Head for the Coast, Not the Hills
The sign says, "Malibu: 27 miles of Scenic Beauty." Sounds good; let's fire up this new 2009 Infiniti G37 S Convertible and have a go, as the snooty Brits like to say. Yes, the white one. We know Malibu isn't in Florida. That would be Miami you're thinking of. We can't help it — we just test them here at Inside Line, so we usually don't get to choose the color.
We've chosen the 2009 Infiniti G37 S Convertible for this day of Malibu-ing for two reasons: 1) This is a full test of the 2009 Infiniti G37 S Convertible, so bringing it along seemed to make sense; and 2) With its retractable hardtop, this is the perfect car for a run in and out of the 'Bu — a real coupe for the city and curvy stretches and a convertible for the coastal runs.
There are two ways to get to Malibu from our Santa Monica office. You can pick the logjam that is the Los Angeles freeway system or take the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. That's right baby, the world famous PCH. California Highway 1. The Freeway to the Beach Houses of the Stars. The world's most famous coast road.
Easy choice, right? Like choosing between Uma and Oprah. Cold beer and warm beer. Work or play. Duh. We choose Uma playing with a cold beer. But first we need to drop the top.
Drop the Top
And the top is the story of this car. Less than 30 seconds is all it takes to transform what is basically a G37 hardtop (no B-pillar or fixed side glass) into a wide-mouth convertible. Just push the button on the center console and hold. All the work is done by a team of electric motors that hum while they work, peeling back the car's roof from the windshield header, splitting it into three evenly sized pieces and stacking it clamshell-style in the car's trunk.
It's a true marvel of engineering, with countless hinges, double-hinges and pulleys, but unlike Lexus, which does its retractable hardtop for the SC 430 in house, Nissan has had its system engineered in Germany by Karmann. It uses steel roof panels and is installed on a sub-assembly line at Nissan's plant in Tochigi, Japan, the same facility that produces the G37 coupe and sedan.
But there's more to the G's transformation from coupe to convertible than just the roof and its complex mechanism. Infiniti reinforced the car's A-pillar, door sills and overall body structure. Oh, and dual pop-up anti-rollover bars deploy if the machine's big brain thinks it's heading for the upside-down. According to Larry Dominique, Nissan North America's vice president of product planning, the active roll bars were an aesthetic choice: "They kept us from having to put in an ugly hoop brace."
Essentially everything from the A-pillar back is new. "There's a lot going on in the back of this vehicle," Dominique tells us. "At the time the coupe was designed, we did not engineer it to be a convertible." But thanks to extreme packaging efforts by Infiniti, which include a new more compact rear suspension to make room for the folded top, the G37 Convertible looks right top up or top down. Overall length and deck-lid height are up so slightly, you'd have to bust out a micrometer to notice.
Sacrifices? Just one: the entire trunk. Top up, it fits two golf bags. Top down, you're lucky to toss a T-shirt back there. Suddenly that backseat is the trunk. Don't worry, it doesn't fit people anyway.
With the top dropped, we turn north on PCH at the bottom of the famous California Street incline. Trust us, you've seen it in movies. Just to the south is the Santa Monica Pier, lit golden by the approaching sunset over the Pacific. Ahead are the cliff-top mansions and rehab centers fancied by the Hollywood set. These days the paparazzi outnumber the surfers.
Four lanes wide and glass-top smooth, PCH winds along the beaches past Sunset Boulevard and the landmark restaurant, Gladstone's. This is where it really starts getting good. This is the road convertibles are made for, and the reason Ferrari has one called the California. And it's in this environment that the G37 Sport Convertible is best.
Our car wears both the optional premium and tech packages but goes without GPS navigation. It's also equipped with the seven-speed automatic, but the six-speed manual is available. Prices haven't been set yet, but we're told the range will be from the mid-$40s to the mid-$50s. Our Sport would top $50,000, easy.
The infamous Mulholland Highway is our destination. Laid in the 1920s as a scenic drive, it connects to Highway 1 in North Malibu and runs east, deep into Hollywood. There we'll evaluate the G's ability to turn, which Dominique says has been a big part of the convertible's development. "The goal was to retain G Coupe-like handling," he says.
But now we're just cruising, and the G37 is feeling good. Cops are as common on PCH as fire damage and mudslides, so we keep it under 60 mph (the limit is just 50 mph) and enjoy the scenery. Wind control is respectable and there's a likable growl from the G's 325-horsepower 3.7-liter V6. We've also found admiration for the optional Bose Open Air Audio System. It puts a couple of speakers in each of the front seat headrests, and while they might look a little Princess Leia, they work. And the standard seat heaters are coming in handy as the sun finds the horizon.
