– Seriously sleek styling
– Faster than many V8 machines
– Value-packed and spacious
– Road noise at high speeds
– Pedals too annoyingly soft
– No handbrake in sports sedan
When the first generation of the Infiniti G35 was introduced, it became Japan’s best hope yet to beat the Germans at their own game. For years it has been considered second-best to the BMW 3-Series, but then Infiniti went about and turned up the heat with the new-for-2007 G35, with promising results on paper at least. On paper, it reads “306” horses under the hood.
Besides the insane boost in power, the entire car has been redone, starting from the sleek new exterior. There is absolutely nothing we can think of changing on the outside, except maybe for the gaudy 18-inch rims. It looks way more handsome than anything in BMW’s stable right now, with its sharp grille, LED tails and suave profile. But many people will have a hard time differentiating a new model from the old one at a distance. We sure did.
The interior is a huge step up from the old one. The cheap old cabin was a surprising downer in what was supposed to be a luxury car. Infiniti upgraded the materials for the new one, as well as implemented a totally new design that integrates a touchscreen as well as numerous buttons and a dial for multiple usage options. Besides the unique screen setup, there is nothing else about the interior that stands out, preferring to remain pleasant rather than controversial. The seats are leather, as are parts of the door, while the door sills and dashboard are padded with pliable plastic. Our car had real wood trim too, while aluminium trim is optional. The upholstery and the finish were all excellent, but a piece of rubber did fall off the sunroof panel in our tester. We couldn’t be bothered to “fix” yet another new car, so we let it be.
The front seats are power-adjustable, ventilated with fans and well-bolstered, but the bolsters are spread out to hold chunky people, making them slightly ineffective for thinner folks. There is very good headroom and legroom in this midsizer, both front and back. There are also enough cup-holders, both front and back, with bottle holders in the doors. Luggage trunk space is decent, though the swoopy shape means there is less room than, say, a Toyota Camry. All-round visibility is good, and even though the high rear end hinders direct visibility through the back window, the mirrors make up for it well. A rear-view camera is optional.
Our tester had all the usual gadgetry, such as smart keyless entry and button-start, power windows, electric mirrors, power sunroof, cruise control and buttons on the steering wheel for the solid CD/MP3 stereo system, which itself has a flash-memory input on the deck and a CD changer in the luggage trunk. The electronic climate control, with vents both front and back, is probably strong enough, though we did do our testing in the middle of a Dubai winter. Front and side airbags are standard. There is a small trip computer screen nestled between the gauges, which worked right in all settings except for a faulty average fuel economy reading, which was the only crucial reading we were looking for. The reading seemed to be stuck at one high number, so we had to use a graphical fuel-consumption display on the larger navigation screen. The nav screen also doubles as a control panel for various audio features, and is easy enough to figure out, given its overkill of touchscreen, knob and button input options. Gadget for gadget, the midsize Infiniti matches the compact BMW 330i, while beating it in price by a huge margin. However, the navigation maps in our tester were for the United States, and given that our speedometer was also clearly marked in mph with tiny markings for kph, we were starting to think that our test car was of American specifications, but that doesn’t really make a difference in actual drive.
And the drive is where the G35 is supposed to take on BMW. Early results were promising, what with 306 hp and 363 Nm on tap from the upgraded 3.5-litre V6. The automatic five-speed gearbox sent power to the rear wheels efficiently enough to slam a 0-to-100 kph time of 6.2 seconds. Turn off the stability control, and the G35 shaves off 0.2 seconds for a time of 6 seconds flat, making it 0.1 seconds faster than the heavy 360 hp automatic Chevy Lumina SS we tested alongside it, and more than half a second faster than the automatic 258 hp BMW 330i. The gearbox works well, with perfectly smooth shifts, and the tiptronic-shift function works too, but we couldn’t go any faster with manual shifting. Manual shifts occur after half-a-second delays, and thankfully hold gears well and only shifts by itself a few clicks into redline. Infiniti advertises a paddle-shifter system too, but for the life of us we cannot remember there being any paddles behind the steering wheel of our tester. Mixed driving conditions resulted in an approximate fuel economy average of 13.0 l/100 km, which is reasonable for such a flexible V6 engine.
The G35 handles very well, as expected from a BMW competitor. Body roll is a non-issue, being very limited and well-controlled in fast turns and quick lane changes. The low-profile tyres wrapping the 18-inch alloys on our tester were good, but grip at the limit was noticeably less than that of the BMW 3-Series. A reason for this is that our previously-tested BMW 330i, already at an advantage with its shorter wheelbase, had 255-width tyres in the back compared to the 245-width ones on the larger G35, so the BMW has the obvious advantage in cornering. However, right up to the limit, the G35 sticks to the road with tenacity and no discernible squeals, being easily enough for hard driving on public roads. One feature we hated was the stupid foot-operated parking brake in a performance sedan. We hear the manual G35, sold in Western markets, comes with a proper handbrake, but the GCC market only gets an automatic for now.
On the highway, the G’s smooth ride quality is instantly obvious, and the way it smoothens all bumps is surprising given its sporting demeanour. Such perfect balance has only been matched by BMW till now. Steering is soft for easy parking but tight for accurate direction changes. The car is perfectly stable even at 180 kph, with not even a hint of vibration on the steering wheel. But some road noise and wind hush appear at 120 kph, which are even louder on some rougher road surfaces. While easily bearable, it is not fitting for a luxury sedan to ignore noise isolation. We believe Nissan skimped out on sound-deadening materials in a bid to reduce weight. While this certainly helped performance, it might lose traditional luxury car buyers used to German quietness.
Driving at low speeds inside the city turned out to be an unusually annoying affair simply due to the featherweight pedals. Firstly, all that power controlled through a soft pedal means jumpy moves while inching forward in traffic. And then there are the brakes. The four-wheel ABS-assisted disc brakes are massive, and they work extremely well at high speeds, and easy enough to modulate in hard driving. But then at crawling speeds, the brake pedal loses all feel, leading to sudden stops at a touch of the foot. We found this out the hard way when we almost bumped noses on the steering wheel while parking in our first few minutes with the car.
The G35 has its deficiencies, but we believe a lot of people can learn to live with them, especially since it has BMW beat in three main categories – power, price and space. It is probably more reliable too, for all we know. In driving dynamics, the G35 is still a step behind the leader, but it should be noted that it is two large steps ahead of everything else in this exciting class of cars.