The sweet spot in the automotive market these days centers around $30,000 - at that level, you have an impressive array of indulgent vehicles from which to choose.They are all well-equipped, and cover a spectrum of approaches ranging from luxurious to sporty, with a lot of cross-pollination along the way. The average transaction price of new vehicles sold in the U.S. these days lies a few thousand below that level, so the $30K neighborhood is populated by what the industry optimistically calls "low-end luxury" vehicles. It could well be argued that the extra few grand buy a disproportionate increase in content, vs. something less pretentious, like a loaded Camry or Accord.The hard part will be finding one that is just right for you. This week's guest, the Infinity I35, is competing against such worthy choices as the Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Jaguar X, Lexus ES300, Lincoln LS, Mercedes-Benz C Class, to name a few. I doubt that anyone would feel cursed by fate if stuck in any one of those. For that matter, the I35's half-sister is the Nissan Maxima, which, though not quite so luxurious, is still a fine ride.I can only say, if you're looking at this class, you'd be wise to do some proper test drives - they're all winners, and sufficiently different one from another to make my life interesting. The I35 is one of the blander-looking cars in the class, although its interior is very pleasant to lounge in.Should you gravitate toward the I35, I'd offer this counsel - accept it as an overly-qualified entry-level luxury ride, and don't try to make it a sports sedan.That's what the fleet coordinators at Nissan did with the one they sent me - they added the optional sport package ($1,700), which, to my mind, detracted from the overall effect. This bundle gets you specific alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, side sills, sport-tuned suspension, vehicle dynamic control and stiffer, slightly wider V-rated tires in place of the standard H-rated skins.My sense is that going from 215/55 H tires to 225/50 Vs should not per se make much difference in either performance or ride quality. (V-rated tires are safe at continuous speeds up to 149 mph; Hs are worth 130 mph - not much of an issue here.)So it must have been the suspension tweaks which resulted in a ride quality I deemed inappropriate for a vehicle with luxury pretensions. The ride was distinctly firm, though not shockingly so; the main complaint was that too much harshness is allowed to slip past the shocks and springs. Even expansion joints were annoying.The steering felt somewhat vague, and distant, too, which is acceptable in a luxury car, but given the sporty underpinnings, seemed dissonant in this case. With crisper steering feel, the road-awareness might seem more plausible. I'd say skip the suspension package and go for the softer approach - or look at the German iron.The I35 is not actually a new model, tho ugh it supplants the I30 in the lineup. The name reflects a very important underhood change this year; the old 3.0-liter motor has been retired in favor of a hot 3.5 virtually identical with the one used in the Maxima and the new Altima. All-aluminum, with slippery molybdenum coating the sliding parts, the V-6 has four valves per cylinder, managed by twin overhead camshafts. There's no variable intake geometry or camshaft trickery, but output is a very respectable 255 hp (at a lofty 5,800 rpm) and 246 foot-pounds of torque (at 4,400 rpm).These numbers are achieved on premium fuel, but the I35 is reasonable in its demands for it. EPA estimates are 20 mpg city, 26 highway with the automatic transmission I tested. My log shows 24.4 in some fairly aerobic exercising.With a curb weight of 3,342 pounds, it made the 0-60 sprint in a shade over seven seconds, without undue urging. The front tires chirped a bit as the power surged through them, but the traction control quickly intervened.Included as part of the sport package is what Infiniti calls vehicle dynamic control (VDC). Familiar now on luxury cars, this is a way of utilizing sensors on the car to keep the driver from doing at least one stupid thing, viz., asking for harder turning than the physical realities would allow.A little computer is programmed to observe the steering wheel angle, the rate of vehicle yaw and any slippage at the tire-road interface. Should too much be asked of the car, it sends a command to the appropriate wheel to apply braking force. It can also tell the engine to cool it.It worked quite well on the I35 and indeed, I like it much better on a front-drive car than rear-drive. With FWD machines, the front tires are not only steering, they're propelling the vehicle and are more prone to overload, resulting in understeer, a condition in which the car refuses to turn as tightly as requested. VDC precludes that from becoming hazardous to one's health.The automatic transmission was excellent, popping quick, nearly imperceptible shifts, even under heavy throttle. Pulling the console-mounted shifter lever left, from the Drive position, engages third, i.e., disengages overdrive. You'll do this fairly often if you prefer to augment the brakes with engine braking. Overall gearing is so high that for serious grades, you'll want to use second to get some serious retarding force.At freeway speeds, the I35 was on the hushed side of quiet. The major noise component seemed to be the tires, again perhaps to be blamed on the sport package.The brakes were outstanding. Discs fore and aft are generously sized, and backed by an efficient antilock mechanism as well as brake assist, which speeds up the application when it detects an unusually forceful tromp on the pedal.The I35 has the usual two-stage front air bags, as well as side-impact bags for first class.In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the I35 got four stars (on a five-star scale) across the board for occupant protection in frontal and side impacts.On the tougher tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it was rated "acceptable," the second-highest category. The biggest area of concern was firewall intrusion down low, which made the likelihood of foot injuries unacceptably great.Consumers Union's surveys of their readership have given the current series of I30s and Maximas well-above-average scores in every mechanical category, a trend which should persist in the I35.The car is loaded with luxury features - the usual power niceties plus leather seats, wood, and a terrific sound system, a Bose rig with AM, FM, cassette and six-disc in-dash CD player.The instruments are handsome and models of legibility, save for the signature analog clock, which was nearly impossible to see in sunlight. Headlamps are Xenon high-intensity types, with wide dis persion and a sharp vertical cutoff.The test car had, in addition to the sport package, a full-sized spare with alloy wheel, $180; power moonroof and power rear sunshade, $1,380; a $2,000 navigation system (with trunk-mounted 6-CD database), and a cold weather package for $700, which gets you heated front and rear seats plus heated steering wheel and outside rearview mirrors.Total, with freight, was $35,255. Payments on that very one would be $715, assuming 48 coupons, 10 percent interest and 20 percent down.If you could skip the options packages, you could duck in under 30 grand. And Edmunds.com avers that most people are wangling about a $2,000 discount off list. At that the I35 would be a strong contender, if it suits your tastes."The Gannett News Service"
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||February 27, 2002|
|Alan Vonderhaar||Cincinnati.com||June 29, 2002|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||March 23, 2002|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||February 24, 2002|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||January 11, 2002|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||November 25, 2001|
|Jason Stein||November 12, 2001|
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