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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Quick spin in G37 Sedan & Coupe

words: Stu Fowle

I've been taught that when you can't have everything, you'd better grab what you can. So when I was presented with the opportunity to drive one single Infiniti G37 sedan right off the Pebble Beach show stand, I picked the one with the longest badge: a G37xS. Aside from the sounds of the last two letters combining to make this model seem a bit, um, over the top, those five characters mean a lot of things.


The "37" means that for 2009, Infiniti's smallest sedan has played catch-up with its coupe counterpart and has ditched its 3.5-liter engine for a more technological 3.7-liter producing 328 hp and benefiting from a wider powerband thanks to Variable Valve Event and Lift. Unlike most systems that only alter timing, VVEL uses both hydraulically-controlled variable valve timing and electronically controlled variable valve lift on the intake side, which improves performance, response, emissions, and fuel efficiency. A relatively low increase of 22 hp might not seem worth all the trouble, but overall, the engine doesn't feel as coarse as the outgoing unit, a long-running complaint of Infiniti's otherwise brilliant VQ-series. The power increase is also noticeable throughout the rev range, not just at its peak, and EPA test figures should be up one mpg over the previous G sedan, thanks to a new seven-speed automatic transmission.


One drawback of that "x" part of this G's badge is that the all-wheel drive system it denotes is only offered with an automatic transmission. Except it isn't such an issue any longer, now that the car's aging five-speed has been replaced by a unit employing two additional gears. Acceleration with the new seven-speed is quick and smooth in automatic mode, but a bit harsh when the column-mounted paddles are used to snap off shifts at redline. Downshifts are a more enjoyable deal accompanied by the sounds of automatic rev-matching throttle blips. They feel good, though we'll have to line the updated G up with some competitors to say for sure.

That last letter, the "S" predictably stands for a sport package, but not quite the same one '08 G35 sedan buyers got. The sport-packed G37 not only gets a new wheel design, but also the coupe's bigger brakes. Squeezed by four-piston calipers up front and two-potters in the back, the rotors measure 14.0 inches and 13.8 inches, respectively.


All '09 models also get a few added convenience features, including seat heater dials that replace the predecessor's cheap-looking switches and Infiniti's exclusive Scratch Shield paint. That last bit debuted with the EX35 last fall and uses a special clear coat resin that slowly oozes to fill in surface scratches (no, we don't know what happens after you scratch it all off).

As a whole package, the updated G certainly is the best one yet. The direct inputs and firm yet forgiving suspension of last year's car are carried over but accompanied by more speed, more efficiency, and more stopping performance. The engine note sounds slightly better while few vibrations make it back into the cabin. Did you just buy an '08 G35? Pity.

Being easily distracted by sleeker, louder, and more aggressive cars, my time in the G37xS sedan is cut short when I spotted the black sheep of the Infiniti family cast off to the side of the Pebble Beach display. There it was: a lowered, bright red G37 coupe dressed up with stickers and sitting on oversized black wheels. It was a project Infiniti put together with help from Stillen and MOMO, I learned, as a demonstration of the G's tune-ability. "Tuner cars generally drive like crap," I argued to one rep, a ploy I hoped would (and did) send a set of keys flying my way.


In addition to the grille, wheels, front splitter, and exhaust visible in the pictures, this G has revised intake routing and air boxes from Stillen, as well as their cat-back exhaust. Eibach was responsible for the suspension drop and new rotors — slotted and drilled — come from Brembo. The spoiler out back might look custom, but it's just the stock piece painted black.


Inside, non-adjustable MOMO buckets in black leather with a red stripe down the middle are a bit like Hooters — delightfully tacky, yet refined. Speakers all around, including two subwoofers in a custom trunk box, are from Polk Audio, and MOMO threw in a few more inside bits, replacing the stock shift knob and steering wheel.

That smaller diameter wheel, combined with the Eibach springs, does wonders to liven up the car's steering. Quicker inputs are met by sharper reactions and less body roll, making for a fun jaunt between the pines of Del Monte Forest. It's surprising for how slammed the suspension looks, but this G soaks bumps up even better than its stock counterpart. The base car has an impressive primary ride but doesn't absorb sharp impacts well — this tuned G sorts out anything not abusive enough to smack the bump stops.


It sounds, in a word, awesome. It's likely that Stillen worked closely with Nissan insiders on the aftermarket intake and exhaust pieces because they don't change the G's noises — which have always been great — but simply amplify them. This being an automatic car, the computer-controlled downshift throttle blips are screamed, not mumbled.

I've seen plenty of aftermarket G cars but hadn't ever experienced one for myself. Take away the seats, the wheels, and the stereo, and you're looking at just a few minor tweaks to push the G37 over the edge from a bit too refined to thoroughly entertaining. In fact, even with modifications it would still probably cost less than an equally equipped BMW 335i. At the end of my drive I left the car with two things running through my head: I liked the G37 even more now, and I really, really wanted to drive a turbo'd car. Call me if you have one.