Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
According to Web traffic reports (Oi! Pileup on the Accord page!), a considerable percentage of our readers are interested in entry-level luxury sedans. If this is you, put down that BMW 3 Series brochure and pay attention. There's a new player in town looking to rough up the established automakers and win over a few hearts. It goes by the name of G35. Maybe you should write that down.
Infiniti is Nissan's upscale product distributor with offerings such as the G20 sedan, QX4 SUV, I35 entry-level luxury sedan and Q45 luxury sedan. Despite being called a 2003, the G35 will be added to the mix by March of 2002. With this car, Infiniti hopes to offer a performance counterpoint to its I35, similar to the way Lexus introduced the IS 300 to complement its ES 300.
Don't confuse the G35 with the G20. They have about as much in common as Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse. The G20 ("hundreds of hours") is a front-drive four-cylinder car that reminds us a little too much of a Nissan Sentra. The G35 ("kick it up a notch!") is a rear-drive sport sedan that shares genetic makeup with the soon-to-be-released Nissan 350Z sports car. Hmm, which one sounds more interesting to drive?
A discussion of the G35 must start with what's underneath. The G is built on Nissan's all-new FM platform, the same as the 350Z. FM stands for Front Midship and refers to the positioning of the engine. Compared to most front-engine cars in which a considerable amount of engine weight is placed over the front wheels, Infiniti's engineers have located the G35's V6 further rearward behind the front wheels. The engine isn't fully behind the front axle (like it is in a Honda S2000), however. Only the engine's centerline is.
Therefore, G35 isn't a true front mid-engine car, but the gains from this platform are tangible and real. The G35 boasts a compact engine compartment, a long wheelbase, wide wheel tracks, short overhangs and a 52:48 front-to-rear weight bias. Infiniti says the front-wheel portion was deliberately made 2 percent heavier, instead of using a 50:50 split. The idea is to then have a 50:50 distribution when accelerating out of a curve.
Dimensionally, the G35 is bigger than most of its competition. For instance, the G35 is 186.5 inches long, about 10 inches longer than the BMW 330i and IS 300. It's also taller than most. This doesn't translate to extra weight, however. Infiniti says a base-trim G checks in at 3,336 pounds. An Acura TL Type-S weighs 3,554 pounds, a 330i is 3,318 pounds and a Jaguar X-Type 3.0 is 3,526 pounds. Weight savings comes from a carefully designed body structure, an aluminum hood and extensive use of aluminum for the front and rear suspension components.
The performance equation gets even better when you check out the engine. Infiniti engineers wanted to give the car a muscular power delivery similar to a BMW 540i or previous-generation M3. As such, the G35 has a 3.5-liter V6 similar to those found in the I35, Maxima, Altima and 350Z. (Inbreeding has rarely worked for humans, but in this case it's to Nissan and Infiniti's advantage.) This advanced V6 features 24 valves, dual overhead cams, variable valve timing and an electronically controlled throttle. It's not a high-strung engine like the one found in the TL Type-S, but the results speak for themselves: 260 hp at 6,000 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Redline is 6,500 rpm. Only the TL matches the G35 in horsepower, and every other six-cylinder in this class is left clutching a consolation prize when it comes to torque.
For now, the G35 comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission that directs power to the rear wheels. Its mechanical makeup is very similar to the transmission used in the Q45, and it features a manual mode to allow drivers to shift gears sequentially. It is programmed to hold gears even if the rev limiter is reached. The only downside to this drivetrain is fuel economy. The EPA rates the G35 at 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Most other cars in this class boast better highway mileage. Overall range shouldn't suffer, though; the tank holds 20 gallons of fuel.
This fuel tank is located underneath the rear passenger seat to free up interior volume. Thanks to the G35's size and clever packaging, the interior is quite roomy for occupants. All of the key dimensions headroom, legroom, hip room and shoulder room are competitive with the leading cars in this class. The 36.2 inches of rear legroom is identical to the amount provided by the I35, a car we have characterized as having "copious room for passengers." The trunk can hold 14.8 cubic feet of stuff, a figure that again matches or beats your pick for "Brand X."
