2003 Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe Road Test

2003 Infiniti G35 Coupe

(3.5L V6 5-speed Automatic)

G-force to be Reckoned With

With corporate greed and irresponsibility making almost daily headlines, it's nice to see a company like Infiniti live up to its promises. Not long ago, Infiniti declared a new direction for its cars. Unfortunately, the superhighway of automobile manufacturers is littered with the wreckage of companies that simply could not get the buying public interested in their "new direction." Brands like Packard, Studebaker, AMC, Plymouth and Oldsmobile offered the public an automotive equivalent of Spinal Tap's Jazz Odyssey only to find those new products collecting dust on showroom floors across America.

"Ah ha!" you're saying, "doesn't this mean Infiniti is doomed to the scrap heap just like the others?" No, and the reason is simple. Infiniti is making good on recent promises by building cars that people actually care about. Infiniti's recent promise is two-fold: 1) No more rebadged cars. 2) Offer an all rear-wheel-drive fleet. Infiniti and Nissan had to learn the hard way that rebadged cars tarnish brand image and cause the buying public to become distrustful. This is no mere war of words or PR hype, Infiniti is putting its money where its collective mouth is — the new G35 sedan, as well as the Q45 and M45, are proof. The new G35 Sport Coupe is just one more indication that Infiniti is headed in the right direction.

Certainly comparisons to Nissan's 350Z are inevitable, but really the spirit and intent of the G35 Sport Coupe are quite different from the Z's. The 350Z is like the high school cheerleader who arrives at a party shouting "Look at me!" while the Infiniti is content to sneak in the back way and by the end of the evening has everyone asking "Who's that?" The G35 further distinguishes itself with a usable backseat and a slightly more luxurious cabin.

While the base price of the G35 Sport Coupe starts at just under $30,000 equipped with an automatic transmission and cloth seats, it can easily climb above $35,000 by adding only a few options. Check the "leather seating" box and more options become available. The real bargain is the Premium Package. Order the sunroof and Bose stereo separately and the price jumps up by $1,900. Order the $2,250 Premium Package and you'll get your sunroof and upgraded stereo all right, but for the extra $350 you'll also be treated to dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and auto on-off headlights — a bargain, indeed.

All G35 Sport Coupes come with the tried-and-true VQ-series 3.5-liter V6 making an impressive 280 horsepower. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic with a shift-it-yourself automanual feature. Our tester had the automatic, but frankly, the manual-shift feature is so good, we didn't miss the manual all that much.

Inside, the G35 Sport Coupe offers an adequate level of luxury, but falls short of expectations set by the 3 Series coupe. While the materials and surfaces do have a quality feel, there is a blandness that belies an Infiniti product — straightforward and functional, the interior fails to wow us like the rest of the car. In addition, certain luxury features are lacking. Steering wheel-mounted buttons for the audio system and cruise control are well placed and easy to use, but do not illuminate at night. Such a small thing, but fumbling with buttons in the dark is no fun and shouldn't be necessary on a luxury sport coupe. Also missing inside the G are memory seats, a feature we feel should at least be an available option for the driver.

Even with those few drawbacks inside the car, there's still much to praise about the interior. While most new cars have a tilt steering wheel, those of us who like to drive with the wheel low have always had to live with the fact that the upper rim of the steering wheel will block the top part of the gauges. Not so on the G35, Infiniti engineers have gone the extra mile in making the entire instrument cluster move with the steering wheel. No matter what the position, the driver still has a clear view of all gauges. While the G35 Sport Coupe lacks a telescoping feature for the steering wheel, the movable gauge cluster makes it easy to see all relevant information no matter how the wheel is positioned. Also worth special mention are the cruise control indicator lights. There is a light to let the driver know the system is on, and another separate light to indicate the system is engaged.

Interior room is more than adequate. Sporty seats hold the driver firmly in place with ample side bolstering, and the front seating area offers plenty of leg- and headroom. The rear seats are not just for show and can accommodate child safety seats or a full-size adult. Adult passengers found only headroom to be lacking in the G's backseat. Let 'em suffer; the rakish shape of the Sport Coupe is worth the trade-off.

As expected, storage space is limited. The trunk will carry the token two golf bags. Infiniti even has a little diagram on the underside of the trunk lid showing just how the bags should be arranged to maximize the space. If you're not a golfer, the trunk will hold a week's worth of groceries along with a baby stroller and assorted tennis gear. It's not huge, but more accommodating than the exterior size suggests.

The good news with the G35 Sport Coupe is that once a person is behind the wheel, all that yammering about memory seats and corporate promises and buttons that do or don't light up will seem like sheer nonsense. This is a driver's car, plain and simple. Every rev is rewarding, and every turn is tantalizing.

Fire up the willing DOHC V6 and one can't help but smile. A surprisingly throaty purr coming from the dual chrome-tipped exhaust instantly signifies that this is no mere secretary's car; this is a serious sports car.

