2003 Infiniti G35 Sedan Road Test

2003 Infiniti G35 Sedan

(3.5L V6 5-speed Automatic)

Air on G-String

After a decade of limping along in the luxury car market with a muddled brand identity (Do we want to be luxury or sport? Sport or luxury? Neither? Let's slap a premium badge on mid-market Nissan models while we decide.), Infiniti finally gets serious about becoming known for both luxury and sport with the all-new 2003 Infiniti G35 sedan.

For the 2003 model year, the Infiniti G35 is a strong and serious contender in the entry-level luxury sport sedan arena. This marketplace is crowded with a flurry of excellent warriors from all the major luxury brands, crested by the very-good-and-affordable Acura TL Type-S and the excellent-but-pricey BMW 3 Series, as seen in our last comparison test. Does Infiniti have what it takes to knock either of these champions off their thrones? We drove one briefly during the press introduction and wrote about it, and its technical merits, in our First Drive and came away very impressed. We also recently snagged a test vehicle for a week to see if the view held.

For the most part, it did. This is an earnest example of focusing energies on trends and markets and delivering on consumer demands. The Infiniti G35 will appeal to the sport-luxury car buyer, and the tepid Infiniti I35 should inspire the luxury car consumer. This is a strategy that seems to work with the Lexus IS 300 and ES 300, another bipolar divergence. However, very few carmakers get a completely new model exactly right straight out of the box; the Infiniti G35 is a near-textbook product that needs a couple of years of tweaks and refinement to ripen to full flavor.

On paper, it has very little competition in terms of performance. The impressive engine is part of Nissan's "VQ" family. In the G35, this 3.5-liter V6 cranks out 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. These numbers are the same as the previous horsepower leader in the class, the Acura TL Type-S, yet the Infiniti G35 was able to achieve a 0-to-60 acceleration time of 6.1 seconds, a half second better than the TL, in part due to its 200-pound weight advantage. It bests the 225-horsepower BMW 330i by 0.6 seconds. Keep the throttle planted, and the G whizzes past the quarter-mile in 14.7 seconds at 95.1 miles per hour, handily beating both of those cars (both of whom ran it in 15.1 seconds at 93.6 mph). A refined purr rises to a high-pitched snarl anywhere above 5,000 rpm. Want power and torque? This is your car. At 17 mpg, fuel economy is slightly less than the average for this class.

For now, the engine comes standard with a five-speed automanual transmission. The tranny is a fine unit, and what few complaints we had were related to the manual-mode gate being located to the right, away from the driver. Downshifts could come more immediately, but for most driving situations, a slight lag is barely noticeable. For a car of this type and its average intended consumer, a manual transmission would bring out more of the car's sporting character. Infiniti says one will be offered in the summer of 2002.

Being able to downshift in a smooth, polished manner is always a boon when you're monkeying around on little-traveled canyon roads, as we often do, to test out a vehicle's handling capabilities. Our vehicle was equipped with the sport-tuned suspension package, which minimized body roll to an impressive degree. The suspension, composed of a multilink independent setup for both front and rear (again, for a more detailed description of the underpinnings, read our First Drive, maintained its composure on twisty roads without being unduly harsh around town. However, under intense driving conditions, we felt that the car lacked the high degree of grace and balance that the best cars of this class possess. Steering, although quick and nimble, doesn't have the raw, at-one-with-the-road edginess of the Lexus IS 300 or the pure, cold extrasensory perceptiveness of the BMW. Not that it's poor; it just doesn't have the above-and-beyond capabilities of those two grade-A sport sedans.

While the car's 600-foot slalom run was achieved at an excellent 66.4 mph, our test driver noted that the rear of the car could get light while snaking through the cones. The Infiniti G35 sedan seemed to show signs of rotating a bit too severely when coming out of a curve with the front end loaded. Odd, considering its near-perfect front-to-rear weight ratio of 52:48, thanks to the front-midship (FM) platform it shares with the much-anticipated Nissan 350Z.

We should note that we encountered this situation on a closed course with the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) turned off. Relentless knocking on wood keeps us from being too meatheaded. Should there be an extenuating circumstance, the vehicle dynamics control (VDC) system kicks in a shade obtrusively to give you a rap on the knuckles. Moreover, astounding and amazing were two words to describe braking capabilities; it halted from 60 mph in a mere 111 feet. That's the shortest number we've ever gotten from a sedan; for reference, a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 stops in 108 feet. Credit it to vented disc brakes at all four corners enhanced by brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. However, all that force comes at the price of linearity. Some of our drivers thought the pedal was touchy and grabby to the point of skittishness.

