Saturday, October 18, 2003

G35 for driving, not arriving


Car dealers can barely keep Infiniti's Sport Coupe in stock

By Carol Traeger
Enquirer contributor

Infiniti G35
[photo]
[ZOOM]


Wheels rating: (out of 5)
4 wheels
Fast, stylish and affordable coupe

Vital Statistics

What I drove: Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe, two-door, four-seater with 6-speed manual

Base price range: $29,915 to $32,050

Price as tested: $34,565 (with options and destination)

Options on test vehicle: Carpeted trunk mat, 225-watt Bose audio system, power sunroof.

Drivetrain layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V6 producing 280 hp and 270 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic with manual shifter

Wheelbase: 112.2 inches

Length: 182.2 inches

Width: 71.5 inches

Height: 54.8 inches

Weight: 3,416 to 3,435 pounds

EPA mpg, city/highway: 20/27

Warranty: Basic: 4 years/60,000 miles; powertrain: 6 years/70,000 miles

Safety: Dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags, driver and front passenger knee protector, front and rear head curtain airbags, LATCH child seat anchors, antilock brakes, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution

Cool: World's best V6 engine, sport-tuned suspension, Brembo brakes

Uncool: Shoulder-slicing front seat belts, behind-the-shoulder cup holders

Accolades: Named Motor Trend's "2003 Car of the Year" and earned top ratings in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal offset crash tests.


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Car Talk
If you love the Nissan 350Z, but life requires you to shuttle the kids to school now and then, take a look at the Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe.

Infiniti's rear-wheel-drive coupe is basically a stretched version of the 350Z, one with the added bonus of four seats, a trunk and a glove box. Don't let the Infiniti label fool you; this 280-horsepower coupe is tuned more for sport than for luxury. It'll get you down the road in a hurry and let you fling around a few passengers and satchels while you're at it.

Wearing the same vertical headlights and L-shaped rear lights as the four-door G35 sedan, the coupe is instantly recognizable as a G35. But its long low-slung hood, wheels-out-to-the-corners stance and sweeping roof give it a sportier appearance than its larger relative. The coupe's sports lure can be enhanced with an aero package that adds a rear spoiler and rear side air diffusers.

Performance-focused

The G35 is stylish, to be sure, but the real story lies underneath. Like the G35 sedan - and the 350Z - the coupe rides on Nissan/Infiniti's racing inspired FM (front mid-ship) platform, in which the engine sits behind the front axle instead of on top of for better weight distribution and agility.

The coupe features the same great 3.5-liter V6 engine that powers those two, only here it makes 20 more horsepower than the sedan and seven less than the Z. With 280 horses under its hood, the G35 coupe out-powers the class-leading BMW 3-series, and it costs thousands of dollars less.

The engine can be wed either to a 5-speed automatic transmission with "manu-matic" shifter or a 6-speed close ratio manual. Most buyers opt for the automatic, but a few driving enthusiasts (15 percent) ante up for the six-speed. I've tested both transmissions, and believe me, the 6-speed coupe is a completely different animal than the automatic. With the 6-speed, the coupe is a Z-car 2+2; with the automatic it's a regular (albeit powerful) cruising car.

In addition to more horsepower, Infiniti engineers gave the coupe a higher performance exhaust, wider front and rear tracks, and a more aggressively tuned suspension than the sedan. The coupe's V6 also has different valve timing, and requires premium fuel. An advanced four-wheel multilink suspension (using many aluminum-alloy components to reduce weight) and special "ripple control" shock absorbers give the coupe responsive but comfortable ride and handling.

Three trim levels are offered:

• The base coupe gets the automatic transmission, 17-inch wheels, fabric upholstery, a six-disc CD changer, one-touch up/down windows, and a rear-seat trunk pass-through.

• The leather-upholstered coupe adds heated front seats, xenon headlights and 18-inch wheels.

• The 6-speed coupe gets high-performance (W-rated) tires and race-bred Brembo brakes. Options include dual-zone climate control, a power-sliding sunroof, a DVD-based navigation system, and a 225-watt Bose sound system.

'Manu-shift' preferred

My G35 coupe test car had the 6-speed manual, which enabled me to squeeze every bit of performance from the engine. But the shifts felt "notchy," and the shift lever vibrated wickedly. Call me a powder puff, but I like the automatic transmission with "manu-shifter" better in this midsize car.

The steering requires some effort, but rewards you with good feedback and great directional stability. The driver's seat is well bolstered to hold you upright during aggressive maneuvers.

If you get too cocky behind the wheel, the anti-lock brakes, with their stability and traction control, will help keep you from mowing down a mailbox. Head out to the expressway, and you'll get an earful of tire noise (more pronounced with the 18-inch wheels), but you'll also be treated to the sweet, tuneful note of the exhaust.

Interior trouble

When it comes to performance, the G35 coupe rates an "A." Move inside, however, and the grade descends to a "C." Hollow-feeling plastic and what-were-they-thinking ergonomics abound. My tester's interior was black, which made the plastic look even cheaper. Only one other color - a tan called "Willow" - is offered. (Get the Willow.)

Granted, my girlfriend and I may be anatomically incorrect for the coupe (which is targeted at 40-something guys), but the front seat belts dug painfully into our shoulders. An extra bolster on the driver's seat-cushion gave me the sensation of sitting on a rolled-up sock.

The radio and temperature-control buttons are flush with the control panel, and difficult to use, and the writing on them is hard to read. (Note to automakers: Always provide knobs for volume control.)

The glove box is too narrow to hold an apple. The front cup holders are aft of the front seatbacks, requiring unnatural contortions from front-seat occupants when stowing or retrieving a latte. (Note: The 2004 6-speed coupe has an additional front cup holder.)

The rear seats offer sufficient hip and leg room, but head room is too tight for most adults. I'm 5-foot-7, and when I sat back there, my head squished up against the steeply raked rear window. The sedan offers several more inches of rear head room.

Practicality-wise, the four-passenger G35 coupe falls between the two-passenger 350Z and the five-passenger G35 sedan. Whereas the G35 coupe offers 86 cubic feet of living space, the sedan offers 98. The coupe boasts a skimpy 7.8 cubic feet of luggage space (which Infiniti insists is enough for two golf bags), but the sedan offers 14.8.

New for 2004

A few minor changes are in store for 2004-model G35s, including an improved (faster operating) standard six-disc CD changer, a standard tire pressure monitoring system, and a Low Emissions Vehicle rating. An all-wheel-drive will be added to the G35 lineup in December, but only in the sedan model.

A winning formula

The G35 is a terrifically fast, stylish and entertaining sport coupe. Its luxury lies in performance, not interior cushiness. For a car that behaves like a $40,000 Beemer, the G35's $30,000 price rings all the sweeter. The G35 has proven such a hit, Infiniti dealers can barely keep them on the lot. In the first eight months of this year, buyers snapped up 22,000 G35 coupes and 27,700 sedans.

If you love driving more than arriving, you owe yourself a test drive in the G35. If passenger room is an issue, check out the G35 sedan. If your kids have outgrown booster seats but haven't yet started using Clearasil, check out the coupe.

And if kids aren't an issue at all, check out the Z.

Contact Carol Traeger by e-mail at ctrigger@aol.com.



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