Jab the accelerator from a dead stop and the cool purr of the 280-hp engine turns to an angry snarl. We found ourselves purposely using the manual-shift mode to leave the car in a lower gear longer, just to hear the magnificent exhaust note. At cruising speeds, the sounds settle back into a gentle purr. At highway speeds, there is more road noise than exhaust noise, but not enough to warrant criticism.

Luckily, the G35's bark is backed up with sufficient bite. Acceleration is brisk and responsive in almost all rev ranges, and the 3.5-liter V6 is undoubtedly one of the most refined power plants on the market. While there is plenty of power at lower rpm, the engine still provides a real surge at 3,000 rpm and above. The G35 gets from 0-60 mph slightly quicker by switching the traction control off and utilizing the manual mode of the five-speed automatic — it's also more fun. Sixty mph comes up at just over six seconds from a standstill; that's faster than the 225-hp Audi TT, and BMW 330i. Drop the G35 from fourth to third and stomp the gas, and the car lurches forward like a sprinter racing for an unseen finish line. This is truly a thrilling car to drive.

Upshifts on the five-speed automatic are firm and precise. When shifting in manual mode, up- and downshifts seem to come almost instantly with only a slight delay from the time the lever is moved until the transmission shifts. Downshifts are virtually seamless in either automatic or manual mode. Even when left in fully automatic mode, this is one of the best five-speed automatics on the market. Brands such as Lexus and Audi offer five-speed automatics, and it's becoming a more common feature, but too often those other transmissions fail to efficiently deliver the engine's power to the wheels. The results are hesitations and excessive "hunting" — the G35 suffers neither.

Handling is crisp, sure and delivers almost as much "point-and-shoot" fun as the much bigger, more expensive Corvette Coupe. This is a tight little car and inputs from the driver result in quick and decisive responses from the vehicle. Could this be the result of the innovative multilink suspension? Regardless, the end result is a fun and tossable sports coupe. The G35 responds in a way only a rear-wheel-drive car can — don't confuse this car with front-drivers like the Eclipse and Celica; those cars are child's play by comparison.

When cornering somewhat aggressively, the rear of the car has a tendency to step out slightly. Thankfully, the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) steps in at just the right time to keep it pointed in the right direction. Skilled drivers can switch the VDC off and have all the tail-wagging opposite-lock fun they can stand. However, this is a serious sports car and defeating the safety-minded VDC can easily put even a moderately skilled driver in over his head. Leave the VDC on and the car is virtually idiot-proof. The only downside to all this is that the VDC seems to interfere too soon for some, and in an obtrusive manner.

Braking is only average for a small sporty coupe, but the four-wheel discs do bring the G to a stop effectively. It took us 123 feet to bring the Sport Coupe to a standstill from 60 mph, and the distance increased with each run suggesting slight brake fade. Also, everyone who drove the G35 Sport Coupe felt the brakes were a bit too touchy and had an unwelcome "on/off" feel. The G35 six-speed comes with Brembo brakes which may provide better feel.

Looking for pony-car performance with some added style and finesse? Here's your new car. The G35 Sport Coupe is a stellar performer that combines fun with a dash of functional. The G35 is not just a rebadged 350Z; it sets itself apart with beautifully subtle styling, a slightly more upscale interior and a usable backseat. Infiniti is making good on its promises and, in the case of the G35 Sport Coupe, the buying public gets to reap the rewards.

Stereo Evaluation

System Score: 9.0

Components: Infiniti has sort of stumbled around in the stereo department for years. There was a time when Nissan vehicles actually had better stereos in them than Infiniti cars costing thousands of dollars more. However, based upon what we've seen recently in new Infiniti vehicles, we can put that rumor to rest. The fact is, this system kicks some serious butt and rivals anything we've seen, or heard, in this segment.

This Bose setup begins with a head unit ensconced in a double-DIN opening in the middle of the center stack. The head, which includes a built-in six-disc CD changer and a cassette player, boasts rocker panels all the way around for ease of use, plus widely spaced controls and a logical topography. With the exception of having no space between the preset buttons, this head unit is the essence of ergonomics. Additionally, the G35 Sport Coupe offers steering wheel controls for volume, mode, seek-scan and power on-off.

Speaker locations are bounteous and generous. They include a pair of 6-by-9 full range drivers on the rear deck, a duo of 4-by-6 full range drivers in the rear quarter panels, a set of 6.5-inch midbass drivers in the lower portion of the front doors and a couple of one-inch dome tweeters tucked next to the A-pillars. They all work together to produce a symphonic and lush sound that, as we said above, rivals anything in its class.

Performance: Highs are scintillating, lows are punchy and smooth and mids are detailed and intricate. We were most impressed with the sound quality of the G35. We found female vocals to exhibit a velvety-ness and soaring ability second to none. Acoustic strings showed just a tad of stridency that nonetheless did not detract from the overall excellence of the sound. Horns were silky and blaring, without blazing the eardrums. Percussion, in particular, was most impressive for a vehicle without a separate subwoofer — tight, punchy, resilient and accurate are the terms we'd use to describe it. All in all, they just don't get much better than this one, folks.

