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Monday, November 17, 2008

G37S vs. TL SH-AWD- How To Properly Balance Maturity and your inner Hooligan

There comes a point in your life when change becomes essential. No longer is it acceptable to eat dinner directly from the cookware. Beanbag chairs are frowned upon. And, most of all, your friends are tired of being stuffed into the dank, musty backseat of your two-door coupe.

Sure, a coupe sometimes boasts an incrementally more structurally rigid body shell than a sedan, but it's a moot point when you consider how stiff modern cars are. You'd have to be Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton to discern the difference.

Sportiness transcends sheer door count when it comes to the desirability of a sedan these days, and two examples of this are the 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD and the 2009 Infiniti G37 Journey. Sedans only in form and more coupelike in dynamic function, these two cars take their sporting credentials seriously.

Thinking About the Sport Sedan
Infiniti makes an all-wheel-drive version of the G37, an all-season sedan that would appear to be the logical counterpoint to the all-wheel-drive Acura TL SH-AWD. But if you're talking pure performance, the honor goes to the 2009 Infiniti G37 Journey, the baddest G sedan in the land. And if you're choosing a pure sport sedan, this is the one you'd pick.

To wit, consider that the Journey is the only G37 sedan that can be had with the Sport package, which arms it with some serious hardware — summer tires and 18-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, shift paddles for the transmission, bigger brakes, quicker steering and tauter suspension underpinnings. Our bright red G37 sedan test car came equipped with this Sport package as well as the Premium package and Navigation package, and its price totaled $41,265.

As with other Honda and Acura offerings, our $43,995 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD technically had no options because it is sold as a discrete model. In this case, this TL comes comprehensively equipped with everything from a navigation system to summer tires.

These cars represent two different approaches to growing up. The sport sedan that will come out on top in this comparison test must balance the inevitability of maturity with the cravings of your inner hooligan.

2nd Place: 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD
If you can avoid eye contact with the TL's Medusa face and make it into the TL's cabin without being turned to stone, you'll find its interior is a cut above the G37 both in spaciousness and in appearance.

The airiness of the TL's cabin derives from your sense of greater overall width, and its multifunction screen is set further back than the G37's touchscreen, so you don't feel as crowded by the dashboard. The various plastics and contrast-stitched leather are easier on the eye and to the touch. The rows upon rows of buttons on the center stack seem like an intimidating mess at first, but with seat time, however, their grouping and function makes sense.

In terms of thrust, the Acura never bests the Infiniti's ability to make a quick escape, despite the traction advantage afforded by the TL's all-wheel-drive system. Acura has found 305 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm within the TL's 3.7-liter V6, but it's not enough to get the TL to keep up with the Infiniti in a straight line.

Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that the TL is saddled with 250 pounds more and two fewer gears in its transmission, and the result is a 6.7-second run to 60 mph (6.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and a quarter-mile sprint of 15 seconds at 94.3 mph. Hardly slow, but well off the pace set by the Infiniti G37.

Exercising the TL
With nearly 60 percent of the TL's 3,961-pound curb weight resting on the front tires, we were expecting the Acura's handling balance to tip on the side of relentless understeer. Surprise — we were wrong.

The first time you bend the TL into a fast corner, you immediately realize that the TL SH-AWD doesn't simply punish the outside front tire relentlessly as you'd expect from its forward-biased weight distribution. Steering response from the front of the car is taut and sharp, and the TL sports an eagerness to change direction that belies its weight bias. It turns out that driving all four wheels has its advantages when it comes to handling.

Beyond simply improving traction, the TL's all-wheel-drive system effectively utilizes the rear wheels to manipulate the car's cornering attitude. This reduces understeer and improves outright grip to the tune of 0.93g on our skid pad. The TL SH-AWD still likes to be driven tidily, but you can fling the TL around with zeal and come away grinning.

The rest of the chassis bits are willing participants as you explore these outer reaches of the TL's performance envelope. Body roll is minimal, and the quick-ratio steering faithfully communicates what the front tires are up to. Around center the steering feels slightly artificial, but as electric-assist power steering goes, you could do worse than the TL.

