Spring fever in full bloom? Spend some of that energy testing three new sporty sedans scheduled to hit showrooms this month: Nissan's Maxima, the Mazda6s and Saab's new 9-3 Linear Sport. The new 2004 Maxima ($28,000) has a 260-plus horsepower, 3.5-liter, V6 engine that produces 250 lb.-ft. of torque, with larger dimensions than its predecessors. An innovative glass roof insert stretches from front to back.
The Maxima boasts a bold, smoothly sculpted, racy exterior; inside, an optional seating arrangement provides two individual bucket seats for rear passengers. There are two trim levels: the 5-speed automatic or optional sporty, six-speed manual transmission 3.5 SE with 18-inch wheels, and the more luxurious 3.5 SL that includes a four-speed automatic transmission with gated shifter for better control. Both come with a heated steering wheel and heated front seats.
The brand-new 2003 midsized Mazda6s flagship sedan runs $25,860 fully loaded. True to the maker's zoom-zoom sports car spirit, it has 220 horsepower and 192 lb.-ft. of torque in its 3.0-liter, V6 engine. This four-door sedan has muscular proportions and a T-shaped instrument panel like those in the Miata and RX-7 sport coupes. Cruise and audio controls are mounted on the steering wheel, and, unlike most sedans in this category, the Mazda6s runs on regular gas. A wagon is scheduled for release later this year.
If a European sedan is more your style, the smaller, brand-new 2003 Saab 9-3 Linear fits the bill for $25,900. Long and wide, seating five, it nevertheless has a coupe-like profile. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine pumps out 175 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission. General Motors' OnStar telematics system is standard.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 24 years.