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.