by Haney Louka
Salt Spring Island, B.C. – Smooth ribbons of asphalt with hills and curves that would put Disney’s Space Mountain to shame: it was the ideal setting for Infiniti to show off the handling prowess of its newest performance sedan.
The 2003 G35 is Infiniti’s answer to the BMW 3-Series sedan. If it sounds a lot like the Lexus IS300’s raison d’etre, well, it is. But Infiniti has taken a distinctly different approach than did Lexus. Where the IS is smaller in almost every major dimension than the Bavarian, the new G35 gives buyers more of everything – more length, more room, and more power-in a performance-oriented rear-wheel-drive package that weighs about the same or less than competitive models.
The new G is replacing the outgoing G20 sedan, a car that was outdated as soon as it hit the market in the 1999 model year, mostly because if its mediocre power output – despite its being a capable handler – and small size. But while they carry the same letter designation, there’s not much in common between the G20 and G35. The G20 was a four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive version of Nissan’s home-market Primera sedan. This new model is designed around Nissan’s new FM platform (more on that later) that it shares with the redesigned (and legendary) Skyline, sold in Europe and Asia, and also the upcoming G35 Coupe and Nissan 350Z sports car. Oh, and it’s rear wheel drive, perhaps the most telling indication that Infiniti means business.
The G35 is also significantly pricier than the old G20, putting it square in the same price range as Infiniti’s own I35 sedan. Charles Plewes, Product Planning Specialist for Infiniti Canada, explained that the I35 is a “Luxury-Performance” sedan, with emphasis on luxurious characteristics such as a quiet, comfortable ride and more room inside. This new G, in contrast, is a “Performance-Luxury” sedan, where special attention is given to handling, driving fun, and road feel. Because of this distinction, Infiniti does not expect the G35 to take any sales away from the I35. I think some cannibalization of I35 sales might occur just because there were no rear-drive sedans with this combination of size, power and price before the G entered the arena. So although they have two different target sets, Infiniti may have sold some extra I35s simply for lack of alternatives in the marketplace.
FM, in the case of this new platform from Nissan, stands for “Front Midship,” in reference to the position of the engine on the chassis. Essentially, the engine’s centre of gravity is positioned behind the front axle for optimum weight distribution. This is a concept that’s already in use by BMW and Lexus with their entries in this class, and allows the G to achieve a 52:48 front/rear weight distribution that Infiniti says becomes 50:50 under acceleration.
Acceleration, by the way, is something the G35 is only too happy to provide. Under the hood of the G is Nissan’s renowned 3.5-L VQ-Series V-6, in this iteration producing 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. For anyone that’s keeping score, the BMW 330i produces 225 hp and Audi’s A4 is good for 220. The Acura TL Type S can match the G’s horsepower numbers, but the Acura’s horses are routed through the front wheels rather than the rear. And there’s about a 10 percent torque deficit from the TL’s smaller 3.2-L engine.
The G’s styling manages to reap the benefits of the FM chassis layout. Mounting the engine rearward means that the front axle gets pushed forward and the end result is an aggressively short front overhang. In profile, it gives the car a low-slung, sleek appearance that is accentuated by subtle fender flares front and rear. The nearly flat rear window leads to a short-and slightly droopy-rear deck that’s finished off with a set of oversized LED (light-emitting diode) brake lights. I must say that the overall package is a styling success, but the G’s derriere needs a little finishing. It’s a good thing that the Aero package includes a rear spoiler; it seems to be just what that rear end needs.
The G’s interior continues Infiniti’s tradition of simple yet elegant design. Controls for the audio and cruise control systems are located on the horizontal spokes of the leather-wrapped wheel, which tilts up-and-down along with the entire instrument panel. The display for outside temperature, compass, and climate control are located top-and-centre on the dash, just above Infiniti’s signature analog clock. That took a little getting used to with the controls for the climate settings located farther down on the centre stack, below the pop-up navigation screen on models so equipped.
The dash design does fall short of the competition’s in a couple of areas. First, the high-mounted display causes unwelcome reflections on the windshield when the sun is at certain angles. The second blemish – and perhaps more of a turn-off to prospective buyers in the G’s otherwise tastefully executed interior – is the quality of the plastics used to cover the dash and switches. On an absolute scale there’s nothing really to complain about, but one look at the interior of an Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series reveals that Infiniti has a bit of work to do. It lacks that combination of carved-from-a-block solidity and supple textures that the Germans have so consistently mastered.
