The second-generation Infiniti G satisfies both the left and right brain: It's fun to drive and nicely appointed, yet it's reliable and less expensive than many competitors. If I age half so well, I'll die a happy man.
An entry-level G25 sedan and high-performance G37 IPL (for Infiniti Performance Line) are both new this year. The G37 remains available in sedan, coupe and retractable-hardtop convertible form, with all-wheel drive — denoted by an "x" — optional on the sedan and coupe. Sport and Limited editions are new this year. Click here to compare the G25 and G37.
We evaluated two cars: an all-wheel-drive G37x Limited Edition sedan in Chicago and a G37 IPL coupe at Wisconsin's Road America racetrack.
Following a face-lift for last year's sedan, the coupe and convertible get some rhinoplasty themselves for 2011. See the photos at right to compare. Stretching more than 9 inches past the BMW 3 Series, the second-generation G sedan is one of the largest in its segment — which makes its narrow, 35.4-foot turning circle all the more impressive. The styling at large — vintage Infiniti, with curves aplenty — looks distinctly Asian, for better or worse. Overall, the look is wearing OK.
Xenon headlights and 17-inch wheels are standard. Both the Sport and Limited packages include 18-inch wheels, a rear spoiler and some pretty silly-looking ground effects. The base car looks nowhere near as overwrought.
Introduced two model years back, the G37 convertible has a folding metal hardtop that takes a longish 30 seconds to operate. Check out our review of the 2010 model here.
Going & Stopping
What hasn't changed is the G37's performance. Gallons of ink and multiple terabytes have been expended comparing every iota of the G37 sedan's 3.7-liter V-6 to the optional turbocharged inline-six from its archrival, the BMW 3 Series. Suffice it to say that its similar curb weight and an extra 31 pounds-feet of torque make the 335i quicker off the line despite a lower power rating (300 horsepower). But the 328-hp G37 has gobs of output in its own right, accelerating with more urgency than many competitors — including the Acura TL, Audi A4 and 3.6-liter Cadillac CTS. Even with all-wheel drive, which adds some 200 pounds versus a rear-wheel-drive G37, the sedan bolts away from stoplights and muscles its way up to highway speeds. Push the engine hard, and the power feels a bit peaky — less of it starting out and a lot more as the tachometer needle swings clockwise — but that's a relative sensation. In absolute terms, you'll find usable oomph even around town at 2,000 rpm.
Matched well to the engine is the G37's seven-speed automatic transmission. The seven-speed isn't as decisive as the G's earlier five-speed auto — it exhibits slower kickdown on the highway and occasionally hunts for the right gear — but its short ratios mean the G's high-revving power comes up quickly.
Stick-shift drivers will appreciate the G37's marvelous six-speed manual. With short throws and a crisp feel to the gates, it beats the 3 Series' rubbery shifter, and the clumsy ones in the A4 and CTS. The clutch's narrow friction point takes some getting used to, but accelerator response is virtually instantaneous, allowing you to hammer off easy rev-matched downshifts. Interestingly, I detected a lot more accelerator lag in the automatic G37, though it's not nearly as bad as in some cars.
Ride & Handling
Though firmer than some in its segment — the Mercedes C-Class, for one — the G37 rides comfortably, especially given our test car's 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tires. Get on the interstate, and the suspension smoothes out the usual pitter-patter of rough lanes well, though extended sections of broken pavement can send the car into uncontrolled bouncing motions, from which it takes a moment to resettle. Rear-drive cars with the Sport Package or manual transmission employ even stiffer suspension tuning, which could worsen that tendency.
Vindication comes in the handling department, where the G37 performs as well as the venerable 3 Series. Infiniti markets the G's all-wheel drive — whose impossibly technical name is abbreviated ATTESA E-TS — as capable of providing rear-wheel-drive handling in dry conditions. It's true. Get onto a freeway cloverleaf or back-road sweeper, and the G seldom pushes wide; I found the tail as easy to slide out in our all-wheel-drive tester as it was in the last rear-drive G we evaluated.
Body roll was noticeable in our test car, but the firmer suspension on the rear-drive G37 Sport might mitigate this. The lean wasn't unnerving, and there was no wheel hop over midcorner bumps. Even without the car's optional quicker, 14.7:1 performance steering ratio, our test car had the sort of turn-in precision that allows you to sense — and react to — every degree of the car's rotation. Pushed hard, the C-Class and Audi A4 plow clumsily through corners. The G37 and 3 Series can easily perform four-wheel drifts.