Inside, verification abounds that most of the budget for engineering this car went to the chassis rather than to sybaritic pursuits. Penny-pinching is evident in the hard plastics around the dash area and in the flimsy headliner. Faux-titanium trim is fine for sporty hatchbacks, but those who expect high-end materials from a luxury car may come away disappointed. The beige leather covering the seats was quite supple, though, and wood trim is an option for those who'd prefer it. And we dig the analog clock in the center stack. It's classy.

One of the unique aspects of the driving position is that the instrument cluster moves with the steering wheel, so regardless of wheel angle, the information is readily accessible. This is a nice feature, though it does preclude the possibility of a telescoping function for the wheel.

Most of the interior controls are easily accessible. The G35 cabin is designed to impart a sense of coziness, and we really like the up-down toggle-type buttons on the steering wheel to control the stereo; they're much more convenient than conventional two-button configurations. We weren't particularly taken with the front power seat controls, which are mounted inboard of the seat cushions. Not only are they less-than-intuitive, our test driver mentioned that during hard cornering when your body is leaning to the inside, your outer thighs could activate some of the controls. The automatic climate control was easy enough to use, but the display is too small and mounted at the top of the dash, causing you to take your eyes off the road longer than you would if it were clearly presented in the center stack. The storage bin in the center of the dash, which houses the optional pop-up navigation system screen, will hold cassettes and the like but the door won't shut if you put a CD case in there. The center storage bin is dual tiered; the space offered is small and shallow, but at least the top is padded so you can rest your elbow.

A Premium package, which didn't come on our test vehicle, includes a Bose stereo system, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, a power passenger seat, reclining rear seats, automatic headlamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and one-touch operation for all four windows. That means, of course, that without the package, our tester had none of these features, many of which we consider essential goodies in the entry-level luxury sedan market. Only the front windows were one-touch and the passenger seat was fully manual. Rear-seat passengers will find ingress/egress exceedingly easy thanks to doors that open wide, and they'll find the generous 36.2 inches of knee room and 56.2 inches of shoulder space to be one of the most spacious in the class. They may complain about the lack of storage bins, cupholders and adjustable headrests, however. If rear-passenger comfort is of great importance to you, consider springing for the Premium package to get rear seat vents and seats that recline.

Thanks to the long rear overhang, luggage space is allowed an impressive 14.8 cubic feet, much better than the BMW or Lexus. The intruding wheelwells and suspension hamper the loading of wide items, but at least the hinges are strut-types so that they won't crush your parcels when the lid is closed.

Although it helps in cargo capacity, its excessive rear overhang seems further emphasized by the short front overhangs, as if the wheels moved forward but the body stayed put, like in those cartoons where Jerry ties an anchored rope to the rear bumper of Tom's car. We prefer the Infiniti G35's atypical design to the blandness of the I35, but there were divided opinions on the overall look of the vehicle. Its vertically stacked headlamps seem beady, its L-shaped taillamps somewhat misshapen. Somehow all these styling cues work to much greater advantage in the sleek, soon-to-be-released two-door version, the Infiniti G35 Coupe.

In the G35, Infiniti has created an appealing package at a competitive price. While its handling and steering lacks the over and above I-can-do-anything-you-can-do-better confidence of the chieftain of the group, the BMW 3 Series, its excellent power plant, basic structural integrity and roomy cabin should make the 2003 Infiniti G35 a compelling candidate on your shopping list of entry-level luxury sport sedans. It's a tight market, but the G35 manages to establish itself as a stout contender. Welcome back, Infiniti.

Stereo Evaluation

System Score: 8.0

Components: It still makes us scratch our heads that Nissan vehicles often have better stereos than their higher-priced Infiniti cousins. Why is this? The newly redesigned 2002 Altima, for instance, has a Bose system that'll loosen the fillings in your teeth — and yet, this car costs thousands less than any vehicle in the Infiniti line. Lexus and Acura both seem to have gotten a handle on the stereo thing, but Infiniti has traditionally lagged behind.

