Turning up the heat on BMW
The halls are empty now. The offices quiet. The window blinds drawn. After 40-odd years of daily hustle and bustle, Nissan's headquarters in Gardena, California, sits idle, a "For Sale" sign staked in the front yard, the company name yanked from the building's facade. All mail has been forwarded to Nashville, Tennessee.
Yes, the company's corporate move to the home of country music is complete, but the 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan is a product of Nissan's Southern California workforce. In fact, it's the last Infiniti product to be executed in its entirety by those sun-loving surf bums, and it's a good one.
Five trim levels are offered: G35, G35 Journey, G35x AWD, G35 Sport and G35 Sport with a six-speed manual transmission. Infiniti says the G35 Sport automatic, like our rear-drive test car, will make it the second most popular of the five models. The all-wheel-drive G35x gets a larger piece of the pie because it's popular in the Northeast, while only 10 percent will buy the manual gearbox.
All five models are powered by the same all-aluminum 3.5-liter V6. It's the fourth generation of the 24-valve, double-overhead-cam VQ35 engine, which honestly, we didn't think Nissan could improve on. Wrong again. This engine now revs higher, makes more power and uses less fuel.
Approximately 80 percent of the engine's parts are new, including the block, which has been made stronger. Nissan's white lab coats also added electromagnetic variable valve timing to the exhaust valves, a higher compression ratio and true dual exhaust. But the coolest new gizmo under the G's aluminum hood is the engine's symmetric twin ram air intake system, which uses two throttle bodies and routes the incoming air around rather than through or over the radiator. Nissan says the system helps reduce airflow resistance by 18 percent and increases horsepower by 3 at 60 mph.
Now the engine lights up the spec box with 306 horsepower at 6800 rpm, 268 pound-feet of torque at 5200 rpm, a 7500-rpm redline and an EPA rating of 19 city and 26 highway when backed by the five-speed automatic. That makes the G35 more powerful than nearly all of its six-cylinder rivals, including the BMW 330i, Audi A4 3.2 and Mercedes-Benz C350. The Lexus IS 350 also packs 306 hp, but it makes more torque, 277 lb-ft, at a lower 4800 rpm; and according to the EPA, it gets better mileage (21 city/28 highway).
As you would expect from the above paragraph, the G35 blows all 12 doors off its German rivals, while the Lexus matches the Infiniti's performance. Our tester tore up the track with a scorching 0-60-mph run of 5.6 seconds and a quarter-mile performance of 13.9 seconds at 102 mph. The last 330i we tested, which had a six-speed manual, was nearly a second slower in each test.
In the age of the six-, seven- and now eight-speed automatics, the Infiniti's transmission, with only five forward gears, may seem behind the times. But the five-speed's proper gearing, attentive action and ability to match revs perfectly when manually downshifted makes the transmission a standout and the perfect choice for this very capable sport sedan. It delivers all of the hard-driving advantages of BMW's complex sequential manual gearbox (SMG) without any of that transmission's drivability issues.
Those manual gearchanges can be made with the well-placed shifter or steering-column-mounted paddle shifters, which are cast from lightweight magnesium and covered with a delicate swatch of leather. The paddles are extra large and conveniently placed, but they don't turn with the wheel as they do in the BMW M5.
The magnesium paddle shifters are standard on the G35 Sport, along with drilled aluminum pedals, sport seats with thigh extensions and driver's power bolster adjustments, a sport steering wheel with specially colored stitching, 18-inch wheels and tires, a unique front fascia, a viscous limited-slip differential, and unique tuning for the car's electronic stability system. Options exclusive to the Sport models are a four-wheel active steer system, which our test car had, and a clumsy rear spoiler, which it thankfully did not.
Infiniti says the four-wheel active steer (FWAS) system (which activates at 25 mph) improves the vehicle's handling by adjusting the toe of the rear suspension up to one degree based on steering input and vehicle speed. At the same time, a planetary gearset that's been added to the steering shaft varies the steering ratio between 12.0:1 and 18.5:1. We would like to say the system works but not having track tested a car without the system, it's hard to know.
Testing a car with four-wheel active steer versus a car without it probably wouldn't prove anything anyway. When you order FWAS, the sedan's suspension is stiffened beyond the G35 Sport's standard settings, so any difference in handling could be due to the active steer system or the differences in suspension tuning. Or both.
