Been Waiting for an Infiniti Convertible? The Weight Is Over
Karl Brauer , Editor at Large
When Infiniti introduced its G sedan in 2003, it was clear which luxury automaker the premium brand was targeting. The G35's free-revving six-cylinder engine, rear-wheel-drive platform and responsive handling had traditional Bavarian buyers stopping by their local Infiniti dealer to test-drive the upstart sport sedan. Infiniti quickly added all-wheel drive and a sleek coupe to the G's pedigree, extending its mimic of (and assault on) BMW's 3 Series, but drop-top fans never got a G convertible, even during last year's introduction of the all-new G37. That all changes when the 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible arrives to stake yet another claim on 3 Series territory.
In a nod to modern trends, the G37 convertible has a retractable hardtop that flips, folds and stows beneath the trunk lid in less than 30 seconds. Infiniti prides itself on having to add just a quarter-inch to the overall length of the G37 coupe in order to create the convertible, and compared to the 3 Series convertible's 4-inch growth over its coupe brother, the G37's near-identical size is impressive. But the thing about folding metal roofs is?they're still metal, and metal weighs more than canvas. So while the G37's exterior dimensions are nearly identical to the coupe, its curb weight swells by 453 pounds (the retractable hardtop Bimmer gains a still-portly 375 pounds).
It's not easy to hide 453 pounds, but the Infiniti engineers did a remarkable job of managing the added weight. A Sport package -- including 19-inch wheels, performance tires, a sport-tuned suspension and more powerful brakes -- gives the G37 convertible unexpected responsiveness and confidence for a 2-ton machine (4,095 pounds). And even the base model riding on standard 18-inch wheels manages its weight in a controlled manner, avoiding excessive wallow or undulation under all but the most aggressive driving circumstances.
Several convertible-specific features are offered on the 2009 Infiniti G37, including standard pop-up roll bars, an optional adaptive climate control system and the Bose Open Air sound system with headrest-mounted speakers. An available mesh wind blocker keeps air buffeting to a minimum at freeway-plus speeds, while increased structural bracing reduces body shimmies to just an occasional subtle waggle in the lower cabin when traversing pavement buckles.
Performance purists will see the convertible's increased weight as a non-negotiable compromise, and in terms of sheer capability they're right. But with 3 Series drop-top sales reaching almost 50 percent of 3 Series coupe sales, it's obvious a market exists for these open cars, even with the unavoidable weight gain and performance hit. Infiniti clearly needed a G37 convertible if it wanted to keep chipping away at the 3. Now it's got one.
Riding on the same FM platform as the coupe and sedan, our 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible test car benefits from a double-wishbone front suspension and multilink rear suspension. A 3.7-liter variable-valve V6, producing 325 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, is the only engine offered, but it can be hooked to either a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. The EPA rates the G37 convertible at 17/25 mpg (20 combined) with the automatic and 16/24 (19 combined) with the manual transmission. A four-wheel disc brake system -- including antilock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist technology -- is standard, with larger brake rotors and aluminum four-piston calipers offered as part of the Sport package.
That same Sport package on our test car added 19-inch aluminum wheels wearing Bridgestone Potenza P225/45R19 tires front and P245/4519 tires rear (standard wheels are 18-inch alloys with Dunlop all-season 225/50s front, 245/45s rear). A retuned suspension and steering system, a shorter differential ratio, a unique front fascia, sport seats, aluminum pedals and (on automatic G37 convertibles) magnesium paddle shifters round out the Sport package. With this package we experienced much of the same driving thrill provided by the coupe and sedan models, though acceleration and ultimate handling capabilities are muted by that 453-pound weight penalty. And while the six-speed manual and tight pedal placement make for entertaining heel-and-toe opportunities (the V6 sounds as fabulous as ever when rev-matching), brief seat time with the seven-speed automatic had us happily surprised by its intuitive and responsive nature when placed in Drive Sport (DS) mode. On a twisting roadway it held gears, downshifted when braking for turns and consistently did exactly what we wanted without any driver input.
Locking horns with a luxury brand like BMW means you better have the premium features to back up your premium aspirations. Standard features on the G37 convertible include leather seats, a double-hand-stitched leather steering wheel (with multifunction buttons for audio and cruise control), dual-zone climate control, a rearview monitor system and a six-speaker CD audio system with MP3 and satellite radio capabilities.
The Premium package adds typical items like Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and rain-sensing wipers, but also includes Infiniti's Adaptive Climate Control and 13-speaker Bose Open Air sound system with headrest-mounted speakers. The latter two are designed to specifically compensate for top-down driving with more effective ventilation and sound management based on open cabin airflow and acoustics. For example, audio from the headrest-mounted speakers overcomes wind noise, and Adaptive Climate Control combines outside temperature data with vehicle speed to automatically adjust airflow, keeping us comfortable with the top down, regardless of velocity.
Probably the most important option on our test car (and one that, maybe, should be standard) is the mesh windscreen that snaps in place across the rear seats to reduce both wind buffeting and noise. Unless you never plan on going above 50 mph, you'll want one of these. Speaking of rear seats, the G37's (like those in most four-seat convertibles) aren't roomy enough for adults, though kids could sit back there for extended periods without complaint. Conversely, the standard front seats provide contentment for full-size adults, and the optional sport seats on our tester (part of the Sport package) offer a superb combination of lateral support and comfort.
The promise of the one-button, 30-second retractable hardtop is pretty obvious: coupelike security and serenity when the top is up, convertible exposure and exhilaration when the top is down. The 2009 Infiniti G37 convertible generally lives up to this promise, with a few notable exceptions. Wind noise with the top up, for instance, is lower than in a comparable soft top, but a subtle hissing at highway speeds (just behind the driver's head) betrays the cutline in the roof that's required for a folding hardtop. Storage space is also compromised, as metal simply won't compress like cloth when stuffed into a trunk. This means a two-golf-bag trunk, with the top up, becomes a 2-cubic-foot trunk (think Kleenex box) with the top down. Here's another way to look at it: You know that area resembling a rear seat? That's actually the trunk when you put the top down.
One upside of the retractable hardtop design relates to blind spots. Yes, they're obviously not an issue when the top is down, but the narrow roof pillar design (required to make it all fit in the trunk) gives the G37 convertible better outward visibility than the coupe even when the top is up.
We appreciate the bright and clear LCD screen in every modern Infiniti product, but we'd like to see more audio adjustment options in the G37 convertible, as both the standard system and the optional Bose system give you only treble, bass, balance and fader controls to play with.
Design/Fit and Finish
The G37 convertible's interior materials quality accurately reflects the car's premium badge and price (official pricing had yet to be announced at press time, but it should be in the $40,000 neighborhood, depending on trim level and options). A seamless headliner (when the top is up) and soft-touch surfaces throughout the cabin transmit a sense of luxury. A matte aluminum trim, dubbed "Silk Obi" by Infiniti's marketing folks, accents the dash, center stack and door panels. This can be substituted with a stand-alone African rosewood option if you prefer premium lumber to premium metallic trim.
While Infiniti's products have often lagged behind competing upscale brands in terms of materials quality and control feel, the company seems to have focused on these areas in recent years.
Who should consider this vehicle
Luxury convertible fans who would prefer to save money over curb weight when shopping a 2009 Infiniti G37 against the German competition.
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