Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe

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The halls are empty now. The offices quiet. The window blinds drawn. After 40-odd years of daily hustle and bustle, Nissan’s headquarters in Gardena, California, sits idle, a “For Sale” sign staked in the front yard, the company name yanked from the building’s facade. All mail has been forwarded to Nashville, Tennessee.

Yes, the company’s corporate move to the home of country music is complete, but the 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan is a product of Nissan’s Southern California workforce. In fact, it’s the last Infiniti product to be executed in its entirety by those sun-loving surf bums, and it’s a good one.
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Five trim levels are offered: G35, G35 Journey, G35x AWD, G35 Sport and G35 Sport with a six-speed manual transmission. Infiniti says the G35 Sport automatic, like our rear-drive test car, will make it the second most popular of the five models. The all-wheel-drive G35x gets a larger piece of the pie because it’s popular in the Northeast, while only 10 percent will buy the manual gearbox.

All five models are powered by the same all-aluminum 3.5-liter V6. It’s the fourth generation of the 24-valve, double-overhead-cam VQ35 engine, which honestly, we didn’t think Nissan could improve on. Wrong again. This engine now revs higher, makes more power and uses less fuel.

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Approximately 80 percent of the engine’s parts are new, including the block, which has been made stronger. Nissan’s white lab coats also added electromagnetic variable valve timing to the exhaust valves, a higher compression ratio and true dual exhaust. But the coolest new gizmo under the G’s aluminum hood is the engine’s symmetric twin ram air intake system, which uses two throttle bodies and routes the incoming air around rather than through or over the radiator. Nissan says the system helps reduce airflow resistance by 18 percent and increases horsepower by 3 at 60 mph.

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Now the engine lights up the spec box with 306 horsepower at 6800 rpm, 268 pound-feet of torque at 5200 rpm, a 7500-rpm redline and an EPA rating of 19 city and 26 highway when backed by the five-speed automatic. That makes the G35 more powerful than nearly all of its six-cylinder rivals, including the BMW 330i, Audi A4 3.2 and Mercedes-Benz C350. The Lexus IS 350 also packs 306 hp, but it makes more torque, 277 lb-ft, at a lower 4800 rpm; and according to the EPA, it gets better mileage (21 city/28 highway).

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As you would expect from the above paragraph, the G35 blows all 12 doors off its German rivals, while the Lexus matches the Infiniti’s performance. Our tester tore up the track with a scorching 0-60-mph run of 5.6 seconds and a quarter-mile performance of 13.9 seconds at 102 mph. The last 330i we tested, which had a six-speed manual, was nearly a second slower in each test.

In the age of the six-, seven- and now eight-speed automatics, the Infiniti’s transmission, with only five forward gears, may seem behind the times. But the five-speed’s proper gearing, attentive action and ability to match revs perfectly when manually downshifted makes the transmission a standout and the perfect choice for this very capable sport sedan. It delivers all of the hard-driving advantages of BMW’s complex sequential manual gearbox (SMG) without any of that transmission’s drivability issues.

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Those manual gearchanges can be made with the well-placed shifter or steering-column-mounted paddle shifters, which are cast from lightweight magnesium and covered with a delicate swatch of leather. The paddles are extra large and conveniently placed, but they don’t turn with the wheel as they do in the BMW M5.

The magnesium paddle shifters are standard on the G35 Sport, along with drilled aluminum pedals, sport seats with thigh extensions and driver’s power bolster adjustments, a sport steering wheel with specially colored stitching, 18-inch wheels and tires, a unique front fascia, a viscous limited-slip differential, and unique tuning for the car’s electronic stability system. Options exclusive to the Sport models are a four-wheel active steer system, which our test car had, and a clumsy rear spoiler, which it thankfully did not.

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Infiniti says the four-wheel active steer (FWAS) system (which activates at 25 mph) improves the vehicle’s handling by adjusting the toe of the rear suspension up to one degree based on steering input and vehicle speed. At the same time, a planetary gearset that’s been added to the steering shaft varies the steering ratio between 12.0:1 and 18.5:1. We would like to say the system works but not having track tested a car without the system, it’s hard to know.

Testing a car with four-wheel active steer versus a car without it probably wouldn’t prove anything anyway. When you order FWAS, the sedan’s suspension is stiffened beyond the G35 Sport’s standard settings, so any difference in handling could be due to the active steer system or the differences in suspension tuning. Or both.

