Infiniti G35 Review

Infiniti G35 Review"If at first you don't succeed, lower your standards." Obviously a harmless little joke, but Infiniti took it to heart. You may recall that in 1990, Nissan's then-new premium division did a clutch-drop launch into the luxury car market that resulted in little more than a sales stall. After a few more generally good cars that didn't fare much better, a dejected management started resorting to decontenting, penny-pincher engineering, and slapping new badges on old Nissans - practices that ran so rampant that by 2000, Infiniti was running around with a 4-cylinder, front-drive, dead axle-suspended economy car with plasticky leather and less muscle than an Oldsmobile Alero.

Making mistakes is one thing. Giving up is another.

But just when the end seemed so near, news set forth about a fresh product that was to be called G35. Another warmover of the G20 (the car described above)? Nope. With two times the firepower from a "Ward's Ten Best Engines" V6, a properly suspended rear-wheel-drive chassis, more human space, a look no one had seen and a price no one could believe, the G20 and G35 have about as much in common as Linkin Park and a Lincoln Town Car. Everything about the G35 that needed to be new, was, and what little was shared was something you'd probably want.

Meet Infiniti's revised opinion on what constitutes entry-level luxury.

Road TestInfiniti G35 Review
The G35 is everything the G20, M30, J30, and I35 wish they could have been. It's got the agility of the first, the powertrain layout of the second and third, and even more power than the last, all rolled into one. Like each of those, it's also got the essential harmony between the mechanicals that elevate the car as a whole beyond its shiny specs sheet.

But since power alone is probably responsible for drawing in half the G35's crowd, let's start there. The G35 uses Nissan's omnipresent 3.5-liter V6, a proven piece of big-bore, high-tech, variable-valve-timed aluminum whose initial competition-crushing figure of 260 horses has already been kicked up to 280. Everyone else recently started scurrying to catch up - the G35 now trails a 306-HP Lexus - but it's hard to imagine anyone's needs not being met by this engine's prompt service off-the-line, through the midrange, or at the high end. Just to illustrate the level of flexibility here, most cars shift down a gear or two when asked to maintain a 70 MPH cruise up an incline. The G35 can run all the way to 100 while locked in fifth. And you can lock it thanks to the segment's best automatic transmission - one that shifts quickly and quietly, grants total control in manual mode, and has the unique ace-up-the-sleeve feature of pre-revving the engine on downshifts for smoother engagements.

Such power allows more creativity in the handling since the G35 lays it down the proper way: by pushing, not pulling. Well, our all-wheel-drive "G35x" actually does both, sending 3/4ths of the power to the back wheels and the rest forward. That can slide by up to 1/4th in either direction - 0/100 when cruising to save gas, 50/50 when it's slippery underfoot - and can also be locked in 50/50 by pressing the "Snow" button (which has the side-effect of slowing down throttle response). AWD lets the G35 walk straight in the rain and nearly immunizes it from power oversteer. (It still fishtails rather suddenly when the brakes are stabbed, however.) A downside is how the extra front weight and workload cause the front tires to give up sooner, but the power bias maintains most of the G35's rear-wheel-drive feel and able handling.

Infiniti left out no details while imbuing the G35 with sports sedan character. Those brakes speak for themselves: stopping in 110 feet from 60 MPH (in a rear-drive car with 18-inch wheels, the optimal sample) is one neck-snappingly short distance, especially for a machine of this bulk. And at 3,650 pounds, the G35x really isn't bulky for its size thanks to the aluminum engine, suspension, and hood. The quick-response steering and firm all-multilink suspension make it feel alive, and while this Infiniti doesn't meet the BMW standard of road feel, it's nice to see a Japanese car with some heft in the helm.

The G35's average 21 MPG is put to good use by an above-average 20-gallon tank. If you ignore the paranoid low-fuel light that sounds the alarm five gallons early (just like in Nissan's own Maxima), you can burn through 400 miles on all-freeway runs.

