If you're shopping $40,000 sport sedans, the Infiniti G37 is required driving: It is smartly appointed, well-equipped, reliable and as much of a hoot to drive as the BMW 3 Series.
The BMW pedestal is high praise; in terms of sheer driving dynamics, the G37 is arguably the only competitor that can share that position. For 2010, the G comes as a sedan, coupe or convertible and is available in base, Journey, Sport and Anniversary editions. Click here to see the whole lineup or here to compare the 2010 G37 with the 2009. We evaluated the 2010 convertible earlier this year, so this review focuses on the car we drove more recently: an all-wheel-drive G37x Sport.
The G was a handsome car in 2009, but I can't abide its chief styling update for 2010: a clumsy new bumper with fanglike fog light apertures that, on Sport and Anniversary editions, have exaggerated frames and creased borders. The whole thing borders on ridiculous. Over the course of a week, I couldn't warm up to it. Base and Journey models show more restraint, at least, and the car's sides and rear carry over with minimal changes. Coupe and convertible styling are unchanged.
Xenon headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard. Sport models get 18-inchers, as does the Anniversary Edition, which also has more aggressive bodywork modeled after the G37 Sport.
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 plus an extra 31 pounds-feet of torque make the 335i quicker off the line, despite a lower power rating of 300 horsepower. But the 328-hp G37 has gobs of output in its own right, accelerating with more urgency than many other competitors — including the Acura TL, Audi A4 and 3.6-liter Cadillac CTS, to name a few. 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 — there's 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. (That may not be the case for every G next year, when Infiniti introduces a 218-hp G25 to the mix.)
Matched well to the engine is the G37's seven-speed automatic transmission, which replaced a five-speed gearbox for 2009. The seven-speed isn't as decisive — with slower kickdown on the highway and occasional hunting 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, which we've tested in the past. With short throws and a crisp feel to the gates, it beats the 3 Series' rubbery shifter and the balky one on both 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 we tested this time around, though it's not nearly as bad as in some cars. I should also say that we haven't driven this year's manual G37, and drivetrain calibrations can change by the year. If you drive a manual G, use the link at the end of the review to drop me a note with your assessment of its responsiveness.
Good Ride, Better Handling
Though firmer than some in this class — the Mercedes C-Class, for one — the G37 rides comfortably, especially given our test car's stiffer rear-shock tuning, 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tires. (Cars without the Sport Package employ regular suspension tuning, 17-inch wheels and thicker tires.) The G37 is best at dealing with smaller bumps: Get on the interstate, and the suspension smoothes out the usual pitter-patter of rough lanes well. Extended sections of broken pavement can send the car into bouncing, uncontrolled motions, from which it takes a moment to resettle.
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 the Sport trim I tested; with the base G37's suspension tuning, it's likely worse. The G doesn't present unnerving amounts of lean, though, and nor does it exhibit skittish wheel hop over midcorner bumps. The steering uses a quicker, 14.7:1 ratio in Sport models, producing the sort of marvelous 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 assist in the steering at low speeds, in the realm of the A4 or C-Class. Our test car settled in comfortably on the highway, requiring few corrections to stay on course. The tires — Dunlop Sport Maxx P225/50R18s — kicked up modest road noise, but wind noise at 60 mph was low.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard, with massive 14-inch, four-piston front and 13.8-inch, two-piston rear calipers on models with the Sport Package. They do the trick: Our test car's brake pedal served up strong, linear deceleration. Driving my usual handling loop, I noticed little brake fade.
What our G37's gray cabin lacked in finishes, it made up for in materials quality. 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. There's even a cushioned cover over the cupholders. Optional maple wood trim replaces last year's African rosewood; it picks up fingerprints easily but, absent those, looks darker and richer than before. New this year are chrome runners along the gearshift — an upscale touch. 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 the 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, out of 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. Updated for 2010, the display sports improved graphics and additional capabilities: weather reports, restaurant ratings and Bluetooth streaming audio. It had a few routing issues, however, which we detail in a navigation evaluation on KickingTires.
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 at their 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 the class; backseats are usually cramped in this segment. The trunk, on the other hand, is fairly large. At 13.5 cubic feet, it beats 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, with the top up, 10.3 cubic feet.)
Safety, Reliability & Pricing
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the G37 sedan earned the top score, Good, in frontal and side-impact crashes. It also earned a Marginal rating in rear-impacts, despite having standard active head restraints. IIHS has yet to conduct its latest roof-crush tests on the G37. It also has yet to test the G37 coupe and convertible; because of the unique layout for each body style, the sedan's crash-test results don't apply to the other versions. Standard safety features on all G37s include an electronic stability system, antilock brakes and six airbags. Click here for a full list.
Reliability for the current generation has been good; it's downright excellent for the G37 coupe. The sedan starts in the low-$30,000s, which is competitive with the gaggle of Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes competition — albeit that's with their base six-cylinder engines, which the G37's V-6 handily stomps. It's nicely equipped for that price, with a standard automatic transmission, xenon headlights, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats, single-zone automatic climate control, a CD stereo with an MP3 jack and keyless access with push-button start. Options include heated front seats, a moonroof, a navigation system, a backup camera, USB/iPod connectivity and an upgraded Bose stereo. Getting a six-speed manual requires moving up to the G37 Sport — which includes a sport-tuned suspension, bigger wheels and the aforementioned styling revisions — but a Sport Package with similar content is also available on the midlevel, automatic-equipped Journey trim. All-wheel drive is available on all but the base G37; the Anniversary trim essentially comes fully equipped.
The G37 coupe and convertible start around $36,000 and $44,000, respectively. Load up the G, and the sedan tops out north of $43,000. The coupe can exceed $50,000, and the convertible — the only variant to offer cooled seats — can top $55,000.
G37 in the Market
Apart from the questionable face-lift — and I'm picking on the most subjective of bones there — I believe the G37 will succeed into the current generation's waning years. The 3 Series is the runaway sales leader in this segment, and Infiniti and Mercedes are fighting for second place. For many reasons, the G is a flat-out better car than the C-Class. Provided it's not a complete dog in the passing lane, next year's G25 should do a lot to broaden the nameplate's appeal. I predict this runner-up will grow bigger in BMW's rearview mirror.
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