We've noticed that the brakes in modern Hondas tend to wilt at the first sign of hard driving, yet the TL's brakes buck this trend. They haul the Acura to a halt from 60 mph in a scant 106 feet. This performance is matched by the G37, but the TL exhibits less brake fade than the Infiniti. Perhaps this marks the turning of a new leaf for future Honda offerings.

During the TL's best slalom run of 67.8 mph, we observed that this maneuver highlighted some lag in the all-wheel-drive system's ability to react to sudden maneuvers. Out in the real world, however, the system's manners are unimpeachable, and AWD proves to be a key element in the TL's keenly capable and confidence-inspiring character.

1st Place: 2009 Infiniti G37 Journey
When you first slide behind the wheel of the 2009 Infiniti G37 Journey after soaking in the TL's cabin, your wow meter might droop a bit. The G37 lacks the breezy spaciousness and rich ambience of the TL, instead exuding a more traditional vibe. Likewise, the G's sheet metal is all soft, anonymous curves, as if the Pillsbury Doughboy penned them with a crayon made out of Silly Putty.

Don't be deceived. The G37 is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The basics of the G37's 3.7-liter VQ-Series V6 might be familiar from various Nissan and Infiniti offerings, but summer camp at Club Ninja has toned the power plant's muscles. Now with 328 hp at 7,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm, it'll wind all the way to the fuel cutoff at 7,600 rpm. It's a shade raucous up there, but you'll hardly notice since you'll be busy passing everything in sight.

With this engine paired to a brilliant new seven-speed automatic, the G37 sports the mechanical equivalent of a gazelle's legs. It tears to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds (5.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) on its way to a quarter-mile sprint of 13.7 seconds at 102.8 mph.

Character of the G
Where the TL's chassis hardware is employed to ends that are highly effective yet somehow clinical, the G37's bits turn the Infiniti into an ass-kicking hoot. The G37 feels nimbler than its stout 3,704-pound curb weight would suggest, an impression confirmed by a quick 69.2-mph slalom speed. Its ultimate grip of 0.91g on the skid pad trails the TL slightly, however.

The quick-ratio steering that comes as part of the Sport package works so well that it hardly attracts attention to itself, which is just the way it should be. It reinforces just how silly the optional four-wheel active steering system is (our test car didn't have it).

The combination of an automatic transmission and a car with sporting pretenses is usually a big letdown. Not so in the G-model. Like the TL, the G37 has shift paddles on the steering wheel and does the sporting blip of the throttle on downshifts. Yet the G37 won't spoil your fun even in auto mode, because this G37 facilitates fast driving as well as simple outright speed.

You can simply leave the transmission in Drive if you like, because as you increase your entry speed in corners, the transmission instantly recognizes the situation and begins to hold gears with an aggression that's rare among slushbox hardware. When fun time is over and you want to cruise, the G37's transmission reprises its Clark Kent persona. But by then the secret is out. In its adaptability, the G37 clearly has an enthusiasm for hard driving.

Likewise, the default setting of the G37's stability control system even allows for several degrees of slip angle on the tires before intervening. It's a nice feature, since the classic rear-drive layout gives this Infiniti an attitude you can adjust with your right foot. This thing is serious fun.

No Dangling Chads Here
Yet all this extreme sport sedan stuff doesn't get in the way of civility where the 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD and 2009 Infiniti G37 Journey are concerned. Both cars exhibit a certain suppleness when the roads prickle their backs, with the edge going to the more supple TL. The backseat in both cars provides the kind of legroom that makes long road trips a realistic proposition.

We have two very accomplished sport sedans in the TL and the G37, and their differences in character are more a matter of personal preference than in capability. The scoring was close enough between the two that the G37's $2,730 sticker price advantage took on increased significance.

Ultimately, though, the 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD couldn't claw its way back from the drubbing given to it by the sheer speed of the 2009 Infiniti G37. It doesn't hurt that the G37 really shrinks around its driver when you want it to and expands when you don't. In this respect, the G37 is the four-door sports car you always wanted, the car that lets you change and grow up without forgetting where you came from.