Best Feature: Overall sonic excellence.

Worst Feature: Crowded preset buttons.

Conclusion: This Bose setup comes with the Premium Package. Turn it up and watch the smile spread across your face. — Scott Memmer

Second Opinions

Road Test Editor John Di Pietro says:
Looks like BMW's got more to worry about than Chris Bangle's bizarre styling dictums. With the G35 Sport Coupe, Infiniti isn't nipping at BMW's heels; it's alongside, growling and snapping at the German powerhouse. The handsome G coupe offers meaty and direct steering, razor-sharp handling, a solid and balanced chassis, 280 eager horses, comfortable seats and plenty of room for four adults to "enjoy the ride."

Nissan and Infiniti use the superb VQ-series 3.5-liter V6 in everything from the Altima to the 350Z to this Infiniti and I've got no problem with that — it's a great motor in terms of power (which pours forth in copious amounts from off idle to redline) and refinement. Although I would've loved a crack at the six-speed manual tranny, our tester had the automatic gearbox, which is still a great partner to the potent V6 as it provided quick, seamless changes, up or down. In the coupe application, the steering system has a stout feel in the wheel (unlike the overassisted unit in the G35 sedan) and a quick response that enthusiasts should appreciate; I know I did as I sliced through the canyon roads north of L.A.

Being a persnickety auto journalist (hey, it's what I do), I've still got a few complaints. Although I like the fact that the tilt steering wheel has the instruments move along with it, I'd also like a telescoping adjustment, which the G lacks. A telescoping wheel allows shorter drivers to push the wheel closer to the dash (so that they have a more comfortable arm's reach to the wheel) after they've adjusted the seat close enough to the pedals. And though the brakes are reassuringly powerful, they're touchy, just like they were in the G35 sedan we had in our recent entry-level sport sedan comparison test. It's nothing a little recalibration wouldn't fix. Lastly, the otherwise superb automatic is a little slow to react when shifted manually (like most of these automanual setups are).

So go ahead, add my voice to the choir that's singing the G coupe's praises. When one factors in the deal closer for this highly entertaining sport coupe — a sticker price some $7,000 less than a comparable BMW 330Ci — this is one screaming bargain that'll have a lot of driving enthusiasts breaking into song.

Senior Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
Looking at it on paper the G35 Sport Coupe seemed to have just about everything I look for in a sport coupe — plenty of power, a manual gearbox and a performance-tuned suspension. Throw in the fact that it looks good and is reasonably priced and I thought it would be love at first drive. I was wrong. I like it, but I don't love it. It feels heavy and disconnected, which is strange considering the quick steering and relatively modest weight. There's certainly plenty of performance potential if you're willing to push it, but it doesn't feel nimble or tossable. There isn't excessive understeer, but it always seems as though it would rather be going straight than clawing its way through a turn. Add in some of the strangely designed controls and the tight cabin and I came away only half-heartedly impressed. For the money it's a great luxury coupe, probably the best in its price range, but if I could spend a little more I would still go with a BMW 330Ci.

Consumer Commentary

I have been driving the G35 coupe for the last week. It is the most exhilarating, comfortable ride I have had in years. The interior setup is superior to the Boxster, the roominess superior to the 350Z and the quality of the interior appointments is superior to the BMW. The handling is tight and superior to all of the above, with maybe the exception of the Z; I can't wait to get it onto a curvy mountain road. As for the price, I can't imagine I could have gotten a better vehicle. I am anticipating years of enjoyment; I have owned a J30 for nine years and it has been the most reliable car I have ever owned. — J Mark, Nov. 8, 2002

Got my coupe yesterday. Never bought an Infiniti before but it was a very pleasant experience. The car is beautiful. There's nothing like it on the street. Mine is black with graphite interior, five-speed auto. Build quality is excellent. I was surprised to see that rear seating room is big enough for a six-footer. The car is powerful; it handles better than a 2000 Mustang GT and as good as a C-4 model Vette. Since the roads are fairly poor in New Orleans, the ride is a little bouncy. However, if you are use to driving a car with any type of sport suspension it's not a bad ride. Buy one and you won't be disappointed. The brakes are great. — Jeff Wilson, Nov. 6, 2002

I just got done test driving the new coupe last night. The dealer near me has about five of them, one of them for sale! We have been in the market for a while for a sporty two-door with a backseat in roughly this price range. We looked at the Lexus IS300 and the Mercedes C230 Coupe. In our quest for the perfect car we were still lost until Saturday when we drove by the Infiniti dealership and saw this gorgeous coupe. It was love at first sight. This car was the most comfortable as well as the best performing car that we drove. It has all the extras — leather, heated seats, automatic seats — and it even slides forward automatically for passengers in the rear. — Jolene, Nov. 5, 2002

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