If you've ever wondered why you never see a Maxima driver who appears to be having a bad day, it's all because of the car's 3L DOHC "VQ" V-6. We're certain.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. knocked us for a loop when it introduced the VQ to go along with the all-new-for-'95 Maxima. The engine has won a spot on our Ten Best Engines list every year since.

Need evidence that the VQ is everyday fabulous? Barely a month into our year-long, extended-durability test of the VQ (and, of course, the Maxima itself), we looked down to see the car already had traveled more than 5,000 miles (8,000 km). Our staff clearly enjoys using this engine.

We of course opted for a Maxima SE that permitted us to hook the VQ to a 5-speed manual transmission. The first few logbook entries tell all: "This engine is a gem." "A delightful performance sedan." "The most linear throttle response you'll find this side of a BMW."

Nearly everyone who's driven the Maxima agrees that this car is more satisfying dynamically and a demonstrably more pleasing performer than either the Toyota Camry and its 3L V-6 or the Honda Accord V-6. Yet somehow the Maxima has never played in the Accord/Camry league. Let's just say we're convinced of the "undiscovered treasure" status we've always accorded the Maxima.

The 3L VQ develops 190 hp at 5,600 rpm and 205 ft.-lbs. (278 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm. Good, solid numbers, but they don't really tell the VQ story. The engine's flexibility is startling, particularly at the low end, where meaningful acceleration is available in any gear from 2,000 rpm onward. And the high-rpm smoothness is downright uncanny. It's not unusual to be zinging along the freeway at 85 mph (137 km/h) and realize you haven't felt the need to shift out of third gear.

The Maxima was delivered with zero defects, although the VQ did require a half-quart oil topoff at around 5,000 miles. There are few quibbles with the car itself, other than its largely unexciting sheetmetal.We're looking forward to many miles with the VQ and this well executed performance sedan.