One unique feature of the G’s interior is that the driver and front passenger seats have different stitch and padding designs. The driver’s seat bottom is raised slightly at the front to increase lateral support and hold the driver’s legs in place. The passenger’s seat is designed more for comfort and is flat between the side bolsters. Another quirk: the power controls are situated on the top of both seat bottoms, right next to the centre console. While it is more convenient that the typical between-the-seat-and-door setup, and it allows the driver to adjust the passenger’s seat, it’s not the best location with respect to the nearby cup holders: any spill is likely to be an expensive one.
In back, the G boasts plentiful legroom and headroom for this class, thanks in large part to the long 112.2-inch wheelbase, which is between four and eight inches longer than the competition. Premium models get the added comfort of reclining rear seats-a feature that Infiniti debuted on the flagship Q45-that make the rear quarters seem even larger than the numbers suggest. Folding rear seats were nowhere to be found.
While Salt Spring Island measures a scant 186 square km, its topography stretches from sea level up to the 709-m peak of Mount Bruce. Translation: seemingly endless hills, valleys, and curves over which we put the G35 Premium and Aero models through their paces. I spent my first couple of hours behind the wheel of the Premium model.
Power delivery from the G’s V-6 is smooth and flexible. With this burly motor, revs are not a prerequisite for thrust, although the acceleration certainly intensifies as redline approaches. The five-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual will be available next year) includes a manual shift mode, entered into by shifting the lever to the right from the “D” position. Two quibbles there: each time I shifted into manual mode from D, fourth gear was automatically selected. So whenever I shifted into manual at a stop, I would then need to downshift three times to get it into first gear. More intuitive systems automatically select whatever gear the transmission was in before shifting out of D. My other carp has to do with the shifting itself: the travel in the lever is just beyond a flick-of-the-wrist motion, which is all that should be required in a manumatic transmission.
None of these points are fatal flaws, but they’re things that would be nice to see changed as the G35 progresses through its life cycle.
Braking is accomplished through 297-mm front and 292-mm rear vented discs and is aided by firm, progressive pedal response. Body motions are well controlled by the Premium’s suspension, resulting in minimal roll through the bends, and acceptable levels dive and squat during hard braking and acceleration. Steering in the G35 also warrants praise for its direct feel and confident response. Generally speaking, ride quality is excellent for a car with such a sporty demeanour. Credit the long wheelbase and sophisticated suspension design for that.
With a multi-link setup front and rear, the G’s suspension design makes extensive use of aluminum components and incorporates what Infiniti calls “ripple control shock absorbers” which are said to suppress high-frequency vibrations and minimize their effects on passenger comfort.
During my second day on Salt Spring, I managed to find the wheel of a G35 equipped with the optional Aero package. I’m not convinced that the Premium needs the upgrades offered by the Aero – the base suspension does a decent job of controlling body motions, and it already boasts a low coefficient of drag of 0.27 (a lower Cd is better). But the Aero incorporates a stiffer suspension, 5-spoke alloy wheels (tire size and type stay the same), a rear spoiler and underbody goodies that drop the Cd down to 0.26, and titanium interior trim. Overall, I find the Aero to be a more appealing package than the Premium because I’m all for performance enhancements and the titanium trim is more attractive to my eyes.
That said, the differences between the two models are subtle from behind the wheel. Most noticeable to me were the seemingly higher-effort steering and the more buttoned-down feel over road surface irregularities. The important thing here is that Infiniti managed to enhance the sporty feel of the car without a perceivable detriment to the ride quality on rough roads.
Infiniti has produced its most intriguing model since the original Q45 debuted over a decade ago. And with more fascinating models on the not-too-distant horizon-the G35 Coupe, M45 sedan, and FX45 crossover SUV-one thing is for sure: Infiniti is back.
|2003 Infiniti G35|
|Price as tested||$44,900 (Premium with Navigation System)|
|$46,400 (Aero with Navigation System)|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger sport sedan|
|Layout||front-mounted longitudinal V-6, rear wheel drive|
|Engine||3.5L V-6, DOHC, 24 valves, continuously variable valve timing, drive-by-wire throttle control|
|Horsepower||260 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||260 lb-ft. @ 4,800 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic with manual shift mode|
|Curb weight||1536 kg (3386 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2850 mm (112.2 in.)|
|Length||4737 mm (186.5 in.)|
|Height||1466 mm (57.7 in.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.6 L/100 km (22 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.4 L/100 km (34 mpg)|