One thing's for sure. The suspension tuning on the G35 Sport, which is firmer than the suspension on the other three trim levels, is just too firm. The car's new 40-percent-stiffer chassis allowed for such aggressive suspension tuning, and Infiniti's chassis engineers took the bait. Order four-wheel active steer and the ride becomes downright teeth chattering. We expect Infiniti will be getting some hate mail from Sport owners in the rough-road states.
Nobody but BMW owners will complain about the G35's handling. Front-end grip borders on the remarkable, while body control and balance are superb. At the track it circled the skid pad with 0.85g of lateral acceleration and slipped through the slalom at 67.1 mph — both a cat's whisker under the performance of the BMW 330i.
Wheelbase is the same 112.2 inches as last year, but the front and rear tracks have been widened 0.7 inch in front and 0.9 inch in the rear. The four-wheel independent suspension also received some revision up front, with a new single-pivot double-wishbone design which replaces the previous model's two lower links. Infiniti also staggered the car's tire sizes for the first time (225/50R18 in front, 245/45R18 at the rear).
Our only dynamic-handling complaint has to do with the G's steering. Ratio and feedback are right on, but the vehicle's speed-sensitive steering assist needs a little sorting. When the vehicle speed is changing rapidly up and down — like when you're charging a mountain road — changes in the assist are too radical and too slow to come, which can give the steering an artificial, video-game quality.
The brakes, on the other hand, are flawless. Sport models get larger 13-inch rotors front and back, and they stop this big sedan with little trouble. Fade is not an issue, pedal feel is excellent and stops from 60 mph take just 112 feet.
The ins and outs
Designed and still built in Japan, the 2007 G35 is essentially the same size as last year's model. Length is up half an inch, while the car is just 0.8 inch wider and 0.5 inch lower. Weight is up just 48 pounds.
It's also the same size on the inside, with a few minor exceptions. Rear-seat headroom has been shaved a bit, while there's a little more knee room thanks to a more careful carving of the door panels. Five still fit, but rear passengers shouldn't be much taller than 6 feet. Another change was the loss of the G's reclining rear seat, which was unique to the class. (We're told it was dumped for weight savings.) Trunk space is unchanged at 13.5 cubic feet.
Perhaps the new G's most meaningful improvement over its predecessor is its interior design, which has certainly taken several steps up in ergonomics, materials quality and ambience. Infiniti calls the décor "modern warmth." Real aluminum trim is not only standard, it has been textured to resemble a fine, handmade Japanese paper called Washi. The effect works, but when combined with our tester car's black leather, the décor is more Raider Nation than modern warmth. African Rosewood trim is optional on non-Sport models.
Option packages on our tester included the Premium Package, which added a sunroof; power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; memory for the driver seat, mirrors and steering wheel; Bluetooth; heated front seats; auto up-down rear windows; and a 10-speaker Bose audio system Infiniti calls "Studio On Wheels." Our test car did not have the optional Intelligent Cruise Control, adaptive front lighting, a rearview monitor, or the navigation system which features XM NavTraffic with real-time traffic information.
It's all wrapped in an evolutionary two-box design that's more aggressive than the shape it replaces, but also a little fussy in its details. Misses include a contrived chrome lip spoiler and overwrought grille bars, made to look like the twisted blades of samurai swords. Hits include the dual chrome exhaust tips, lower greenhouse and the pull-type door handles. Love it or like it, it's no doubt recognizable as the new G35, so it works.
If it ain't broke...
It was the 2003 G35 sedan and coupe that made Infiniti a player in the luxury market. After 13 years of rocks and trees and retagged Maximas, Nissan's luxury division found its stride. Last year, Infiniti sold 121,000 vehicles, 55,000 of which wore the G35 badge.
You'd have to be loopy to mess with that kind of success, and Infiniti hasn't. The 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan, which will hit dealers in November (the 2008 G35 Coupe will reach dealers next summer), is very much the same car as its predecessor, only better. Think G35 2.0.
