2003 Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe First Drive

2003 Infiniti G35 Coupe

(3.5L V6 5-speed Automatic)

A Z Car for the Entry-Luxury Buyer

When you're single and on the hunt for someone to share the nighttime hours, a luxury coupe driver would seem like a good candidate: Plenty of money to spend on a car and other frivolities, and an absence of financial responsibilities that would necessitate more than two doors. A sedan can indeed be fast and agile, but a coupe's willful disregard for the practical confers extra potency. Certainly, auto manufacturers still sell more sedans, but the market for coupes, remains healthy and profitable. And so less than a year after the introduction of its 3 Series fighter, the G35 sedan, Infiniti will bring the G35 Sport Coupe to market.

Like the sedan, the coupe is a rear-drive athlete, but its level of fitness is even higher, pushing it closer to Infiniti's FM (front midship) platform mate, the Nissan 350Z. Scrutinize the G35 coupe and the Z, and the cross-engineering seems obvious, as the two have the same overall shape with the wheels pushed to the corners (their front and rear track widths are identical). But it would be inaccurate to call them twins, as the G35 coupe retains the sedan's 112.2-inch wheelbase (compared to the 350Z's 104.3-inch wheelbase) and is still over 12 inches longer than the Nissan (though it's 4 inches shorter than the sedan). Moreover, the two share no interior or exterior body panels. The result of these differences is a usable backseat in the Infiniti and a sleeker profile that most of our editors find attractive.

In spite of its larger dimensions relative to the Z, Infiniti's coupe is still about leaving the kids with a babysitter and setting out for the most remote two-lane blacktops in your atlas. The well-contoured rear seat can accommodate an average-size adult (and likely a car seat) for short trips, but head- and toe room are tight.

More importantly, you don't have to give up too much in the way of performance for the Infiniti's gains in cabin space and luxury. The front-rear multilink suspension is intact here — save for the 350Z's front and rear strut tower braces — and the sport-tuned suspension that you have to pay extra for on the G35 sedan, comes standard.

As on the Z, 17-inch wheels are standard with 225/50R17 tires in front and 235/50R17 in the rear. If you go with a manual-shift coupe (or option up an automatic), you'll get 18-inch wheels with 225/45R18 rubber in front and 245/45R18s in the back, along with a limited-slip differential. Cars equipped with the 18s are eligible for the Aero package ($550), which adds a rear spoiler and underside air diffusers to eliminate rear lift entirely (zero front lift is a given) and lower the coefficient of drag from 0.29 to 0.28.

During our introductory drive, we spent all our time behind the wheel of a coupe equipped with the 18s and limited slip and can report that its body attitude around turns was virtually flat. All the while, the car felt tightly fastened to the road, forging a trusting relationship with the driver from the beginning. And even with a curb weight of over 3,400 pounds (about 50 more than the sedan and 200 more than the 350Z), it felt stable and light on its tires when pushed.

Of course, even the most enthusiastic owner is sure to find himself languishing in traffic now and then; and when cruising along, the coupe still manages a smooth, commuter-acceptable ride. Overall, the G35 Sport Coupe seems well-suited for a lifestyle that balances fun with obligation — along the lines of the BMW 330Ci.

The coupe's steering ratio is identical to that of the sedan and the 350Z, and responses to driver inputs were quick. Excellent weighting contributed to the G's maneuverability in the turns, though initial impressions suggest that the rack lacks the indelible feel of a BMW's. Maybe that won't matter. We'll leave the final verdict to our next sport/luxury coupe comparison test.

In terms of power, the G35 coupe has a lot going for it. Feeding its rear wheels is yet another iteration of the VQ engine series — in this case, the double overhead cam 3.5-liter V6 makes 280 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Infiniti hasn't released peak rpm figures for these ratings, but based on the G35 sedan and 350Z applications, expect horsepower and torque to crest at about 6,000 and 4,800 rpm, respectively. You'll note that is a significant jump in output compared to the sedan (260 hp and 260 lb-ft of twist), and Infiniti reps attributed it to a revised exhaust system that cuts back pressure in half, revised intake ports and reprogrammed variable valve timing. Obviously, these changes put the G coupe very close to the Z (287 hp and 274 lb-ft), but with the Infiniti's added curb weight, we're talking one horsepower for every 12.3 pounds of car, as opposed to the Z's 1-to-11.2 ratio.

Still, in practice, this is quite a bit of power and the G35 Sport Coupe feels great in any setting. Power delivery is as smooth and refined as that of any competitor for the G — Infiniti has identified the primary rivals as the 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLK320, Volvo C70 and Acura CL. Assisting in its extraction is a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission — we had no difficulty acclimating ourselves to it and came away impressed with the heft and precision of the shifter and the easy clutch work. Gearing is identical to that of the 350Z. Note that the six-speed will be available on the G35 sedan starting with December 2002 production.

Also available on the coupe is a five-speed automatic — as in the sedan and the Z, this transmission gives you full control of shift points in its manual mode and will not upshift for you even at the rev limiter. Fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg city and 26 highway with the autobox; EPA estimates have not yet been released for the manual version.

For stopping power, every automatic-equipped G35 coupe comes with a full set of vented, antilock disc brakes with BrakeAssist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). If you opt for the six-speed manual, the company will throw in the bigger Brembo set previously available only on the 350Z Track model. Infiniti's stability control system (Vehicle Dynamic Control) is standard on all coupes.

Inside, the G35 coupe is little different from the sedan version, which is to say upscale in its intentions if not as sumptuously outfitted as a BMW. Controls are generally straightforward in operation, though the preponderance of small buttons on the center stack and the climate control display mounted on the top of the dash could prove troublesome for some drivers. Bolstered sport seats are unique to the coupe, and during our drive, we found them comfortable and supportive. We were annoyed by the lack of height or lumbar adjustment for the front passenger, however. In the backseat, you'll find accommodations for two, as well as the requisite anchor points for child seat installation.

Infiniti will sell the G35 Sport Coupe in three trim levels — a base automatic-equipped model (5A/T); an automatic-equipped model with leather upholstery (5A/T with leather); and a six-speed-equipped model (6M/T), which also comes standard with leather). Standard features on the base model include 17-inch wheels and tires; xenon headlights; automatic climate control; power-adjustable seats; one-touch windows; a 160-watt stereo system with a six-CD in-dash changer and six speakers; side-impact airbags for front occupants; and side curtain airbags for the front and rear. Note that this model isn't eligible for any options, except satellite radio ($400) — you can choose XM or Sirius.

If you select either of the upper-level models, leather upholstery, heated seats and steering wheel audio controls will be part of the deal. Additionally, the six-speed model comes with the aforementioned 18-inch wheels and limited-slip differential; if you want these for the automatic model, simply opt for the $600 Performance Tire and Wheel package. Other options include a sunroof; a 225-watt, eight-speaker Bose sound system; or a premium package ($2,250) that bundles these two items with dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming mirror, seat memory and Homelink. A DVD-based navigation system is available as a $2,000 stand-alone option.

The G35 Sport Coupe will arrive at dealerships in November 2002; and on the basis of price alone, it's worth your consideration — the base model starts at $29,100 and the top-of-the-line six-speed model comes in at $32,500. This sandwiches the G coupe in the middle of the 350Z-trim-level hierarchy. Unquestionably, serious performance freaks who couldn't care less about a rear seat will want to go with the Z. But those who could use a little more room and have their eyes on a BMW 330Ci, Acura CL Type-S or Mercedes CLK320 should definitely make a stop at the Infiniti dealership, where a lovely four-seater with most of the Z car's musculature awaits to make their acquaintance.

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