One thing’s for sure. The suspension tuning on the G35 Sport, which is firmer than the suspension on the other three trim levels, is just too firm. The car’s new 40-percent-stiffer chassis allowed for such aggressive suspension tuning, and Infiniti’s chassis engineers took the bait. Order four-wheel active steer and the ride becomes downright teeth chattering. We expect Infiniti will be getting some hate mail from Sport owners in the rough-road states.

Nobody but BMW owners will complain about the G35′s handling. Front-end grip borders on the remarkable, while body control and balance are superb. At the track it circled the skid pad with 0.85g of lateral acceleration and slipped through the slalom at 67.1 mph — both a cat’s whisker under the performance of the BMW 330i.

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Wheelbase is the same 112.2 inches as last year, but the front and rear tracks have been widened 0.7 inch in front and 0.9 inch in the rear. The four-wheel independent suspension also received some revision up front, with a new single-pivot double-wishbone design which replaces the previous model’s two lower links. Infiniti also staggered the car’s tire sizes for the first time (225/50R18 in front, 245/45R18 at the rear).

Our only dynamic-handling complaint has to do with the G’s steering. Ratio and feedback are right on, but the vehicle’s speed-sensitive steering assist needs a little sorting. When the vehicle speed is changing rapidly up and down — like when you’re charging a mountain road — changes in the assist are too radical and too slow to come, which can give the steering an artificial, video-game quality.

The brakes, on the other hand, are flawless. Sport models get larger 13-inch rotors front and back, and they stop this big sedan with little trouble. Fade is not an issue, pedal feel is excellent and stops from 60 mph take just 112 feet.

Designed and still built in Japan, the 2007 G35 is essentially the same size as last year’s model. Length is up half an inch, while the car is just 0.8 inch wider and 0.5 inch lower. Weight is up just 48 pounds.

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It’s also the same size on the inside, with a few minor exceptions. Rear-seat headroom has been shaved a bit, while there’s a little more knee room thanks to a more careful carving of the door panels. Five still fit, but rear passengers shouldn’t be much taller than 6 feet. Another change was the loss of the G’s reclining rear seat, which was unique to the class. (We’re told it was dumped for weight savings.) Trunk space is unchanged at 13.5 cubic feet.

Perhaps the new G’s most meaningful improvement over its predecessor is its interior design, which has certainly taken several steps up in ergonomics, materials quality and ambience. Infiniti calls the décor “modern warmth.” Real aluminum trim is not only standard, it has been textured to resemble a fine, handmade Japanese paper called Washi. The effect works, but when combined with our tester car’s black leather, the décor is more Raider Nation than modern warmth. African Rosewood trim is optional on non-Sport models.

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Option packages on our tester included the Premium Package, which added a sunroof; power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; memory for the driver seat, mirrors and steering wheel; Bluetooth; heated front seats; auto up-down rear windows; and a 10-speaker Bose audio system Infiniti calls “Studio On Wheels.” Our test car did not have the optional Intelligent Cruise Control, adaptive front lighting, a rearview monitor, or the navigation system which features XM NavTraffic with real-time traffic information.
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It’s all wrapped in an evolutionary two-box design that’s more aggressive than the shape it replaces, but also a little fussy in its details. Misses include a contrived chrome lip spoiler and overwrought grille bars, made to look like the twisted blades of samurai swords. Hits include the dual chrome exhaust tips, lower greenhouse and the pull-type door handles. Love it or like it, it’s no doubt recognizable as the new G35, so it works.

It was the 2003 G35 sedan and coupe that made Infiniti a player in the luxury market. After 13 years of rocks and trees and retagged Maximas, Nissan’s luxury division found its stride. Last year, Infiniti sold 121,000 vehicles, 55,000 of which wore the G35 badge.

You’d have to be loopy to mess with that kind of success, and Infiniti hasn’t. The 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan, which will hit dealers in November (the 2008 G35 Coupe will reach dealers next summer), is very much the same car as its predecessor, only better. Think G35 2.0.

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Infiniti has left the car’s size, layout and winning combination of luxury, performance and price essentially unchanged, while improving every aspect of the vehicle. A neat trick, one that has earned the gang a few rowdy nights at the Grand Ol’ Opry, and one that will keep the G35 on the top rung of the midsize-performance-luxury-sedan market.

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Infiniti G35 Sport Wagon


Scribbled on February 17th 2008 in Infiniti, Infiniti G35
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