scion is celebrating its fifth anniversary of being in America. During that time, it has sold over 620,000 cars and changed the way vehicle brands are marketed. In a strange quirk of statistics, the average age of tC coupe drivers is 35, although 35-year-old tC drivers are a rarity. Most people in that stage of life are married and with a young family, so they'd be in something like a minivan or sedan. It's young people and empty-nesters who usually buy the tC, which skews the median figure.
* Toyota is working on a third-generation Prius and a completely new hybrid, but these won't be out for a while. In the meantime, a five-door Yaris-with updated styling, new colors, and iPod compatibility-joins the increasingly popular small car segment.
* An all-new '09 Acura TL is on the way, sporting similar styling to the new Accord and TSX models. Despite a new look, drivetrains shouldn't differ too much from what's on offer now, with the biggest engine having a V-6 configuration. However, Honda's all-wheel-drive system (SH AWD) might find its way onto a model or two.
* Someone at Ford cares about us. At long last, Americans can say goodbye to the antiquated Ford Focus we've had to endure while Europeans have been feasting on the good stuff. The next generation of Focus will be a truly global model, with production taking place in the U.S. Just one problem; we'll have to wait until the end of 2010. Sigh.
* Rumors of a rear-wheel-drive Silvia replacement from Nissan continue unabated, with sources suggesting that the new coupe could come out as early as 2010. Reportedly built on a shortened version of the Z's FM platform and powered by either a 1.6- or 1.8-liter turbocharged four, Nissan is aiming to keep both weight and cost at a minimum. A 2.0-liter engine is also under consideration, utilizing both direct injection and Nissan's Variable Compression Ratio (VCR) system. When partnered with a small turbo, this could produce between 140 and 215bhp to balance performance and fuel efficiency. And don't be surprised if a hybrid option is available.
Spocom Invades Long Beach
For the second year in a row, the SpoCom (as in, sport compact) car show opened its doors, this time at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif. The show, billed as "the premiere sport compact automotive event", had on hand loads of display cars, parts, and girls.
But, it really wouldn't warrant appearing in these pages if it didn't have anything to do with going fast. Scantily clad import models and show cars with anodized and polished underbodies are cool and all, but we leave that kind of stuff to the guys at Super Street and Import Tuner.
Because you read Sport Compact Car, we know the biggest reason you'd attend SpoCom (besides the girls, even if you wouldn't admit it) is for the industry presence. Having more in common with the now-defunct open to the public International Auto Salon, previously put on by SEMA, SpoCom had booths and representatives from many of the most popular vendors in the aftermarket industry. If you had any setup or application questions for the guys from Energy Suspension, Five: AD wheels, Nitto Tires, K&N, HKS, Hasport, DC Sports, or many other guys on hand, you could just ask them in person and in the same place. It's the easiest way to get all of the questions you may have about your parts handled in person in one day. At least with the SpoCom show, you won't have to print up fake business cards and try to sneak into SEMA.