Several automotive magazines have put the Infiniti G35 at the very top of their entry-level sport-/luxury-sedan ratings in comparisons that often included the BMW 3-series. After twelve months with a G35x, we are in enthusiastic agreement that the Infiniti is in BMW's league, although we still feel that the 3-series has an edge in refinement and in the harmonious blending of its mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic functions. But the G35 is not so far behind. The rear-wheel-drive version, particularly, has all the earmarks of a BMW beater. It is lively, quick, and tossable. Our long-term test car, the G35x, had the advantage of all-wheel drive, but it also had that feature's disadvantage: an additional 308 pounds of response-robbing weight. Nonetheless, we were all very pleased with the day-in, day-out comfort, utility, and performance of our G35x, and it was the car of choice whenever the roads got slippery. It was also an extremely satisfactory long-distance cruiser.After 31,138 miles, we found that the G35x had held together very nicely. Any car driven by two dozen raving enthusiasts for twelve months is going to suffer a certain amount of wear and tear, but the Infiniti seemed to shrug all that off with aplomb. We had no quality or reliability problems during the G35x's year. Our 30,000-mile service revealed that the front brake pads were worn below minimum factory specifications. The pads were replaced and the rotors machined under warranty. Otherwise, the service was routine, and the car felt as good as new in its last days with us.
America seems to have discovered the charms of all-wheel drive at last. Sales of awd cars are increasing steadily, and Ford Motor Company was actually caught short by demand for the feature in its Ford Five Hundred. We have been supporters of awd for several years, acknowledging its weight penalty but appreciating its many advantages in all-season driving. Front-wheel drive with modern traction control can achieve perhaps 80 percent of all-wheel drive's traction advantage on low-coefficient surfaces, but it doesn't match awd's dynamics.
In the Infiniti awd system, called ATTESA E-TS, an electromagnetic center differential distributes torque from front to rear. When accelerating from rest, the torque split is 25/75 front/rear; in cruising mode, it is 100 percent rear-wheel drive. Should a wheel lose traction, the split instantly shifts to 50/50. A button on the console can provide full-time 50/50 torque split for heavy going in snow. (All-wheel drive is not available with a manual transmission.) Our Infiniti's awd system was transparent in daily service-it simply made the car work better on bad roads without imposing itself on the driving experience.
The most important part of that driving experience is its near perfection. Settle into the driver's seat and reach out to the steering wheel: all of the major controls fall neatly within your grasp, and everything is where you'd expect it to be. Set the car in motion, and everything is similarly intuitive. The steering is nicely weighted, the engine is eagerly responsive in your driveway or on the freeway, and our car's five-speed automatic (with fore-and-aft push-pull manual shift) was quite satisfactory. Roadholding and handling are as good as anything in the category. The ride motions are a trifle busy, but the car remains perfectly composed and responds smartly to even the smallest steering and braking inputs. The brakes are powerful and well modulated, but a large shoe or an overshoe can occasionally catch both brake and throttle pedals, which could be a problem.
Alas, the small controls are not as neatly presented. Seat controls are on the inside bolster of each front seat and are usually hidden beneath the folds of coats or jackets. The outside mirror control is below eye level at the lower left of the instrument panel, masked by the steering wheel, and takes some finding on a dark morning in a rainstorm. The flat buttons in the center of the dash received a fair amount of criticism. They are ambiguous in their respective functions and difficult to identify while driving. Simpler knobs have mercifully replaced some of these perplexing items as part of an interior refreshening for 2005. The pop-up navigation system was well liked because it was tucked away and invisible most of the time. There were complaints about its user-unfriendliness and the fact that its maps were outdated.
The G35x is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that is a blood relative of the one in the Nissan 350Z. It produces 260 hp in 2004 trim, and the rating has been increased to 280 hp for 2005. It features 24 valves, variable valve timing (intake only), double overhead cams, and electronic throttle control. It is somewhat intrusive-one logbook entry described its sounds as "agricultural"-but it delivers terrific performance throughout the range. Our observed fuel economy was most often in the 20-to-22-mpg range, which we found quite acceptable in a car with such athletic performance.
Like the 350Z, the G35 is built on Nissan's FM platform-FM standing for "front midship," meaning that the engine is positioned toward the rear behind the front wheels for better overall weight distribution. This also may have helped with the car's exterior proportions, which are quite handsome. The G35 is ten inches longer overall than the BMW 3-series and is applauded for its roominess. It is also taller, which provides excellent headroom, even for drivers wearing hats. Despite these dimensional advantages, the G35 looks neither large nor heavy.
The base price of the G35x was $31,900, which included a four-year/60,000-mile unlimited warranty and a 70,000-mile powertrain warranty. Infiniti also promised twenty-four-hour roadside assistance and a complimentary loaner car. All G35s come with heated outside mirrors and seventeen-inch wheels.
Extras included XM Satellite Radio at $400, a trunk mat compatible with our choice of a full-sized spare tire at $60, Infiniti navigation system at $2000, and a $3200 Premium package, which included a 200-watt Bose audio system, a power glass sunroof, Homelink Universal Transceiver, automatic on/off headlamps, dual-zone temperature control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, reclining rear seatbacks, driver's seat memory/exit assist, and one-touch up/down windows. The total price was $37,560, which is a little on the high side of the entry-level sport-/luxury-sedan category, but then the G35x itself is right at the top of that category, just to put things in perspective.
Automobile Magazine readers who have purchased the G35x have proved to be as enthusiastic as automotive journalists. Robert W. Stringer, of Tiverton, Rhode Island, a man who has owned and loved five Audis, writes: "All in all, the G35x is the best car I have ever owned. It provides that unique combination of great performance, practicality, and an excellent price. I considered an Audi A4 3.0 and a BMW 330xi, but the performance, interior size, and price just kept me coming back to the Infiniti."
Trevor Geddis of Bradford, Ontario, writes that he liked the Infiniti's "handling on dry and snowy roads, performance, braking, comfort, looks, eight-way adjustable seat . . . and the instrument cluster that moves with the steering column."
Infiniti's fifteen-year history is marked by uncertain product planning and what appears to be a curious self-consciousness about being in the luxury segment in the first place. The original Infiniti Q45 was one of the best sport/luxury sedans we ever drove-an absolute home run. But the company never seemed to understand either the market or its own superior product. In addition to the Q45, Infiniti had a marvelous sport sedan in the J30, which was a kind of spiritual predictor of the remarkable G35.
The G35x is another breakthrough product. It has taken on the best in the world in the entry-level sport-/luxury-sedan category and emerged with flying colors. It is practical, reliable, strong as an anvil, and a veritable artesian well of driving pleasure.