This may be changing. With the introduction of the 2002 Infiniti G35, Nissan's higher-priced cousin is showing some flair — and we didn't even listen to the best it had to offer. (Our test vehicle came with the stock 120-watt six-speaker system. The step-up system boasts a Bose-designed setup that offers 200 watts of total system power and additional speakers. It can be ordered by itself or in several other packages.)

Speaker locations in this system, as appointed, include 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the rear doors, plus 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors. A pair of tweeters are tucked into their own enclosures just inside the A-pillars.

Electronics are little more problematic. Although the Infiniti G35 has some of the best steering wheel controls we've seen, including seek/scan, volume, mode and power on/off, we quickly realized why this was so: It has a one of the worst radio locations we've come across in quite a while. Aside from the controls themselves, which include your standard 12 FM/6 AM presets, cassette and an in-dash six-disc CD changer, the radio is far too low in the dash, causing it to be blocked by the gearshift lever. Our evaluation notes put it this way: "Radio is too low. When trans is in Park or Reverse, the faceplate is obtruded; even in Drive it is still partially blocked."

Performance: In spite of the funky head unit location, this is one very good-sounding system. Lows are solid and punchy, mids present exceptional detail and depth, and highs are smooth, with just a hint of brassiness at higher gain settings. Instrumentation really comes through on this setup: acoustic strings and horns have definite presence, and percussion is nimble and punchy. Overall, this system exemplifies superb acoustics, with a real life-like listenability.

Best Feature: Excellent sound quality.

Worst Feature: Funky head unit placed too low in dash.

Conclusion: Maybe times have changed over at Infiniti. This is one of the first systems we've seen from Nissan's flagship brand that indicates the company plans to compete straight-up with Lexus and Acura in the sound system arena. It's a little late in coming, but then, it's never too late to enter the game. — Scott Memmer

Second Opinions

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
The entry-level luxury sedan market gets more crowded every year. It's almost like the automakers have done research and realized that the mid-$30,000 price point is where volume sales and profit-per-unit achieve their greatest potential. Hmm.

Anyway, having so many competitors in a single segment assures that no matter what you're after in an entry-level luxury sedan, you can find it. The G35 slots in somewhere between the 3 Series, TL and A4 in terms of performance. Our track testing confirms that this is one quick Infiniti, faster than even the 260-horsepower TL. But it doesn't tell the whole story. Driving our test loop showed it to be a capable, if not completely entertaining, conveyance. Steering feel is more Acura than BMW and, combined with the relatively relaxed suspension tuning, didn't inspire me the way its German, or even British, competitors do.

Interior design was another area that left me wanting. The tiny climate control display was difficult to read, especially in bright sunlight, and the audio display was only marginally better. In addition, when the shifter is placed in "park" it blocks much of the audio controls.

Still, when considering what the G35 offers and what it costs, the combination of luxury, performance and styling adds up to a solid value. It may not garner my $30,000, but it will likely attract a healthy chunk of this ever-popular segment; something Infiniti will surely want to hear.

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
As fast and capable as the G35 is, I can't help but place it in the same category as Acura's closely configured TL Type-S sedan. Both boast 260 horsepower, sportshift automatic transmissions and enough room to seat four adults comfortably. They'll tear down an onramp with the best of 'em, and rip a corner fast enough to scare the girlfriend, but as sport sedans, they both leave something to be desired.

A manual transmission is certainly part of that something, but not all of it. There's just not the same feeling of agility and quickness that you get from, say, an Audi A4. The sport suspension keeps the G planted in the corners, but it lacks the progressive breakaway at the limit that makes the 3 Series so much fun.

And like the Acura, the G35's interior is fraught with average-looking materials that fail to convey that upscale feeling you're supposed to get when you pony up the extra bills for a luxury sedan.

If you're looking for a good compromise between price, performance, features and looks, there are few cars that put it all together better than the G35. But if you're looking for the best sport sedan in the category, the Germans still have this game licked.

Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Designed to battle it out with the BMW 3 Series and Lexus IS 300 for top entry-luxury sport sedan laurels, the rear-drive 260-horse G35 is ready to rock...on paper. Driving the car is another matter entirely. This is not to say that the G can't go and stick with the class standards, it just can't do so while inspiring the same levels of smooth, seamless confidence in its driver.

