2002 Infiniti I35
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by Greg Wilson

Minor styling changes and a major powertrain upgrade are the major changes to the classy 2002 Infiniti I35 sedan. The Nissan Maxima-based I35 sedan has a new 255 horsepower V6, a new Bose stereo system and ‘Sojourner’ leather upholstery, and is offered in a new sportier Sport model. I35 Luxury models start at $39,500 and Sport models go for $42,500.

A sport sedan with (a lot of) class

Perhaps it was the Infiniti I35’s high-quality pleated ‘Sojourner’ leather seats; or maybe it was the I35’s subtle but attractive crome and beige interior colour combinations; or perhaps it was the I35’s crystal clear-sounding 200 watt Bose stereo system. Whatever it was, I came away from my test-drive of the 2002 Infiniti I35 thinking that this car is more than a glorified Nissan Maxima.

Yes, the 2002 I35 is based on the Nissan Maxima. It shares much of that car’s bodywork and mechanical bits, in particular Nissan’s new and truly awesome 255 horsepower 3.5 litre V6. But the I35 has its own character and appeal which I found tantalizingly different. Its beautiful exterior paint quality, classy interior, and luxury details such as heated rear seats, successfully elevates it to the luxury class where it stands up well against such competitors as the Lexus ES300 and Audi A4 3.0.

For 2002, the I35 comes in two trim levels: ‘Luxury’ ($39,500) and ‘Sport’ ($42,500). The Luxury comes with such standard features as leather seating with 8-way power driver’s seat and two memory positions, electro-luminescent round gauge cluster, 200 watt Bose sound system with a 6-disc in-dash CD changer and seven speakers and subwoofer, automatic climate control, simulated wood trim, and front and side airbags.

My test car was the ‘Sport’ model which adds 17 inch performance tires and special alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, anti-skid control, sunroof and power rear sunshade, side sills, and a full-size spare with an alloy wheel.

Total as tested price (including a steep $1,150 freight charge) came to $43,650.

Changes for 2002

2002 Infiniti I35
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The easiest way to tell a 2002 I35 from a 2001 I30 model is to look at the larger chrome ‘I35’ badges on the rear deck. The second easiest way is to check out the orientation of the front grille bars: 2002 models have horizontal bars while 2001 model have vertical bars. Other giveaways: new side sills on the Sport model give it a lower stance, and at the rear, a smoothed-out trunklid, mildly restyled taillights, and twin exhaust pipes with chrome tips add a bit of sportiness. 17 inch alloy wheels are now standard (6-spoke for Luxury and 8 spoke for Sport), and there are three new exterior colours: Golden Sand, Brillian Silver, and Ivory Pearl. If you’re really astute, you’ll notice the new titanium trim around the new standard xenon headlamps.

Inside, there’s a new premium quality ‘Sojourner’ leather upholstery developed in Florence, Italy that has been influenced by handbag and leather apparel designers. It includes softer leather and pleated inserts in the seats and doors. In addition, the 2002 I35’s front seats have a new more comfortable seat design.

Infiniti’s signature oval clock, located in the middle of the dash, has also been redesigned slightly — it adds a little old world charm to the contemporary interior. I35’s come with a birds-eye maple wood trim on the console and doors which is lighter in colour than the commonly used walnut trim — not everyone will like it – and there is a classy titanium coloured shift gate, wood-tone shift knob, and an optional heated steering wheel.

The new standard Bose stereo has a 6-disc in-dash CD changer, cassette player, seven speakers including a 9 inch Nd woofer, 200 watts of power, radio data system (RDS), steering wheel audio controls, and speed-sensitive audio volume. A new trip computer is now standard, and it includes such features as distance to empty, average fuel economy, drive time, and outside temperature.

2002 Infiniti I35
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On the Luxury model, there is an optional Sunroof and Sunshade Package which includes a large moonroof with sliding sunshade, power rear sunshade to protect rear passengers from bright sunlight, and a heated leather steering wheel — this package is standard on the Sport model. Sport models are also available with new optional chrome finished 17 inch alloys.

Safety features have been upgraded for 2002 including new dual stage front airbags and a new centre rear head restraint. The I35 also has seat-mounted front side airbags, active front head restraints, five three-point seatbelts with front pretensioners and load limiters, LATCH rear tether anchors for child seats, an emergency trunk opener, and a first-aid kit.

Other than the I35’s new 255 horsepower 3.5 litre DOHC 24 valve V6 engine with continuously variable valve timing (which replaces the 227 horsepower 3.0 litre V6) and a strengthened 4-speed automatic transmission with standard traction control, the I35 has bigger front disc brakes (front and rear discs with ABS are standard), new Electronic Brake Distribution to even out front to rear braking forces, and new Brake Assist, an automatic braking assistance system for emergency stopping.

