Stuck in the snow? Not in a G35x

GROSSE POINTE WOODS--When the Weather Channel begins issuing warnings about an impending snowstorm, some people run to the store for bread and milk.

We run out to our front driveway to move test vehicles before the city snowplow barrels through our cul-de-sac and blocks us in. Because we have the luxury of two driveways, we park nearly everything in the back in bad weather, where the end of our driveway and the street get scraped clean.

But during a recent snow-and-ice storm, we left a 2004 Infiniti G35x out front as an experiment of sorts. We wanted to see how the all-wheel-drive version of the G35 would perform in what we consider one of the most grueling subdivision driving tests, getting out of the driveway and on with life in the worst weather conditions.

Nissan Motor Co. bills the new G35x, from the automaker's upscale Infiniti division, as having "intelligent all-wheel drive that changes with the weather." This newest version of the G35 is on sale now, starting at $32,490, including a $590 destination charge.

The G35x is part of a growing trend. Manufacturers are increasingly offering family sedans and wagons with all-wheel drive, a feature that used to be found primarily on sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

All-wheel drive improves traction in snow and mud, as well as on rough road surfaces, because power is delivered to all four wheels.

The downside is that such systems typically add to the vehicle.s weight, so they tend to reduce fuel economy. And full-time all-wheel drive can hamper handling to some extent and detract from a sporty driving feeling, especially in tight corners.

The list of family cars offering all-wheel drive will expand this year beyond traditional players such as Audi and Subaru to include such products as the 2005 Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans, 2005 Ford Freestyle wagon, 2005 Chrysler 300 sedan and 2005 Dodge Magnum wagon.

The all-wheel-drive G35x seemed the perfect choice for our winter test-drive experiment.

It has the reputation of being one of the sexiest family sedans on the market, due to its voluptuous lines and grown-up-looking cabin, which, on the G35x, is dolled up in perforated black leather and titanium trim.

The mid-size Infiniti sedan comes with a powerful engine, a twin-cam 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 260 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque, and is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.

If the G35x passed our scrutiny, it would conceivably give buyers the best of both worlds, a hot performance sedan that could stand up to the elements.

Our experiment with the five-passenger G35x actually began two weeks earlier in Palm Springs, Calif. Anita took the G35x for a two-hour drive on the twisty roads in the foothills surrounding the city to test its handling characterist ics on dry roads in sunny, warm weather.

The bad news is that the G35x is characterized by a rough ride that makes you feel almost every bump and imperfection in the pavement.

The good news is that the all-wheel-drive G35x acts a lot like the rear-wheel-drive G35, thanks to a sophisticated system that is capable of sending up to 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels in the best road conditions.

In fact, without the "x" on the silver nameplate on the rear of the G35, which signals its all-wheel-drive capability, you'd be hard pressed to feel the difference between the two siblings.

The G35x shines when it comes to cornering. Its all-wheel-drive system can detect traction needs throughout the course of a turn and react in a manner that.s imperceptible to the driver. The system can shift torque back and forth rapidly between the front and rear wheels to help enhance stability and traction.

Back in Detroit, our test G35x had a s icker price of $35,870. Options included a $3,200 premium package that included a power sunroof, dual-zone climate controls, reclining rear seat backs and one-touch up/down windows.

As we expected, the amply equipped G35x is more expensive than its rear-wheel-drive counterpart. A base rear-wheel-drive G35 costs $28,540, including a $590 destination charge.

Standard features on the all-wheel-drive G35 include antilock brakes and vehicle dynamic control, which helps to prevent wheel slip and skidding on wet or icy pavement.

There's also lots of attention to safety, even more than you get on a base G35. The G35x has a standard tire-pressure monitoring system and six air bags, including side-curtain air bags that protect all outboard passengers.

As a true family vehicle, the G35x has some shortcomings.

There is not much rear legroom. The rear seat would benefit from a 60/40 split-folding feature, too.

Surprisingly, the fuel economy doesn.t suffer much with the added weight of all-wheel drive. The base Infiniti G35 gets 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. The G35x gets 17 mpg in city driving and 24 on the highway.

Eventually, the snow began to fall.

The city snowplows came down our street twice in one afternoon, piling up glistening mounds of snow at both ends of our semicircular driveway.

It was clear that few people in our neighborhood were venturing out on this February night. We decided to leave the snow blower and shovel in the garage, jump in the G35x and head out to our favorite restaurant on Lake St. Clair.

The G35x is user-friendly. There are no levers to pull or buttons to push on the all-wheel-drive model. The system is automatic and invisible to the driver.

Infiniti says that a unique feature of the G35x is the addition of a "snow-mode function," which helps the driver avoid wheel spin on snowy roads by evenly splitting the initial torque distribution between the front and rear wheels.

The G35x easily made it over the snow pile at the end of the driveway, performing in a manner that reminded us of our old Volvo Cross Country wagon.

As we made our way down the slippery street, the back end of the Infiniti began to slide slightly to the right. But the car automatically seemed to correct the slip without much input from the driver.

After an uneventful five-mile drive along Lake Shore Drive, we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. It was virtually empty. Inside, the hostess asked us if we .had a reservation. and then laughed at her own joke.

The place was deserted at the height of the dinner hour. Few people, it seemed, were brave enough to venture out into the bad weather.

Thanks to the G35x, we had a delightful candlelight dinner in the middle of a snowstorm on a Tuesday night. If we were in the market for a family sedan, we decided that a ll-wheel drive is fast becoming a must-have feature.