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Into Infiniti and beyond

The G37 takes the popular G35 coupe to higher levels with refinements that you could -- almost -- mistake for a BMW.

August 29, 2007|DAN NEIL

All fields of criticism have their vernacular. Music critics might refer to "sonority" and the skimming reader might wonder what a musician's sorority has to do with anything. "Sonority" is shorthand for a luscious, felt-in-the-breastbone resonance of a performance.

Lately, car guys have been leaning heavily on "focus," as in, "The Mixelton Roadmaster 8000 GT is much more focused than the previous model." Meaning, the car is more responsive and driver-oriented. The steering ratio is quicker, the road feel more vivid in the wheel. The brake attack is sharper, the throttle quicker to pick up. The suspension trades a degree of suppleness for greater roll stiffness and body control while cornering. You know, focus.

The 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe, which went on sale last week with a base price of $34,250, has definitely got the whole Bausch & Lomb thing going on. This is the update to the G35 Coupe (model years 2002 to 2007), a car that signaled Infiniti's return to relevance and -- of no small consequence -- outsold the archrival BMW 3-series coupe by roughly 2 to 1. The G37, as the moniker suggests, has a higher displacement engine, more horsepower (330 hp, up a whopping 55 hp from the G35 Coupe), a redesigned interior and exterior, and lots of fancy-schmanzy technology, including available four-wheel active steering.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 12, 2007 Home Edition Highway 1 Part G Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Motorcycle review: A review of Big Bear Choppers' Miss Behavin in the Aug. 22 Highway 1 section incorrectly stated the elevation of Big Bear Lake as 8,000 feet. It is 6,754 feet.

All of which makes the G37 approximately twice the car of the G35. At the same time, Infiniti's engineers have tried to give the G37 sharpness, a crispness, or -- the word the company's shamans use -- "vibrancy." Because "focus," I guess, was overused.

Now, as a matter of personal taste, I didn't give a fig about the G35 Coupe. It was a decent car mechanically, and it had some lovely, fluid exterior lines -- some might even call it classic. But no one who stepped out of a 3-series and into a G35 could seriously contend that the Infiniti had the driving dynamics, the shrewd balance, the well-oiled athleticism -- the focus, if you will -- of the BMW.

Meanwhile, the G35 interior was kind of a mess, an unrefined collage of parts-bin switches and hard plastic surfaces that left me colder than Christmas in Murmansk. Luxury sports coupe? Well, that's two-thirds right, anyway.

With the 2008 update, the G coupe's interior decor gets in step with the redesigned G35 Sedan introduced late last year, and that's a good thing. Richer materials, including lovely African rosewood that's a $450, stand-alone option, are contoured into a handsome and serene twin-scallop cockpit design. Infiniti also makes a lot of noise about its aluminum cabin trim textured like washi rice paper -- part of an emerging meme about the brand's Japanese quintessentialism.

The car's electronics are better integrated into the living space. Unlike the nav unit display in the G35 Coupe, which popped out of the dashboard like a piece of LCD toast, the G37's display is situated in its own binnacle into the upper dash. The multi-function rotary control is a bit of a reach from the driver's seat but nothing you couldn't get used to. The instruments and switches are backlighted in a cool violet.

And yet, despite the major healing of the cabin, the Infiniti still doesn't have quite the top-shelf refinement of the BMW. It's here that the BMW's several-thousand-dollar price premium earns its keep.

On the outside, the G37 quietly evolves the previous design. The volumes, profile and fullback stance are virtually identical. The hood, fender flares and rocker panels are a little more sculpted than before. The biggest difference is the large lighting instruments -- headlights and taillights -- that envelop the cars' corners in Zircon sparkle.

The G37's big lens is its hot new engine, a stroked version of the sedan's 3.5-liter with Nissan/Infiniti's Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL) cylinder heads, producing 270 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. The gearing options are a six-speed manual or -- as in the test car -- a five-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. Characteristic of the current generation of smart-shifters, the automatic will vigorously blip the throttle on downshifts and will refrain from upshifting while cornering hard to avoid upsetting the car's balance.

Buttoned to either transmission, the all-aluminum V6 puts on steam in a hurry. Zero-to-60 acceleration is in the mid five-second range, but the car really isn't at its best until it's thrumming along in the middle gears. The variable valve gadgetry has what engineers call broad authority; with it, they could have given the G37's engine just about any character they wanted. They elected to give it a revving, peaky feel, with most of the thrust in the higher range of rpm (unlike the twin-turbo BMW motor, which produces a steady 300 pound-feet of torque pretty much everywhere on the tachometer).

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