The driver is greeted by a T-shaped instrument panel that is modern in appearance. Much of the switchgear is unique in look and feel, though we suspect upcoming Infiniti vehicles will be using these new controls. Once sitting, the driver might notice that the driver seat is actually different from the front passenger seat. The seat cushion has a special center-mound shape that contains firmer foam to support the driver better during sporty driving. Other features include a gauge cluster that tilts in tandem with the steering wheel (though there is no telescope function), an optional and concealable LCD screen for the navigation system and an analog clock. Interior material quality, while passable, is likely to disappoint drivers familiar with the opulence of Audi and BMW products.
The G35 comes in just one designated trim level, though there are a few options and packages available. Most of the major features are standard. Highlights from this list include automatic climate control, one-touch auto up-and-down front windows, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, keyless entry and a rear-seat trunk pass-through. Getting a G35 with leather trim adds leather seating (of course), as well as an eight-way power driver seat, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and illuminated vanity mirrors.
Buyers can also opt for a Premium package that adds dual-zone climate control with rear vents, driver seat memory, a power passenger seat, automatic headlights, an auto up/down feature for front and rear windows, an upgraded sound system and manually reclining rear seats. Other items and packages include a Sport package, a navigation system, high-intensity discharge headlights, a Winter package and an Aerodynamic package.
The Aerodynamic package adds a rear spoiler and underbody panels to an already slippery shape. Infiniti spent a great deal of time in a wind tunnel with the G35. By using diffusers, deflectors and carefully positioning underbody components (such as the muffler and fuel tank), the G35 directs underbody air movement rather than obstructing it. This helps the G35 achieve 0 degrees of front lift, thereby improving vehicle stability at high speeds as well as reducing drag and wind noise. With the optional rear spoiler, 0 degrees of rear lift is also achieved. The G35 has a coefficient of drag measurement of just 0.27 (0.26 with the aero package).
Newly developed and advanced front and rear suspension support the G35's body. The G35's front multilink suspension design minimizes alignment changes through the use of two separate lower links and a long upper link. The independent rear suspension features an upper A-arm and a lower link with the shock absorber located separate from the spring. Infiniti says both the front and rear suspensions incorporate special "ripple control" shock absorbers to absorb high-frequency vibrations that result from tiny ripples in the road surface better. Base models have 16-inch wheels with 205/65R16 tires, while those with leather get 17s with 215/55R17 tires. The optional Sport package includes sport-tuned suspension components, unique five-spoke 17-inch wheels and performance-oriented tires.
Infiniti's target from the beginning was to create the highest level of driving performance. During the press introduction for the G35, we were able to drive a selection of cars, including ones with the sport package. Though driving time was limited, it seems to us that the G35 comes very close to the bull's-eye. Body roll is well controlled, and the car is very stable at high speed. Thanks to the quick steering rack and rear-wheel drive, the G has a lively feel to it that encourages the driver to have fun. This is a quality that we have encountered in just a few sport sedans. With the Sport package, the ride is firmer, but not enough to harm ride quality. Acceleration, as expected, is strong, with power available throughout the rev band.
For safety, the G35 has vented disc brakes at each corner, with four-channel ABS being standard. Brake assist, which senses hard or panic pedal application, helps provide maximum braking capacity; brake-force distribution, which distributes brake force depending on load condition (passengers and cargo), is also included. During our drive, we found the brake pedal to be a bit touchy, but stopping power is impressive. A stability control system that helps to prevent dangerous skids and spins is also part of the car's active safety.
Should there be an actual accident, every G35 comes with standard dual-stage front airbags, front-seat side-impact airbags and roof-mounted side-curtain airbags for front- and rear-seat occupant head protection. Also standard are seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiters and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) child seat anchors and tether system. Infiniti says the FM platform also provides a number of innovative safety performance features, including a mechanism for releasing the engine downward (rather than straight back toward the passenger compartment) in a collision, brake pedal construction that prevents rearward pedal movement and a breakaway drive shaft.
That just about covers it. Oh, well, there's the price. A 2003 G35 with leather (and destination charge) is priced at $29,495. Add the Premium package and the navigation system, and the car is still under $35,000. The only thing left to consider is whether people will accept the upstart G35. Maybe Infiniti should take a cue from the old Folgers instant coffee TV commercial. "We've secretly replaced this man's BMW 330i with a G35. Let's see if he notices the difference."
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