Infiniti has left the car's size, layout and winning combination of luxury, performance and price essentially unchanged, while improving every aspect of the vehicle. A neat trick, one that has earned the gang a few rowdy nights at the Grand Ol' Opry, and one that will keep the G35 on the top rung of the midsize-performance-luxury-sedan market.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
System Score: 8.5
Components: "Infiniti Studio on Wheels" is the official name of this stereo system. It features Bose components and is an extra-cost option for the G35. It's included as part of larger options packages — most costing in excess of $3,000 — that offer many desirable features in addition to an upgraded stereo. The system consists of three speakers mounted in each front door including a 10-inch woofer, a 1-inch tweeter and a 3-inch mid/high-range speaker — another 3-inch speaker resides in the center of the dash as well. Each rear door has a 6.5-inch speaker and there's another 10-inch woofer in the rear package shelf. Total speaker count is 10. The upgraded system also includes a Bose digital amplifier mounted under the rear package shelf.
Performance: Bose says the goal of this new Infiniti sound system is to deliver detailed, lifelike sound. In many ways it has succeeded. Thanks to those three 10-inch woofers mounted throughout the car, bass response is deep, sharp and well controlled. Kick drums sound especially impressive, and even certain singers with a low frequency to their voice come across with a richer texture. Midrange is also very, very good with excellent sound presence. The vocals cut through nicely, which ultimately makes most types of music pleasant to listen to. Infiniti provided a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD with the car, and those gruff vocals combined with a raw, pure guitar to showcase the sound system perfectly.
On some harder rock tracks, separation is only slightly less than perfect, and at very high volumes some distortion can creep in. Otherwise, the optional sound system is a treat to listen to and flexible enough to give an acoustic Johnny Cash track a certain intimacy while at the same time delivering the needed punch of a driving Reliant K song.
The interface is simple and easy to use thanks to a revised and more upscale-looking center display screen. However, there's no midrange adjustment, and we'd like to see some customizable features like an equalizer similar to what Harman Kardon systems offer. Of course, those Harman Kardon stereos come in much more expensive cars.
Best Feature: Sharp, lifelike bass that doesn't sound messy.
Worst Feature: Lack of customizable settings.
Conclusion: An excellent-sounding stereo. Its only flaw is a lack of customization. — Brian Moody
Inside Line Editor in Chief Richard Homan says:
It's nice to meet a luxury carmaker that doesn't need to rely on an SUV to make its numbers. The G35 accounts for about a third of all the Infinitis sold in the U.S. That's a pretty big responsibility, but the first-gen G35 shouldered the burden nicely. And Infiniti's second go at the G35 sedan isn't about to mess with a successful formula.
The new G35's styling is not a radical departure from its predecessor, which makes sense as I am always surprised to note that the current G35 still looks fresh even after four years (I was not originally a fan, but somewhere in 2003, I acquired a taste). The leather-trimmed interior is an easy place to feel good in and to feel good about. The car's 3.5-liter VQ V6 still deserves a standing ovation for its enthusiasm and output, but a five-speed automatic is one gear shy of the competitive luxury standard.
I suspect that the second-generation G35 will enjoy that same comparison-test advantage that helped the gen-one car do so well: It'll be a quality, upper-midpack contender until sticker price gets tossed into the equation. At that point, the G35 will bump the BMW 3 Series off its throne with a value proposition that cannot be ignored.
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says:
Bitchin' steering. Incredible brakes. Unflappable chassis. An automatic transmission with legitimate performance potential harnessed to a 300-hp six-cylinder. Sounds like a serious sports car, doesn't it? Now add these to the list:
Four doors. Modern luxury appointments inside and out.
No, it's not a BMW 3 Series. But it's without question the 3's biggest rival when it comes to luxury/performance sedans. Infiniti's G35 sedan, since its introduction, has possessed outstanding dynamics, brilliant styling and a low-rent price tag the Germans could only hope for. Now, with its engine fully updated, it's a true class leader.
The G's revised 3.5-liter V6 makes an impressive 306 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque. But those numbers only tell part of the story. The rest becomes clear as the G's tach needle blasts straight past its old 6600-rpm redline on its way to a genuinely usable 7500 rpm. Those extra 900 revs allow the true enthusiast some serious involvement that would never happen with a lesser engine. Like, say, the 3.0-liter straight-6 in BMW's 330i.
And the G will hold its own against the 3 in any handling showdown — our slalom tests show only 0.3-mph difference between the two in the slalom. Heck, I even prefer the G's chassis over the legendary Bimmer. And that just doesn't happen very often.