The BMW and Lexus are visceral vehicles that directly connect their pilots to the pavement. The Infiniti is less so, and more wobbly on its legs. During my drive on our favorite bit of twisty canyon roads, the long-wheelbase G exhibited more body roll than I expected it to, the rear-end kicked out with alarming ease (with the VDC off), and the tail always seemed to be a beat behind the snout turn after turn. "Balanced" is not the way I'd describe this experience, though Infiniti sure is playing up the "mid-ship mounted" engine, perfect 52/48 weight distribution and lift-free nose design.

Out on the open road the G35 shines. It is a spectacularly comfortable car for the driver, simultaneously offering loads of leg room and an intimate, close-coupled feel thanks to the relationship of the driver's torso to the controls, steering wheel, front pillars and windshield. It's as though the driving position is cab-forward and the greenhouse cab-rearward. I liked the driving position immensely. And the long wheelbase contributes to an excellent ride quality.

Similarly, I liked the overall aesthetic of the cabin, with its tasteful metallic-look trim and light beige tones, but thought wood might look better with this color cabin, leaving the metallic trim for the dark colored interior. The rear seat is larger and more comfortable than you might think, easily besting the BMW and Lexus for ferrying friends.

Styling is understated yet unique, thanks to the vertically-stacked headlamp unit, the rearward swept greenhouse, and the sexy long-hood and short-deck proportions. I hate the rear styling, which makes the G look like it's got a droopy butt and stands out as busy on an otherwise clean design.

Overall, the G35 strikes me as a solid contender in an exceptionally crowded and competitive class. To keep it fresh, Infiniti can't launch it and leave it. Give us a manual transmission, a more aggressive sport package, a coupe, a wagon and more power as the years progress. What's that? The manual and coupe are on the way? Yes, things are looking up at Infiniti. Way up.

Consumer Commentary

Just picked up my Twilight Blue/Charcoal Leather/Premium, Wood G35 yesterday. Initial impression of the interior was that it looked cheap in the Willow color. The charcoal leather with wood trim looks richer and higher quality. The rear looks better in the flesh than in pictures. Love the car. It feels like a very high quality package. The car puts as big a grin on my face as the 3-series drive did. The reason is acceleration where it was more about steering feel in the Bimmer, but this is still a very good handling car .This is an excellent sport sedan with decent room in the back (unlike 3-series or A4) and Japanese reliability. Favorite Features: Overall styling, good interior space in reasonable size exterior, acceleration and handling, clever detail features, expected Nissan reliability, six disk in-dash, feel of small steering wheel, high quality impression of the car while driving, exterior and interior look of the lighting at night. — Consumer Ratings, March 25, 2002, By Boomer

I was excited about the Infiniti G35; the advertised empirical data trumped all comers including my BMW 3. The G35 did not disappoint on styling and features. I considered the BMW 5, surprisingly the G35 was larger in the back seating leg room, trunk, and front seat head room. The "Killer App" for all these near luxury sport sedans is the blend of sport, luxury, comfort, and convenience. BMW has found it, and no one knocked them off the podium. The G35's ride it tight, the acceleration is strong, the torque is tremendous, but the combination doesn't approach the BMW's feel (it must be magic). Sorry Infiniti, you still have some work to do - close but no cigar. — Consumer Ratings, March 23, 2002 By agumabay

Just got the G35 last week and am very favorably impressed as I drive it around town and country. Nice design, strong performance, luxury features, agile, tight cornering, and high reliability expectations (based on Infinity/Nissan history). This rear wheel drive car is definitely worth a look if you're in the market for an upscale sports sedan. I almost got the BMW 330i, but after driving the G35, I found it be a true sports sedan representing a much better value than the BMW 3 series. Great driving experience, soft leather, horsepower and torque, massive brakes, including value and reliability. This car is so strong. — Consumer Ratings, March 18, 2002 By memphisslim1

This car is everything I want in a car and more! It rides fantastic- not too mushy, not too harsh. Feels like I can romp on it any time I want and it will respond. It is a total joy to drive; a true performance sedan. I like the interior- business like and clean and more than enough luxury. I think that sometimes auto critics look at the amount of wood and rate by that (but cars have progressed, and what does adhesive backed wood have to do with luxury anyway?) the engine can humm along at 2500 rpms, and then jump to life instantly when I gun it without missing a beat. Really feels good to blow past BMWs and Porsches! Love it! — Consumer Ratings, April 09, 2002 By rich

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