Only the slight shiver shooting through the G's structure reminds you this is a coupe that was hit with a cutting wheel.
Just south of Neptune's Net, a beachside eatery popular with the Harley crowd, we turn east onto Mulholland, pop the shifter over into the manual gate and feel for the G's magnesium shift paddles. Now we'll find out if the G37 Sport Convertible is a serious sports machine like its coupe and sedan brothers.
We have our doubts. The folding roof and all that comes with it have added 457 pounds to the car. This white convertible weighs more than 2 tons, and the weight bias shifts noticeably to the rear when the top is down. It's also more heft for the VQ-series V6 to pull around.
And here come the corners. A swift pace is accepted and open sweepers are no problem, but it's obvious that there's less grip overall, and race pace is just not what this car is about. It might wear the same 19-inch Bridgestone summer rubber as the coupe, but it can't exploit the available grip like the coupe can.
Part of the problem is the reduced travel of the revised rear suspension. At 10/10ths it's too easy to find the bumpstops of the rear dampers, which transfers too much impact into the car's weakened structure. The turn-in is slower, too, and there's more understeer than there is in the coupe, but the car does take a nice set once you get it to change direction.
Don't misunderstand; this car can hit a mountain road with some serious speed, and in fact it's very easy to drive quickly. Even at its limits, it never feels skittish or nervous. It's just not as fast or fun as a G37 Sport Coupe, despite sharing all of the same hardware including its brakes and quicker steering gear.
And our test track numbers (recorded with the top up) prove it. This drop top hits 60 mph in 6.0 seconds (5.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and blows through the quarter-mile in 14.2 seconds at 98 mph. It also circles the skid pad at 0.84g, achieves 65.9 mph in our slalom test and stops from 60 mph in just 108 feet.
As you'd expect, the last Infiniti G37 S Coupe we tested with the seven-speed automatic bettered these numbers by quite a bit. Zero to 60? 5.5 seconds with rollout. Quarter-mile? 13.9 seconds at almost 103 mph. Lateral grip? 0.86g. Then there's its 71.3 mph slalom speed, which is in another league and really illustrates the coupe's superior ability to change direction.
Back in Santa Monica
And so with the sun down and the top up, we leave the scenic vistas of Malibu and head back to the real world where boogie-boarding is not an occupation. Sealed up in the city, the G convertible does feel like a coupe...mostly. The top is insulated and lined to keep the noise out, and the headliner is one giant piece of fabric to complete the illusion of a fixed roof, but even with the top up, that vaultlike feeling you get in the G coupe or sedan is just not there.
For some, this will be an acceptable sacrifice for the sun and the moon and the stars. Infiniti expects as many women to buy the 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible as men, and according to Dominique, it's the last of the G mutations. "This completes the G line for us," is how he put it, so if you're still waiting for that M3 fighter, stop.
Meanwhile, the retractable-hardtop war among the luxury brands heats up, with the established Volvo C70 and the BMW 3 Series doing battle with the new Infiniti and the soon-to-come Lexus IS C. Gentlemen, start your lease deals.
The 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible will hit dealers in late June. We expect to see quite a few of them in Malibu and the 'Bu-adjacent areas.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh says:
A retractable hardtop is one of those things that sounds great on paper. The security of a fixed roof with the al fresco joy of a convertible at the touch of a button — who wouldn't want that? And when you start with a car as good as the 2009 Infiniti G37 S, well, it's like adding a Swedish massage to your spa treatment.
In many respects, the conversion is a success. Wind buffeting with the top down is a non-issue, and the car steers with an accuracy that makes you swear you're driving the coupe. And although the car gained some weight in the process of removing its roof, the powerful V6 and seven-speed gearbox don't seem to notice it one bit.
Cars lose a big chunk of their rigidity when the top is lopped off, though, and the G37 S Convertible makes this obvious when the top is up and you're just pootling around. Its chassis quivers like a frightened Chihuahua even when you're driving on pavement you thought was smooth. Creaks and road noise are constant companions.
In a twist of irony, the harder you drive it, the better it is. Unfortunately, the sensibilities of buyers who seek retractable hardtops generally don't involve dynamic prowess, and the G37 S Convertible's compromises will stand out more than its virtues.