Infiniti's G35 is one of those cars that forces you to re-evaluate your thinking about performance-oriented sedans. It has avant-garde styling, 260 horsepower and its base price is less than $30,000.

The combination of power, handling, looks and price makes it a serious competitor to others in its segment, including the BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Lincoln LS and the Cadillac CTS. Infiniti's styling is an interesting visual combination of soft curves and hard edges. Vertical headlights and LED taillights that have a myriad of tiny tubes create a very distinct look. The shape, with a drag coefficient of 0.27, is as aerodynamically efficient as it is stylistically bold. Specify the trunk spoiler and drag drops to 0.26. Attention to underbody details smooths the airflow and eliminates lift, which makes the G35 feel stable at high speeds.

This new Infiniti rides on the FM chassis platform. FM stands for "Front Mid-ship," which means that although the engine is mounted in front, it is behind the center line of the front wheels. Overall weight distribution, 52 percent on the front wheels and 48 on the back, is therefore closer to the ideal 50/50 balance of a mid-engine vehicle. Infiniti's press material explains that the 52/48 balance is intentional so that the front wheels have a slight bit of extra weight when entering a turn. Plus, the company says, the weight distribution becomes 50/50 when accelerating out of a turn.

Infiniti uses aluminum throughout the front and rear suspension to save weight, and that means the suspension can react quicker to small and large bumps. The suspension is designed to minimize changes in wheel alignment as it tracks over bumps, and that makes for more accurate steering. In the back, the shock absorbers are separated from the springs, which reduces friction. The attention to detail works because the G35 feels stable and secure as it zips through corners.

The sport-tuned suspension package provides even crisper handling, thanks to less sway and a firmer ride. Seventeen-inch wheels add to the grip, although the low-profile tires can be vulnerable to road hazards such as potholes. Folks who do not tackle expressway on-ramps like the first turn of Kansas Speedway are probably better off with the base suspension. The G35's brakes are very powerful and exceptionally sensitive at slow speeds. Anti-lock brakes are standard. Brake Assist senses panic stops and applies maximum braking force. All G35s come with a vehicle stability program to keep skidding under control similar to the one used on the Q45 and I35.

The ideal complement to responsive handling is a willing engine, and the G35 shines in this area. The 3.5-liter, DOHC V-6 engine is silky smooth yet robust. It has muscles, yet they are flexed with finesse. It cranks out 260 horsepower with apparent ease, and it makes its power across a wide rpm range. The automatic transmission can be shifted manually for sporty driving, but most folks will not do so afte r the initial thrill wears off.

Inside, Infiniti has designed a special driver's seat with firmer padding and different springs to provide more support for "sporty driving." The passenger is not so lucky and gets a flatter lower seat cushion that is less fatiguing. The rear seat is also bucket shaped, and a reclining rear seat is optional.

The instrument panel is highlighted with bright trim in a brushed satin finish that looks like high-end audio gear. The unique interior looks youthful and bold, a significant departure for a luxury brand. The optional DVD-based navigation system uses a screen that pops up from the center of the console.

The G35 is a serious addition to the sport-luxury segment, and its presence is sure to be felt by its competitors.

The base price is $27,100, or $28,950 with leather. The test car was equipped with sunroof and sports suspension. Its sticker price was $30,920.

Four years or 50,000 iles.

Point: The G35 is an extremely competent sports sedan. With 260 horsepower, it is fast, and it handles as well as the top European brands. Styling is bold and unique.

Counterpoint: The brushed finish trim looks a bit out of place, the brakes are too touchy at slow speeds and the back seat doesn't fold down.

Engine: 3.5-liter, 260-hp V-6
Transmission: automatic Rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,364 lbs.
Base price: $28,950
As driven: $30,920
Mpg rating: 19 city, 24 hwy.
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