Finally, comfort is kept in check. The G35's firmer-than-expected shocks make for a somewhat rocky ride at times (especially at the lowest speeds), but they still shave the sharp edges off all bumps. The tires are also too audible on cruddy streets, but aside from them and the intentionally vocal engine (which you want to hear), it's quiet.

If the G35 sounds like it can do it all, it pretty much can. But Infiniti's quest for liveliness led to a few instances of hyperactivity. Turn the steering wheel and the car immediately darts in response. Touch the brakes and the big initial bite lurches you forward. Tap the gas and you lurch right backward, due in part to the transmission's tendency to downshift when you're not looking. (When using cruise control, it also downshifts to fulfill even modest acceleration requests.) This particular chauffeur quickly grew tired of sarcastic passenger complaints like "you're gonna snap our necks" and "there are other people in this car, you know." And take it from a former Nissan 200SX owner that grabby brakes quickly lead to a long-term leg-ache if your commute resembles the average American's: 20 miles of freeway at 2 MPH in stop-and-go traffic. Does anyone remember the early 90s, back when Infinitis had the most phenomenally perfect steering and pedals in the world?

The multi-talented G35 has learned every trick in the book. It could learn some manners.

Inside & OutInfiniti G35 Review
The G35's initially gossip-inspiring shape seems to have grown on everyone. It's one of the more successful cases of form following function, as the slippery appearance is backed up by its low 0.27 drag coefficient and a cabin that's larger than it looks. Model year 2005 brought about the new wheels and taillights.

The G35 never won any awards for inner beauty, but 2005 also brought about measures to amend that. The still-orange displays traded in their dull Courier New-style font for one with character. The stereo and button-happy climate controls are still victims of Nissan's laziness in not turning them around for left-hand-drive America, but the rocker switches for temperature and volume have matured into knobs. The wrist cuff-style air vents still feel cheap, but the new cupholders are expensive, the new authentic aluminum looks sharp, the new transmission lever looks and feels slicker, and the steering wheel now adjusts for reach. Aside from two small gloveboxes stacked where one big box would make more sense, unintuitive power seat controls mounted oddly on the top of the seats, and a steering wheel that obstructs the gauges when fully extended (despite claims to the contrary), ergonomics are sound and all pieces move with well-oiled precision. And who doesn't love Infiniti's tradition of windows that rush open like lightning? This cabin is now first class.

As with the look, they've been tweaking with the sound. The G35's 6-disc stereo has traded its tape deck for MP3 playback (definitely a fair trade), with either XM or Sirius satellite radio optional. Infiniti no longer publishes specs, but if nothing has changed, the standard six-speaker stereo and woofer-enhanced seven-speaker Bose should cough up 120 and 200 watts. The Bose kicks out some decent tunes - more decent than the 14-speaker Bose in Infiniti's own M35, if I'm not mistaken.

The G35 also has (optionally) Intelligent Key, the innovation that took keyless entry to the next level by letting you operate the locks and ignition without ever reaching for your pocket. After living with this for a week, it hits you how handy it is to always have two free hands. The ignition switch is a little picky in turning and requires too much wrist twisting to its 4-o-clock position, but at least it's a normal three-way switch instead of the less convenient pushbutton found at Lexus.

News from the driver's seat is all positive, from the power tilt-telescope wheel to the roomy, perfectly padded (and heated) seats that marked Infiniti's return to really sumptuous-feeling leather.

Where the G35 truly shines is in its ability to give this royal treatment to more than just two people. A wheelbase and length of 112.2 and 186.9 inches are several past the class average, and the resulting 112.8 total cubic feet of interior space make the G35 roomier than any rear/all-wheel-drive car at its price point. Generous legroom, firm padding, and nice armrests in back spell high comfort for two, and cars with the Luxury Package even get outboard seats that recline individually. They seem pretty reclined even in the upright-lock position, though, and when they are, they put lumps in the back of the middle passenger, who as usual is busy enough straddling the rear-wheel driveline hump. Let's call this a great four-seater.

