After some floundering with the second-generation Q45 and the Nissan Maxima-clone I35, Infiniti came out with the G35, and that sport sedan--very much in the vein of the BMW 3-series-- reestablished the brand's enthusiast credentials. Now comes a new G35, and we're relieved that there's been no loss of focus. Indeed, the car is an even more convincing competitor to the standard-bearer from Munich.
The new G35's look is similar to the old, but closer examination reveals a more contoured and less slablike body. Dimension-creep has been kept in check--the car measures within an inch of the old one--and the accompanying weight gain is less than 50 pounds. Technology-creep is more evident, however, with standard push-button starting and available intelligent cruise control, a rear-view camera, and adaptive headlamps. The cabin has been treated to a major upgrade, bringing it up to division standards. (Although not as oft-praised as Audi or Lexus, Infiniti interiors are certainly in the same league.)
Once again, all G35s are motivated by Nissan's 3.5-liter VQ V-6, which drives the rear wheels or, alternatively, all four. The G35 has always been an overachiever in the power department, and now it gets variable valve timing on the exhaust side and sees output jump to 306 hp and 268 lb-ft. Interestingly, when you floored the gas in the old car, the electronic controls didn't give you full throttle opening until about 30 mph, increasing the rate of acceleration along with building speed--what Infiniti engineers call "swell." The revised engine achieves the same result not with electronic sandbagging but with two symmetrical air intakes that become more effective as the speed rises, so the engine actually delivers a bit more than the advertised 306 hp at higher speeds. The engine also uses dual exhaust pipes from each cylinder bank in an effort to make the V-6 sound like a straight six. Unfortunately, the loudest sound you hear at low rpm is a whine from the manual gearbox--better to crank up the impressive Bose sound system (see sidebar). The six-speed transmission, available only with the Sport package, has the same short throws as today's car and a well-weighted clutch, but the high takeup makes smoothness a challenge. Those who opt instead for the five-speed manu-matic now get a set of paddles with the Sport trim.
New variable-assist steering is much lighter at parking speeds--not a change we favor--but it firms up nicely once velocity increases. We're happier to report that a redesigned front suspension goes a long way toward quelling kickback through the steering wheel in bumpy corners, which was a weakness of the old car. Infiniti has followed BMW down the road of active steering, and again we fail to see the benefit. In what is perhaps tacit acknowledgement of the system's dubious value, active steering is a stand-alone option and thus easily avoided. It does, however, come with rear-wheel steering (an in-phase setup capable of up to one degree of turning). But in back-to-back laps at Connecticut's Lime Rock Park racetrack, we drove cars with and without four-wheel steering and found no significant difference.
The Lime Rock experience did show the G35 to be a natural athlete. The G35 is a neutral handler with plentiful grip, but you can coax out its rear end more easily by lifting the throttle than by booting it, and the car behaves well at the limit. With its firmer dampers, the Sport model also displays better body control than its predecessor, yet the ride quality is very nice--and very similar to the BMW's.
In its chassis tuning, its tightened embrace of technology, and--if you load up on all the new options--its price, the G35 is, more than ever, a Japanese 3-series.