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(Photos By Guy Spangenberg/Nissannews.Com)

A brand all its own

Infiniti G35's power, performance leaves the 'upscale Nissan' label in the dust

Five years ago, if someone asked for a description of Infiniti, the response was "upscale Nissan." There wasn't much to say beyond that.

Then came the G35 in sedan and coupe form, and suddenly there was a lot more to discuss. The Asian automaker has produced a pair of cars to compete head to head in sport appeal with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. And in doing so, it has left Lexus, Toyota's upscale branch, to drivers I'll call "mature and studious."

Not that I don't love the Lexus brand, but after spending time behind the wheel of this week's test car, the 2007 Infiniti G35x, I am more convinced than ever that the G35s are aimed at a peppier sort of driver.

With touches of sleek Audi here, hump-backed BMW there, and a distinctive bladed grille, the G35 has an aggressive and low stance. Its L-shaped headlights set off the long, European-style hood and the windshield pillars rake back low and long. The taillights also are L-shaped and add definition to a boxy trunk that looks as though it might be tight beneath the cover, but is far from it.

Dual exhaust ports emit a strong and sporty burble so loud I had to go easy on the neighbors when taking my morning drive to fetch the newspapers. I swear I could feel the ports' reverberations through the driver's seat.

The G35 is powered by one of the finest V-6 engines I have ever driven, a 3.5-liter, 24-valve powerplant that produces 306 horsepower and is superbly smooth. Add an all-wheel-drive system and you have a fun and adaptable automobile.

Rear-wheel-drive G35s have a six-speed manual transmission as an option, but the AWD model comes only with a five-speed automatic with manual-shift option. True to the car's sporting overtones, the transmission in manual mode lets the driver decide how far to climb the revolutions-per-minute band before shifting up. Downshifts were handled smoothly as well.

The new G35 struck me as having more low-end power than past models, but most noticeable was the powerful surge it used to pass in highway cruising.

There is a stiffness to its handling that is European in feel, and feedback from the front wheels was tactile. The all-wheel-drive system monitors driver intent, wheel rotation and slippage, and driver mistakes, sending power fore and aft as needed for maximum traction. Coupled with traction control, the system has the ability to fix driver mistakes that can lead to understeer (plowing) or oversteer (back wheels try to come around to the front).

Safe as the all-wheel-drive system makes the car, it also is subtle enough that it does not intrude on what is basically a rear-wheel-drive experience most of the time -- the car goes all-wheel only when it is really required.

Antilock brakes, power brake assist, and dynamic stability control are standard safety features, as are front seat side-impact air bags and front and rear side curtain air bags.

But that is only part of an impressive array of standard features in a vehicle that starts out at around $34,000. Leather seating is standard, as are eight-way power driver and front passenger seats, and a six-speaker sound system with six-disc CD changer. There's also a big-screen information center behind the wheel between the speedometer and tachometer that provides details on fuel consumption, average speed, time elapsed, distance remaining before the fuel tank is empty, outside air temperature, and various warnings, such as tire pressure monitoring.

The night-lit steering wheel controls are for cruise control and audio functions. And while a center dash control resembles a computer mouse, there are key manual redundancies for some functions -- tuning the radio, for example -- that can be done with a knob or button.

Our test car went up $2,150 in price thanks to an optional premium package that includes power sliding sunroof; upgraded sound; memory for the driver's seat, steering wheel, and outside mirror settings; Bluetooth hands-free phone link; and driver's seat power lumbar support.

The G35 line has become the backbone of the Infiniti brand, accounting for about one-third of all sales. Pretty remarkable for cars that a few years ago were called fancy Nissans.

Royal Ford can be reached at ford@globe.com.


(Photos By Guy Spangenberg/Nissannews.Com)
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