Some may wish for more power-steering assist at low speeds, in the manner of the A4 or C-Class. At highway speeds, however, our test car settled in comfortably, requiring few corrections to stay on course. The tires — Dunlop Sport Maxx P225/50R18s all-seasons — kicked up modest road noise, but wind noise at 60 mph was low.
The G37 Limited's candy-red upholstery is a bit much for me, but cabin quality is otherwise very good. Padded surfaces run all the way down to foot level, with soft-touch areas in all the places your knees, elbows or hands will touch. Hell, there's even a cushioned cover over the cupholders. Luxury aside, it's nice to see Infiniti kept some essential conveniences: The overhead console includes a sunglasses holder, and the sun visors have full extensions that meet the B-pillars. Despite their inclusion on cars half this price, those two features go missing on too many luxury competitors.
Most controls are high-quality, but one of our standing complaints remains: Buttons for the central dashboard screen, where the optional navigation system resides, are perched high up on the dash, beyond easy reach. It's a shame, seeing as Infiniti has one of the better navigation setups on the market, with both touch-screen and physical controls for zooming in and out, scrolling the map and jumping to different menus.
Leather seats are standard. The Sport Package adds sport seats with larger, power-adjustable side and cushion bolsters. Even with the bolsters relaxed all the way, many drivers will find the seats narrow and constrictive, particularly the bottom cushions. What's more, I'm 5-foot-11 and could have used another inch or so of rearward seat travel so my legs could extend fully.
The backseat has enough knee room for adults, but the seat is too close to the floor, resulting in raised knees, and taller passengers will find headroom limited. That's par for this class, where backseats are usually cramped. The trunk, on the other hand, is fairly large (13.5 cubic feet), beating the 3 Series, Lexus IS and C-Class by half a cubic foot or more. Alas, Infiniti doesn't offer a folding rear seat to accommodate larger cargo, as BMW and Mercedes do. A small pass-through for skis is standard. (The G37 coupe has a single-piece folding rear seatback but only 7.4 cubic feet of trunk volume; the convertible has no folding seatback but 10.3 cubic feet when the top's up.)
G37 IPL, G25
The high-performance G37 IPL coupe and convertible, both available with a manual or automatic, are new this year. Our brief drive left us nonplussed. On the track, there was little to distinguish the IPL coupe from a G37 coupe — despite its revised engine management and improved airflow, which bumps output 18 hp and 6 pounds-feet of torque. Infiniti says the suspension gets unique performance tuning, and the coupe's optional 14.7:1 steering ratio, limited slip differential and 19-inch wheels are standard here. It's hard to fault the similarities: Comparing stick-shift to stick-shift, the IPL runs just $550 over an equivalently optioned G37 coupe. But one could also question if this variant needs to exist at all when competing brands' performance lines go so much further.
At the other end is the G25 sedan, which we have yet to test. Its 2.5-liter V-6 makes 218 hp but just 187 pounds-feet of torque. It comes standard with the automatic, and all-wheel drive is optional.
Safety, Reliability & Features
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the G sedan scored the top score, Good, in front and side impacts, but just Marginal in rear impacts. The scores don't apply to the as-yet untested coupe or convertible, whose unique structures could render very different results. (Note, for example, the side-impact differences between the 3 Series sedan and convertible.) IIHS hasn't conducted its roof-strength test on the G.
Standard safety features include the usual panoply of front, side-impact and curtain airbags — the last of which deploy from the doors in the G37 convertible — plus antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning is optional on the G37. Click here for a full list of safety features, or here to see our evaluation of child-seat provisions in the G37 sedan.
Reliability has been average for the G coupe but above average for the sedan — a stalwart record, given that entry-level sport sedans are all over the map when it comes to reliability. Standard features on the G25 include an automatic transmission, leather seats with power adjustments, automatic climate control, a CD stereo with an auxiliary MP3 jack, and keyless access with push-button start. Short of USB/iPod stereo compatibility — it's optional but ought to be standard — that's an impressive list of standard features given the G25's $32,000 starting price.
Move up to the $35,800 G37 and beyond, and you can get heated seats, a moonroof, a navigation system, a backup camera and Bose audio. Checking all the options can nudge a G37 sedan past $44,000, and a coupe past $50,000. As is the case for most cars with folding hardtops, the G37 convertible is decidedly not cheap. It starts at close to $46,000, and a well-optioned model can approach 60 large.
Infiniti G in the Market
Bolstered by the addition of the G25, the G has seen a sales surge uncommon this late in a car's life cycle: It's edged out the C-Class and come within striking distance of the 3 Series — the segment's once-runaway sales leader.
The G deserves its popularity. Here's hoping Infiniti executes the car's third generation as well. I look forward to what's in store.
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