Some men can shop sales for blazers by the dozen because they have been a perfect 38 Regular since high school.

They marry women who park between the lines and drink double cap decafs with the pink stuff. Their children are raised to respect nine-digit ZIP codes, read sample ballots, eat fat-free cookies and convert all measurements to the metric system. In case it catches on.

The 1996 Infiniti I30 is for these flawless folk.

And that is no criticism of a delightful sedan carefully conceived, almost to the inch and the nearest dollar, to slide at $28,420 neatly into Infiniti's luxurious lineup between the base G20 at $23,000 and the intermediate J30 at $39,000.

As a matter of fact, the I30 probably fulfills any definition of exquisite.

It is roomy for the family, quick enough for the enthusiast, and leather-lined for all but vegetarians. They, on the other hand, can take comfort knowing the wood trim is counterfeit.

Designers looked to the top of their line--the mighty Infiniti Q45, mightily priced at $55,000--and transferred its chromium front grille and pleasantly faired headlight cluster to the I30. Just to make sure everyone recognized this was Simba, son of Mufasa.

The I30 whispers at rest and purrs when it cruises, and it gallops very nicely. Its 3.0-liter V-6 kicks out 190 eager horsepower, and the four-speed automatic is firm steel wrapped in satin. A multilink rear suspension removes just about everything from the ride save shocks when driving across plowed fields.

And whatever your exotic heart desires--from heated seats to a Bose six-speaker system with CD player and A-pillar tweeters to viscous limited-slip differential--is delivered with the touring version, the Infiniti I30t.

Yet this vehicle has absolutely no sass, no soul.

It does everything so well.

At rest, the styling isn't boring, it isn't daring; it isn't conservative, it isn't distinctive. It just isn't.

Under way, the I30 feels like perpetual motion; an appliance that will never fail and a car so calm under the collar it could be dealer-equipped with an ice maker.

Only when kicking its heels and getting urgent about the force and mode of travel, does a slight snarl creep into the I30's exhaust note and its shoulders stiffen for difficult tasks ahead.

But the rest of the time--which will be all of the time under more civilized hands--a driver has little to do but point the car in the right direction, go on autopilot, and sort idly through personal plans for wedding anniversaries and painting the deck next weekend.

Of course, those who prefer a vehicle that leaves the driving to it form a huge population. They are the reason companies build softly sprung, silent luxury cars with automatic everything. And God bless all those who color inside the lines and paint by numbers with no drops on the carpet.

Yet let there be no mistake, and let it be repeated.

This is a first-class, effortless, beautifully assembled package where progress is a smooth lilt. To many, mechanical quirks and a little wrestling certainly aren't essential to enjoyable motoring.

There is prestige and, better yet, value in this I30 for luxury-car shoppers ready to pay a little extra for no lumps in their motoring. Everything the car offers, whether ride or appointments, is in the best, albeit new, tradition of Infiniti, Lexus and Acura.

It's just that faceless, Jell-O splat.

It will not go unnoticed, of course, that Infiniti's parent is Nissan and that beneath the I30's tuxedo-rich exterior, there beats the heart of a stud--the Nissan Maxima.

Same engine and power train. Measurements and primary mechanicals are identical. So is that multilink rear suspension. Performance is close, although doing it in a Maxima is much more fun.

And Maxima's prices range from $20,000 for a sparse primer to $25 000 for a GLE with leather, wood and automatic options almost as elegant as the $32,700 I30t.

It's the same manufacturing and marketing gambit that Lexus used when it built the ES300 as an up-market clone of the Toyota Camry with the V-6 engine.

Same question then, same question now.

Why pay more than seven grand extra for an I30t that is little more than a Nissan Maxima GLE in drag?

For one thing, walk into an Infiniti showroom and you will be greeted with polite groveling, espresso and maybe a scalp massage. Visit a Nissan shop and the only giveaway is a brochure.

There's no doubt that styling and trim of any Infiniti says everything just a little better than Nissan. The Infiniti's interior is newer, more smoothly contoured and actually offers more sitting and wriggling room than the Infiniti Q45.

Thanks to 100 pounds of extra insulation, the Infiniti gives a quieter, more vibration-free ride.

So there is a difference.

And when you think about it, when one considers the fits manufacturers are having with costs versus unstable currencies, it's not a bad idea to share components and bloodlines. As long as the sharing goes beyond slapping luxury division badges on bread-and-butter brethren.


The I30 goes on sale this month, and will be available in three versions, all with the same engine. The standard car starts at $28,420 and is fully equipped with anti-lock brakes, eight-way power driver seat, wood trim, aluminum alloy wheels, automatic air, cruise control and two air bags.

Next up is the I30 Leather-Appointed--where do they find artists to create such literature?--stickered at $31,120 with automatic transmission and power sunroof. Of course, you get leather seats.

Then there's the I30t--which stands for touring--costing $32,700. It has a tweaked suspension, beefier tires, a rear spoiler, traction enhancement and your choice of automatic or five-speed manual to better enjoy the added zing.

Go for the Leather-Appointed or I30t.

Both come with something called the Integrated HomeLink, a remote-control transmitter buried in the driver's sun visor.

OK, so your neighbor has a remote to open the garage door.

The I30 has three buttons, which can be tuned to activate gates, garage, driveway, home interior lights and your model railroad.

With a more thoughtful adjustment, it could trigger the blender for your first post-commute banana daiquiri.

1996 Infiniti I30t

Cost Base, and as tested, $32,700. (Includes two air bags, leather upholstery, lace alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, heated powerseats and windows, faux wood trim, Bose sound system with CD, and all things expected in a luxury car.)

Engine 3.0-liter, 190-horsepower V-6.

Type Front-engine, front-drive, luxury sedan.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 7.3 seconds, with four-speed automatic. Top speed, estimated, 130 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA highway and city, 28 and 21 m.p.g., with automatic. With manual, 26 and 21 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,215 pounds.