Infiniti took us to the former Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California--which, as part of its recent $50 million refurbishment, has morphed into Infineon Raceway--for some hot laps in the G35, and we returned a couple of days later for formal testing. The G35 was a hot number on the track, especially after Kjell Kallman of the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School rode shotgun and helped us refine our lines through this challenging circuit, which features a couple of entertaining blind crests.
Like the 350Z, the G35 tends to understeer at the limit, but overall it's very predictable, has great grip, and takes a set beautifully. The V-6 has plenty of torque, so third gear is all we needed except on a couple of the straights.
The incumbent and the challenger turned in performance profiles that were practically dead even. The BMW is slightly quicker to 60 mph, while the Infiniti won the race to 100. The 330Ci stops better; the G35 corners harder. Both leave the fainthearted Mercedes-Benz CLK320 eating their dust from a standing start (see sidebar).
In the real world, which is to say on the road, the G35 had no trouble keeping up with the 330Ci, but the two cars take distinctly different approaches to the sporty driving experience. The VQ-series V-6 has transformed every product Nissan has ever bolted it into, and in its G35 coupe state of tune, it is certainly one of the best V-6 engines in the world. Although it's not a big, bubbling, brawny thing, it does make its presence known, and a most invigorating exhaust note is created as its combustion effluvia exit the rear of the car through twin pipes. Compared with the BMW's silky five-speed manual, the Infiniti's six-speed is just as satisfying to use, but it is heavier in the hand and requires more deliberate wrist action.
The BMW is all about finesse, whereas the Infiniti wants to maximize the driver's fun, even if it makes him work a little harder for it. Nobody, including Infiniti, has yet matched BMW's ability to marry great handling with an exceptionally smooth ride. Over an undulating Marin County two-lane road, both the 330Ci and the G35 displayed incredible grip and body control, but the BMW did a better job of smoothing out the bumps along the way. Conversely, the G35's steering is better than the 330Ci's, and who thought we'd ever say that about a BMW? The Bavarian car's steering wheel still provides great feel, but it's a tad on the light side. The G35 requires more steering effort but rewards you with far more feedback and the feeling, if not the reality, of better directional stability.
The interior and exterior aesthetics of these cars also follow different paths. The 3-series shape, of course, is classically beautiful and will inevitably age well, but in comparison with the G35's ultramodern, relatively simple front end, the snout of the 330Ci looks a little busy, what with its double horizontal headlights, propeller badge, kidney grille, and multilayered, bi-colored air dam punctuated by fog lights. The G35 wears its sporting aggressiveness on its sleeve, with its stacked, swept-back headlamps, black chrome grille, and high, chiseled rump of a rear highlighted by Gatling-gun-style LED taillamps in the mold of big brother Q45's headlamps. Those beautiful Brembos send some strong visual signals as well. An optional aero package with a rear spoiler and rear side air diffusers reduces the coefficient of drag from an already impressive 0.29 to 0.28 and is claimed to create zero rear lift.