PALO ALTO, California - When Nissan's luxury division replaced its compact G20 sedan with a bigger G35 for the 2003 model year, it gave Infiniti a strong player in the sport-sedan market. In fact, the G35 currently accounts for one-third of the company's U.S. sales.
Marketers employed a variety of methods to determine what likely customers wanted in the second-generation model, including a home-placement program that let participants drive the car in its early form. Ready for sale in November, the 2007 G35 sedan is like a "poised cat ready to pounce," said regional product manager Randy Fior. "In a market of lookalike sport sedans," the new model is ""sporty, nimble, precise, and refined," with a "seductive and athletic" exterior. That's the company's opinion, at any rate.
Fior points to the G35's long, wave-like hood and pushed-back A-pillars. Half an inch lower and 0.8-inch wider than its predecessor, it features "crafted, sword-like grille blades" up front. Aluminum interior trim is inspired by Washi, a Japanese method of hand papermaking.
Beneath the hood sits a new high-revving 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates 306 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque (with a swift 7600-rpm redline limit). Infiniti promies an acceleration "swell," like a building wave, rather than a linear rush of speed. Fuel economy is up by 1 mpg, for EPA estimates in both city and highway driving.
Magnesium paddle shifters at the steering wheel are available for the five-speed automatic transmission, which includes a Sport (DS) mode. Automatic Shift Control includes an internal G-force sensor, and the transmission matches engine revs during downshifts for improved response. Instead of the automatic, a six-speed manual transmission is available for the Sport model.
Four-wheel active steering is newly available for the Sport model, too. Standard tires are 17-inch size, but the Sport model rolls on 18-inch rubber. Intelligent cruise control and a rearview monitor may be installed.
Sales begin on November 1 at Infiniti's 180 retailerrs. Five versions are available: base G35, G35 Journey, G35X all-wheel drive, G35 Sport, and G35 Sport 6MT (manual shift). The stick-shift sedan gets a hand parking brake rather than the customary foot pedal.
Bose "Studio on Wheels" sound is available, with 10-inch woofers in the front doors and 374-watt output. An Intelligent Key is standard, with pushbutton engine startup.
This V-6 powertrain is virtually unbeatable, issuing energy that stretches beyond exuberant and into a sheer bounty of power. A rich-sounding snarl occurs when accelerating hard in DS (Sport) mode, while ordinary driving emits a lush murmur. Sport mode keeps the transmission in a lower gear for much longer than usual, and the momentary engine blip during each hard downshift adds a bit to the driving pleasure on challenging roads.
Paddle shifters on the Sport model work neatly enough, but don't really seem necessary except when rolling down a steep slope. Paddle-requested gear changes are quick and crisp when downshifting, but more sluggish for upshifts.
Well-lit instruments are among the best on the market for easy readability, with a distinctively attractive dashboard. Seats are snugly bolstered and firm, yet appealing - helped by their long bottoms.
Overall, the G35 Sport feels utterly solid and tight. In quick and repeated curves, the G35 Sport is absolutely masterful, staying quite flat through every turn. The Sport package definitely steals some ride comfort, but the ride is pleasant on smooth roads. Harsher pavement produces more unpleasant, jarring responses.
Four-wheel steering adds to the sensation of confidence in tight curves, though the difference is fairly subtle. Slight rotation of the steering wheel can move the car more than you might expect. In this system, the rear-wheel steering setup is like the one used on earlier Infiniti models, complemented by variable assist to the front wheels.
A comparably redesigned G35 coupe will debut in mid-2007. Meanwhile, the 2007 G35 coupe at dealerships is a carryover from last year. A completely new Infiniti model will be unveiled at the 2007 New York Auto Show.