Recently I began writing a column about advertising and marketing for this paper, a process that has awakened my sense of the ludicrous, chicken-salad-flavored fertilizer that passes for brand marketing in this country. And no automotive company has agonized more over the meaning of its brand than Infiniti, Nissan's luxury division, whose image advertising has at various times invoked the serene austerity of a Japanese tearoom and the tuck-and-roll dissipation of a Nevada cathouse.
After wandering in the desert in a way that was nothing less than Hebraic, Infiniti has finally emerged with something approaching a meaning. Infinitis are: keenly Japanese, with telling details -- such as the sword-foil grilles and the washi textures on interior panels -- that celebrate a kind of corporate nationalism. (It would be like Ford using spent brass shell casings as interior trim on its pickup trucks, or beef as upholstery.) Infinitis are: sporty and athletic cars that are not defined by their performance. Infinitis are: sleek, quietly handsome cars that are not obsessed by their beauty. Infinitis are: technologically enabled cars that are not bent on cutting-edge gadget domination.
To compile all that: Infinitis are very comfortable, superbly built Japanese cars with a kind of measured compromise and reasonableness in every direction, cars with sterling goodness but not greatness, cars that are very sound but not sensational in any way.
So what is the company's brand tagline? "Inspired performance." Really? Inspired? This way to the desert, Israelites. . . .
There is nothing particularly inspired about the new G37 Convertible. In fact, it's a fairly rote can-opener job of the G37 Coupe. At the media launch in West L.A. last month, Infiniti executives said the G37 was designed from the beginning to be both a coupe and convertible. Not quite. When pressed, they conceded that the convertible required some major overhauling of the rear suspension (more on that in a moment), as well as beefing up of the steel structure and other rejiggering. Although the result is impeccable -- the Karmann-supplied top mechanism is beautifully fitted into the rear deck and unfolds with biomechanical smoothness, like the jaws of a praying mantis -- this was certainly not an easy, planned-for conversion.
Thanks in part to the fact that the roof panels are steel and not aluminum, the convertible weighs a staggering 462 pounds more than the coupe. So if you like the way your G37 Coupe drives, just throw a Kawasaki Ninja in the trunk and see how that grabs you. The other significant downside to the convertible is that the lowered top all but devours trunk space, down to around 2 cubic feet. Yes, you can take the kids to school in alfresco glory, but there's no room in the trunk for their lunch boxes.
Now, in fairness, the reason the top takes up so much trunk space is that Infiniti refused to muck with the well-wrought lines of the G37 Coupe. Ordinarily, four-seat cabrio versions of coupes develop these weirdly overlong rear decks and rear overhangs (e.g., BMW 3-series, Pontiac G6) in an attempt to accommodate the roofs and retain trunk space, making the cars look if they are wearing a Victorian bustle.
The G37 Convertible retains the coupe's surety of line, the wind-fluted rear shoulders and short rear overhang. So, point to Infiniti: This is the best-looking coupe/hardtop cabrio conversion out there. The only problem: Where they are going to put the trophy?
Mechanically, the G37 Convertible is almost a mirror image of the coupe. Under the hood is the sweetly slick 3.7-liter V6 rated at 325 horsepower (five less than in the coupe on account of some changes to the exhaust plumbing). Buyers have a choice of either a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual (with the Sport package). The Sport package also kicks in 19-inch alloy wheels, bigger brakes, quicker steering and sport seats.
Out in the sun-damasked canyons around Malibu, the G37 Convertible was a tolerably good car to throw around, but the performance was, well, slightly less than divinely inspired.
The car feels quite a bit more deliberate than the coupe thanks to the weight -- 0-60 mph is probably in the high 5-second range now -- and the convertible exhibits more tremble and cowl-shake over rough roads than the closed-roof car.
As part of the cabrio surgery, Infiniti re-engineered the rear suspension in such a way as to limit wheel travel. One consequence is that, in hard cornering, the outside rear wheel travel can get used up, leaving the car to hop and heave on its bump stops if it hits a rough patch. It's not terrible and it certainly won't break any pending deals with the real estate agents and paralegals of Malibu, but it's noticeable.