No surprise that the G35 also takes the trunk trophy with its spacious 14.8 cubic feet. Much appreciated are struts that both facilitate and speed up the opening/closing process (Infiniti's trunks used to resist movement) and the handy new pushbutton release right on the outside.

Other ThoughtsInfiniti G35 Review
Despite all the rants and raves, our G35 experience started on a sour note. Four glitches plagued our test car: a broken clock, turn signals that didn't blink or tick from the inside, a malfunctioning high-beam indicator, and trip odometers that reset themselves with every start of the car. On one hand, Infiniti's 16-year record is mostly impeccable and this could be an unlucky sample. On the other, seeing is believing, and these are pretty clumsy glitches for a car in its fourth model year.

And unfortunately for us consumers, Infiniti is realizing they have too good of a thing going. You can't pick up a G for 27 Gs anymore; that now takes $31,660, and that's for the 6-speed stick model. Accounting for some of the increase is last year's elimination of the cloth-upholstered base model.

An automatic G35 sedan is just a tad more at $31,910, with all-wheel-drive running $1,800 extra on the $33,710 G35x. Like the Germans, Infiniti charges more for the coupe: $33,660 for automatic, $34,260 for manual (why does the manual subtract $250 on the sedan but add $600 here?), and the previous incentive for buying the coupe - more power - no longer holds true. Power is now more logically stratified by transmission choice: 280 for automatics, 298 for manuals thanks to a redline of 7,000 RPM (vs. 6,600). Coupes also have compromised headroom in back, cut trunk space in half, and contrary to appearances, weigh more and are less aerodynamic. You sure you want the coupe?

The biggie option remains the Premium Package, whose content varies by model. It always throws in a Bluetooth phone system (new), Bose stereo, sunroof, driver's seat memory, dual-zone air, automatic headlights, HomeLink Transceiver, automatic mirror, power tilt/telescope wheel, and on sedans, reclining rear seats and one-touch windows. This one's just for manual G35s: $2,850 on coupe, $3,150 on sedan. The Premium Package for automatic sedans with the Sport Package adds Intelligent Key, rear air vents, and entry/exit assist (slides the seat and steering wheel out of the way) for $3,350. The one for G35x or automatic sedans without the Sport Package tops everything off with a full-size spare tire, all for $3,500. The one for the automatic G35 coupe just adds Intelligent Key to the first package mentioned, for $3,000.

There's also the Sport-Tuned Suspension Package with its stiffer shocks and springs, limited-slip differential, and 18x7.5-inch wheels (all standard on manual models). It's $750 on the sedan, $1,600 on the coupe because it also includes 19-inch wheels (8 inches wide in front, 8.5 in back), aluminum pedals, a perforated steering wheel and some outer aero touches. Exclusive to coupes are the $650 Performance Tire and Wheel Package (18x8-inch 7-spoke wheels) and the $750 Rear Active Steer Package that throws in 4-wheel steering for more agility and a 15.1:1 steering ratio for even more hyper response.

It takes a Premium Package to get the $1,800 navigation system (Infiniti's works quite well), and takes the Sport Package or a stick model to get the $550 Aero Package (rear spoiler and underbody air diffusers).

Piling on every option won't change the G35's status as the best deal in the luxury car universe. Check the starting grid of Lexus, BMW, Audi, Mercedes: $36,030, $36,760, $38,570, $38,925 (IS350, 330i, A4, C350) while Infiniti sits beneath the floor at $31,910. Less money for equal car? Try less money for more car - way more. Compared to those leaders, the G35 boasts more power than all but the Lexus, a better overall drive than all but the BMW, the best-or-second-best repair record, the best resale (G35s depreciate appreciably slowly), and interior room out of anyone's league. To elaborate on that last point, this is a real mid-size car with comfortable seating for four real people. Want to know how much Lexus, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes charge for their mid-size sedans? $43,845, $44,470, $44,690, and $50,825 (GS300, 530i, A6, E350). Exactly what those cars have to show for their fifteen thousand higher price tags, aside from slower-witted performance, is a good question.


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