An Infiniti G37? Isn’t that just a posh Nissan 350Z?
Yes and no. A lot of the G37’s basics are 350Z-derived, but this is far more than just badge engineering – the Infiniti is a very different beast to the Nissan it’s based on. But to fully understand this car, first we need some context. In America, Infiniti is Nissan’s premium off-shoot, much like Lexus is to Toyota. Late in 2008, the Infiniti brand will be gradually rolled out across the UK with a four-model line-up: G saloon, this G coupe, EX35 (think BMW X3) and the X5-rivaling FX45. Right now, engineers are fine-tuning the UK-spec G37 Coupe, so this American G37 6MT Sport gives us a first taste of things to come.
It looks kind of familiar
The G35 coupe – featuring a smaller capacity engine – has been around in the US for a while and looks very similar, although the G37 styling has been substantially tweaked. It’s also been on sale in Japan as the Nissan Skyline, and a few have been brought in to the UK as personal imports. Previously, Nissan’s Skyline range encompassed a four-door saloon and a two-door, rear-drive coupe (see where this is going?) as well as the range-topping GT-R. This autumn, the new GT-R drops the Skyline tag to become a standalone model but there’s still plenty of shared DNA between the G Infinitis and the soon-to-be-released GT-R – just look at the afterburner clusters hidden away in those rear lights. We’d call that provenance.
How does it drive?
The G37 debuts a revised version of the 350Z’s VQ engine, enlarged to, yes, 3.7 litres. Press the starter button and the V6 awakes with its familiarly hollow warble before settling to a surprisingly rorty burble. The clutch bites aggressively and the gear change – although improved over the 350Z's thanks to a revised six-speed ’box – still has a rubbery notchiness and needs to be strong-armed into action, leading to sometimes clumsy progress in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But up the speed and the G37 comes into its own. The aluminium pedals are consistently weighted with a pleasingly sticky resistance, heel-and-toeing is easy and throttle response instant. The light steering might lack for outright feel, but there’s a consistent weighting from the straight ahead that gives a reassuring sense of what’s in store come the first big input – something lacking in, say, the new M3. Strangely, the larger capacity V6 feels less noticeable than when the 3.5-litre was previously revised with a higher rev limit, but the extra urge does make the charge from 4000rpm onwards more intense.
And the ride and handling?
The Infiniti’s ride quality is firm and driver focused (suspension settings are currently under review for Europe), but even California’s worst roads couldn’t force it into a chaotic mess. Plus the pay-off is worth it: chuck the G37 around on smaller, twistier roads and it’s incredibly rewarding. The nose resists understeer at everything but suicidal speeds, turn-in is immediate and the ample power allows for a neutral to oversteer-led bias through turns. We haven’t tested the optional four-wheel steer system, but can’t see the need for it. The differential disappoints (a viscous set-up that, like the 19 alloys, comes as part of the Sport package), taking too long to respond once the 245/40 ZR19 rear Bridgestones’ ample traction diminishes. We’d prefer a mechanical alternative. And after a very hard, 10-minute charge up a snaking mountain pass, the brake pedal did lose its bite.
Don’t tell me: the interior is a letdown
Actually no. Inside, the Infiniti feels very high quality. The heated, electric memory seats are snug and deeply padded (the lower and upper bolsters can be electronically adjusted for the perfect fit), the buttons feel light and precise and aluminium trim lifts the ambience. An instrument binnacle that tilts when you adjust the steering wheel is a nice touch and we also liked the intuitive digital display and the Premium Package’s entirely voice-activated Bluetooth phone set-up and iPod interface – the dashboard’s central screen effectively turns into an iPod display, controlled via the car’s own rotary dial. Most importantly, ticking the Premium box bags you a brilliant 11-speaker Bose stereo. We'll have to wait for optional extra prices to be confirmed for the UK. The plastics generally feel to be of a decent standard, though rear-seat passengers and those fondling the car’s lower reaches will spot quality declining in less obvious places. The plastic covering the boot sill also came adrift on our first prod and the leather surrounding one seat adjustment switch fitted poorly – though Infiniti is working on resolving these last two niggles for UK models, we're told.
Is the G37 practical?
It’s good, but not perfect. Headroom is surprisingly tight for those six-feet and over - because the roof peaks ahead of the driver and falls away thereafter, so the taller you are the further back you sit and the lower the roofline as a result. Legroom in the back is reasonably generous thanks to cleverly sculpted seats backs, but the sloping roof means you’d have to be a pretty odd shape to make the most of it. The boot is a generous size (you’ll get two golf bags in there, claims Infiniti) and you can fold the rear seats almost flat for larger loads – though there is something of a bottleneck.
We really like the G37. It looks great, offers a high-level of standard specification and delivers a genuinely BMW-rivalling driving experience. If you’ve ever driven a 350Z and longed for more refinement and extra practicality, look no further. The Infiniti will go head-to-head with the BMW 335i at 330i prices, meaning around £31k and a £2k to £3k saving over the equivalent 335i. But while the G37 is an extremely good car with a generous standard specification, Infiniti needs to undercut BMW by a more significant margin to knock the 335i off its perch, we feel. But then a significant reduction will no doubt prove impossible for fear of eating into 350Z sales.