Unless you've been living in a cave or spent the summer following the Cubs and have lost touch with reality, some trends worth noting have emerged in the automotive world:

Smaller cars have gotten bigger because the people forced to travel in those cars have gotten bigger – if not in width, at least in height. Research shows that, since 1995, the public has grown by a half inch.

Folks who once boasted of owning an $80,000 luxury car are now buying $30,000 luxury machines and boasting how the $50,000 is being invested more wisely than in a car that depreciates every day.

And every automaker in the world, except maybe Hyundai, has begun marketing a $30,000 luxury vehicle to attract those suddenly wise shoppers and is making that vehicle at least midsize to handle those suddenly wise, but slightly bigger, buyers.

For 2000, Infiniti, the luxury division of Nissan, which became a subsidiary of Renault this year when the French automaker made an offer that the Japanese automaker couldn't refuse--and no one else cared to match--is following the entry-level, luxury-sedan formula for success to the letter.

Infiniti has offered the I30 sedan for what seems like several years, though it bowed in the 1996 model year.

Now Infiniti has gotten its act together by bringing out a bigger and better-looking (not to mention better-performing) successor to the original.

Infiniti boasts that dealers who have seen the car have performed somersaults in jubilation. We first saw it at a Ravinia unveiling for media, dealers and select customers. We didn't notice any somersaults, but then, we arrived late when the mushroom caps were being served and luxury car buyers and the dealers who cater to them know better than to do acrobatics and risk spilling any grub on the manicured green.

(By the way, are there more "No Smoking" signs at Ravinia or more carts and stands selling wine? Our guess is it's a draw.)

But we digress.

The 2000 Infiniti I30 looks more like an entry-level luxury car than its predecessor did, which looked like no more than a $30,000 compact.

The 2000 sports pleasantly placed body-panel creases and curves, and head- and taillights that look like they were sculpted by a fashion designer rather than a General Electric laborer. The I30 now resembles a smaller version of the top-of-the-line Infiniti Q45 sedan.

The I30 was designed by Infiniti in Japan. It shares the same platform with the Nissan Maxima, which was designed by the Infiniti studios in the U.S.

The I30 comes in two versions, base and "t" (touring) edition. We tested the base model, which Infiniti has chosen to call the "luxury" version.

Whichever version you choose, some significant changes have been made for 2000. The wheelbase has grown by two inches, overall length by four inches and width by one-half inch. That means more room and comfort inside, with noticeably more leg and head room front and rear.

Also, no more c loth seats; leather only, in keeping with the luxury image, which may be why Infiniti chose to name its base sedan the "luxury." And those perforated leather seats motor back when you open the door to make for easier entry.

And Infiniti has done away with the 5-speed manual transmission, leaving only a 4-speed automatic.

Odd for an automatic when most automakers offering an entry-level luxury car insist they must have a 5-speed manual because BMW does. Maybe not all that many entry-level luxury-car buyers opt for a 5-speed?

The most important change is that the 3-liter V-6 has been given an added 37-horsepower dose of adrenaline and now produces 227 h.p. thanks to revisions in engine air intake and exhaust controls. Response off the light and into the passing lane is much quicker though still very quiet. And a pleasant 20-m.p.g. city/28-m.p.g. highway fuel-economy rating is a bonus.

The suspension has been stiffened to improve ride and handling by reducing lean or sw ay in corners.

And the 15-inch radial tires of last year have been replaced by 16-inch treads.

Ride is luxury soft without being so mellow you float. Sit back, relax and cruise.

The "t," or touring, version features a firmer sports-tuned suspension, plus larger 17-inch radials for optimum handling.

One feature was missing from the test car, an onboard navigation system that uses Global Positioning Satellite technology to provide maps of where you are or where you want to go.

That system won't be added until spring. Until then, the car sports a push-button covered parcel holder in the top of the dash. Once the navigation system is available, the parcel holder will become the site of a push-button popup navigation screen.

Those who buy a car before the navigation system is available won't be able to have the system retrofitted to their I30. No word yet on the navigation system price.

Not missing was the Infiniti Communicator system, a $1,599 option similar to the OnStar emergency communications system at General Motors.

With the Infiniti system, you push a button for instant voice contact with a response-center operator to send help in a medical or mechanical emergency.

The GPS that will be used for the navigation system pinpoints your location.

To activate the system, press the button that sports a picture of an ambulance in the overhead console.

Like OnStar, if an air bag deploys, the response center is automatically notified without the motorist having to do so.

Or, you can use the system to get directions or ask questions by pressing the button marked with an "I" for information.

Items of note in the 2000 Infiniti I30 include larger, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock; traction control ($300 option); speed-sensitive power steering; a switch from a parking brake hand-lever that takes up room on the center console to a pedal with a dash-mounted hand release; eight-way driver and four-way passenger power seats; power door locks; a height-adjustable center console armrest with space for a cellphone inside; and automatic temperature control with outside temperature reading.

Also, rear-cabin heater ducts; leather-wrapped, tilt steering wheel; five cupholders; two accessory power plugs; 60/40 split fold-down reach bench seat; premium Bose sound system with cassette and compact disc; a wider trunk opening for easier loading/unloading; dual front plus dual side-impact air bags; front seat-belt pretensioners with load limiters; remote keyless entry; automatic on/off headlamps; and, like the Q45, an analog clock in the center of the dash.

And there's "active" front-seat head restraints, which automatically move upward and forward to cushion the head to reduce the chance of whiplash in a rear-end collision.

The luxury edition starts at $29,465, the touring at $31,540. Touring adds a limited slip differential, 17-inch radials on alloy wheels, sports-tuned suspension and high-intensity discharge Xenon headlights.

Our test car came with the optional power sunroof/power rear window sunshade package at $1,000, and the optional Infiniti Communicator emergency communication system at $1,599.

The power sunroof is an advanced system with sensors that automatically direct the glass to stop and retract if an object such as a head or hand is in its path when closing. Popular options include traction control at $300, heated seats at $420 and a six-disc CD changer at $740.

As for annoyances, about the only one was that traction control is a $300 option rather than standard.

We would be willing to give up the automatic on/off headlamps and at least four of the five cupholders for a system designed to prevent wheel slippage and ensure stability on wet or snowy roads to be included in the sticker price. And we'd throw in some mushroom caps.

Infiniti hopes to increase annual I30 sales to 35,000 for 2000 from 30,000. With so many new competitors in that market, Infi niti h as set its sights very high.

>> 2000 Infiniti I30 Wheelbase: 108.3 inches Length: 193.7 inches Engine: 3-liter, 227-h.p., 24-valve V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway Base price: $29,465 Price as tested: $32,064. Includes $1,000 for power sunroof/power rear window sunshade; and $1,599 for Infiniti Communicator emergency communication system. Add $525 for freight. Pluses: Longer, wider and more stylish with a higher output V-6 now teamed only with an automatic, plus larger radials and only leather seats. Navigation system coming in spring. Minuses: Spreading the word of a new entry-level luxury sedan in a suddenly crowded market. >>