Who are they trying to kid? Will Europeans really consider a premium car built by Nissan? Infiniti arrives in Europe in 2008 and we’re first to drive the new G37 Coupe to find out if it cuts the mustard.
CAR flew to Switzerland to Infiniti’s new Euro HQ to test the Japanese answer to the 3-series Coupe. This is the latest iteration of the G two-door, previous versions of which have been sold in the US and, badged Skylines, in Japan.
Why would I consider one over a BMW 3-series or Merc CLK?
Let’s cut to the chase. Infiniti wants to offer BMW driving dynamics tied to Lexus levels of customer service. This basic tenet underpins all of Infiniti’s launch activity – and the G37 is pitched accordingly, with big engines and power outputs, high spec and attractive prices.
It shares many of the mechanicals from parent firm Nissan’s 350Z: so there’s a tasty V6, enlarged to 3.7 litres and breathed on with variable valve control; a rear-drive chassis, available on top Sport trim models with four-wheel steer; and some heady power outputs to tempt enthusiasts out of their German machines.
So just how powerful is the G37?
The exact Euro-homolgation spec is being finalised, but we’re talking 320bhp and 270lb ft of twist. Infiniti is pitching the G37 as a 335i rival at 330i prices. So you can expect to pay around £31,000 – not bad for a coupe with horsepower approaching the output of the last-generation M3.
However, on the road it quickly becomes apparent that the G37 doesn’t feel as quick as the loony German brigade. Infiniti is coy about performance figures and we drove a US-spec car, whose 0-60mph time is estimated at under 6.0sec, yet it just doesn’t feel that fast. Blame the peaky torque output – you have to crank it up to 5200rpm to get maximum shove. In that respect, it feels like the 350Z. It’s more about lazy performance than frenetic high-rev fireworks.
How will the European cars differ then?
I’m glad you asked that. The bods at Nissan Europe are making numerous tweaks to the G37 ahead of its debut here at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show (alongside the launch of the new FX45 crossover – the first Infiniti debut outside the US). A lot of time is being spent fettling the G37’s suspension set-up to find the right balance of taut handling and comfortable ride, but there will also be changes to bumpers (to house the number plates), wind seals (all the better for hushed cruising) and interior switchgear (to banish any vestigial Nissanness).
However, the G37 Coupe we drove is essentially the same as the one you’ll be able to buy from 2008. And the basics are absolutely sound: there’s a slick look that’s at once fresh and different to the multitude of existing premium offerings. It’s sophisticated and naturally appealing from most angles. Maybe the Infiniti looks a touch brash and Japanese when viewed head- or nose-on – but there’s no denying its presence. And exclusivity is guaranteed.
So does the Infiniti G37 run rings around a 3-series?
The good news is that the newcomer from the east is a very good steer. It feels like a 350Z-lite, a coupe with proper sports car feel yet less of the manly muscle required to pilot the Nissan heavyweight. Our test car wasn’t to final European spec, don’t forget, and rode on chunky snow tyres to cope with the first dump of a Swiss winter.
Even so, it impressed. Maybe our expectations were too low (it’s only a posh Nissan! A roly-poly American special!), but the G37 is comfortable around town, rides well over the admittedly smooth Swiss roads we encountered and remains quiet and refined at motorway speeds, bar a whistle of wind noise around the big door mirrors.
And what about when you put your foot down?
As we’ve mentioned, there’s little explosive activity under the bonnet. You have to rev the nuts off the 3.7 V6 to get this car to shift, but once the tacho needle arcs towards its bumpstop, the G37 finally gets into its stride. A guttural bark accompanies steady thrust as you’re pushed back into your seat.
It’s easy to keep the engine on the boil, the pedals perfectly positioned to blip the throttle on downchanges. Point into the first corner and the Infiniti responds faithfully, once you get over a few millimetres of dead travel. It’s not the most communicative rack, but it’s not far off the class best either. Booting the throttle out of corners on the Alpine roads of our test route makes the back tyres squirm, the ESP system catching slides before they become a problem. Four-wheel drive is available on the base G37 in Europe (but not on the top-spec four-wheel steer versions).
And what about the sensible stuff?
This is where Infiniti will fail or fly. It’s crucial they get the dealer experience spot-on, and the brand keepers are plotting an 80-strong network across Europe. That’s not very many, when you think about it; the UK will only get a dozen outlets, so you might have a trek to get your car serviced. Infiniti says a dedicated telephone and web support team will take the stress out of ownership, however.
Prices, too, will be crucial. At around £31,000, the G37 will be competitive if hardly sensational value. The power outputs sound impressive on paper, but the performance just doesn’t feel as electric as its promise. But there’s no denying the sky-high equipment being planned – everything from corner-peering xenons to big alloys will be standard, options that’d cost thousands on many German rivals.
The G37 is a well judged package. It looks slick, is well built, is bursting with kit and, crucially, is a good drive. It really does add up as a viable alternative to the German and British brands that dominate the premium landscape.
Stumbling blocks? The biggest problem I encountered is the lack of space (I’m 6ft 2in and felt short of headroom in the front; the rear seats are very occasional indeed; and the boot isn’t very big). The dealer network will be spread thin and have a lot to prove if they really are to challenge the glossy Lexus outfit – and don’t forget there’s a big wait. While some European markets get the first cars in late 2008, the UK will have to wait until spring 2009.
Buying an Infiniti will require a leap of faith, but the signs are very promising. We reckon the G37 Coupe is well worth a look instead of the 3-series/CLK/A5 mob.
• For the full behind-the-scenes look at the Infiniti launch, read the February 2008 issue of CAR Magazine, out 28 December