Sport models include new VDC (vehicle dynamic control), an anti-skid system that automatically compensates for understeer and oversteer situation in slippery conditions.

The I35’s suspension, front struts/coil springs and rear cross-beam suspension, remains the same, but there are new, larger diameter stabilizer bars front and rear. The sport-tuned suspension on the I35 Sport model is slightly stiffer for better handling.

Roomy, bright, well-finished interior

2002 Infiniti I35
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The I35’s interior is bright and roomy for four people – the back seat is a bit snug for three abreast, according to my full-sized relatives. However, they did like the rear seat heaters on the outboard seating positions on a cold morning, and they also liked the power rear sunshade which reduces sunlight intensity while allowing the driver to see out the rear window through the rearview mirror.

I found the wide front bucket seats quite comfortable. After putting the key into the ignition, the driver’s seat automatically moves forward to a preset position (and automatically moves back when the ignition key is removed). The upholstery in my test car was a crome leather with pleated seat inserts and pleated leather door inserts, and attractive stitching. The upper dash colour was beige while the lower dash was a lighter crome colour. The glossy finish on the birds-eye maple trim was a bit bright, but overall I thought the finish and appearance was very attractive.

2002 Infiniti I35
Navigation system shown not available in Canada. Click image to enlarge

I found the new, round, luminescent gauges very easy to read, and the faux leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather-wrapped hand brake had a nice, grippy feel.

I’ve always liked Nissan’s sensibly large stereo buttons and easy to see white-on-black numerals, and I enjoyed the outstanding sound of the premium Bose stereo. The I35’s single zone automatic climate control worked great, but unlike dual-zone systems, everybody has to enjoy the same temperature. I didn’t really like the gated floor shifter — it just makes it harder to shift into gear in my opinion. Between the front seats is a unique armrest which folds forward to rest the driver’s right arm when cruising, or folds back out of the way when not needed.

Driving impressions

Though the I35 looks like a conservative luxury car, it performs like one of those racy German sport sedans. AJAC’s (www.ajac.ca) conservative 0 to 100 km/h acceleration time of 8.2 seconds is better than average in its class, and its 100 km/h to 0 braking distance of 42 metres (137 ft), is about average for a good luxury car.

2002 Infiniti I35
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In my tests, the I35 (like the Maxima) displays excellent off the line response through its drive-by-wire throttle, and terrific mid-range passing power as well. The engine offers continuously variable valve timing, variable air intake, and a variable muffler, all designed to maximize power and torque at any given engine speed. This car will surprise you with its power, so be ready.

The standard 4 speed automatic transmission, strengthened for 2002, is up to the task of sending those 255 horses through the front axle — I found it very smooth and responsive. Too bad the Maxima’s 6-speed manual transmission didn’t make it to the I35’s option list.

Fuel consumption in the city can be as good as 12.1 l00 km (23 mpg) and on the highway 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg). Premium fuel is recommended if you want the maximum horsepower, but the engine’s computer will compensate for Regular with reduced horsepower.

On the freeway, it purrs along comfortably and quietly with good straight-line tracking and resistance to side winds. I found it to be quieter than the Maxima, probably due to more sound insulation. The ride was comfortable but a tad firm probably because I had the Sport model with the stiffer suspension and the low-profile Bridgestone Potenza 225/50VR-17 tires. It wasn’t uncomfortable though.

I didn’t like the I35’s rather wide turning circle of 12.2 metres (40.0 ft.). It’s limiting.

Despite its lack of an independent rear suspension, the I35 handles very well and has very high limits — the car has a wide track, and excellent lateral stability, and only feels skittish over really bad paved surfaces. In fact, the I35’s handling rivals many sports cars, and its standard horsepower is the best in its class.

The nice thing about the I35 is that it is also very refined, quiet, easy to drive, and luxurious with a high level of quality. It’s sort of like two cars in one: a luxury car and a sports car.

Oh, and the I35 comes with a standard 4 year/100,000 km warranty and a 6 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty — better than the Maxima’s 3 yr/60,000 km warranty and 5 yr/100,000 km warranty.

The I35 is built in Oppama, Japan alongside the Maxima.

Technical Data:

2002 Infiniti I35 Sport
Base price (Luxury) $39,500
Base price (Sport) $42,500
Freight $1,150
Price as tested $43,650
Type 4-door, 5 passenger mid-sized sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.5 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 255 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 246 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 4 speed auto
Tires P225/50VR-17
Curb weight 1531 kg (3375 lb.)
Wheelbase 2750 mm (108.3 in.)
Length 4920 mm (193.7 in.)
Width 1783 mm (70.2 in.)
Height 1435 mm (56.7 in.)
Trunk capacity 422 litres (14.9 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.1 l00 km (23 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/100,000 km
Powertrain warranty 6 yrs/110,000 km

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