First things first. There is absolutely no reason to fear max load. None whatsoever. Most max loads are at least 1k psi below max pressure for the cartridge, some as much as 4-5k. A load work up should be done, sure, but all max load is these days is factory powered ammo. Even if the velocity is greater the pressure probably isn't. Staying below SAAMI specs is not "hot", just feared by some reloader who are still feeling things out.
I am a believer. I used to automatically assume that keeping my reloads at midpower would give the best results. It was my Bersa Model 83 .380 that made me realize some guns just shoot better at maximum loads, which are actually more like factory level power, as you said.
A strong 3.5-3.6grain HP38 charge under 100gr Berrys RN at .980" gets me 920fp out of the above gun. It took me a little while to get comfortable with the idea of shooting a max load out of a "normal" gun (one not known for its crazy strength, like a Ruger for example) but I am glad I did. Even with a new recoil spring it took these max loads to get the POI down to where it should be in this gun.