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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 Except it isn't such an issue any longer, now that the car's aging five-speed has been replaced by a unit employing two additional gears.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.

Guilt free fun- flipping OPEC the bird

Large SUVs, 600-hp speedboats, and big-displacement toys sound like a good idea when gas costs $1.86 a gallon, but when you return from the gas pump with the same bowlegged waddle you sport after your yearly colon-cancer screening, wretched excess rots in the driveway.

People far, far higher up the pay scale than we are (including grocery baggers) tell us high gas prices are here to stay, despite the current relief. Suddenly, your neighbor’s ratty ’88 Charade you hated for de-bourgeoisifying the hallowed aesthetic of your gated community is starting to seduce you like the dorky girl next door who becomes hot in all those ’80s movies. There’s only one problem: All three cylinders of a Daihatsu Charade will fill your life with suck and agony meted out mile after painful mile.

Speed and fun, at least around this office, are itches that must be scratched, and fortunately, there are cars that serve up both while managing to expel a minimum of carbon atoms and burn fewer of the remaining bills in your wallet. Horsepower, like fuel economy, is a product of efficiency, and these vehicles balance both to their best advantage.

2009 BMW 335d
23 mpg city/33 mpg highway (est)

If diesel vehicles need an ambassador to win over die-hard skeptics, we nominate the BMW 335d. The skeptics’ criticisms will be charges of rattletrappery, billowing clouds of stinky doom, and anemic performance. Beyond making mincemeat of these once-deserved diesel put-downs, the BMW 335d will win them over with total refinement, fine moves, and billowing clouds of stinky tire smoke.

BMW quite aptly describes the 282-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged engine as a “sporting diesel.” There are some 428 pound-feet of torque lying in wait, about equaling the hallowed Corvette’s, yet the 335d will still return an estimated 33 mpg on the freeway, a much better number than recorded in the real world by many so-called economy cars.

We reckon the 335d will sprint to 60 mph in under six seconds, all while doing the things we count on the 3-series to do well: be comfortable and balanced, change direction decisively, and in general make us happy. It will also be expensive with a capital F, but perhaps you can convince the loan manager that all that money you’ll be saving on gas will be applied to your horrifically large monthly payment.

2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata
21 mpg city/28 mpg highway

The Mazda Miata is perhaps the only modern sports cars for which outright speed isn’t a fundamental design directive. The marketplace is increasingly saturated with cars that are shockingly fast—a Toyota Camry V-6 whups the Miata in a quarter-mile battle. A V-6 Camry will not, however, give you a jones for meandering ribbons of tarmac or even feel like you’re involved with anything more than a digital transportation device.

The Miata is a proper front-engine, rear-drive simple-and-balanced driving proposition, powered by an efficient and miserly 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with just enough oomph to rotate the car on corner exit. Driving the Miata is an analog experience, and you’ll find yourself wearing a smile because driving it is fun and rewarding, rather than fast and boring, or—as is the case with many sports cars—so fast that approaching the limit invites the possibility of dark moments with bridge abutments.

2009 Mini Cooper S
26 mpg city/34 mpg highway

It’s a real shame the Mini Cooper ownership experience has been ruined by the population of tattooed art-school dropouts who wear skinny jeans and ironic eyeglasses and have claimed it as their own. Lured into dealerships by espresso, wi-fi, and conformity, they leave in numbers driving a fine machine that in turbocharged S form is just about the most ace combination of fun and fuel efficient that trust funds can buy.

Fear not, enthusiast: Roll down your windows to prove that your upper lip bears no thin mustache and you aren’t listening to electro, and pour yourself into the nearest set of mountains. A fantastic chassis, a six-speed transmission, and 192 pound-feet of torque will help you dispatch stacked hairpins with confidence; it’s this car’s poise that helped it best such machines as the Mazda Miata and Volkswagen GTI on our Lightning Lap. You can also be confident you won’t need to stop for gas on the way home, that you’ll be able to fit in a parking spot once you get there, and that cops will be too busy busting hipster-helmed Minis for coke possession to notice your imprudent velocity.

2008 Porsche Cayman
20 mpg city/29 mpg highway

The Porsche Cayman looks, moves, and is priced like a proper sports car. It does an awfully good job, however, of pretending it’s an economy-minded automobile when cruising, consuming no more fuel than such pedestrian fare as the Mitsubishi Lancer or Scion tC. Moreover, it does so with a 2.7-liter six-cylinder engine making a respectable 245 horsepower. Your 50-something grand isn’t being spent on snorting horsepower, but on the fine fit and finish expected of Stuttgart, steering with better communication skills than Bill Clinton, and chassis balance that makes the 911 feel unsorted.

If you can afford a Cayman, maybe you can afford the Cayman S; 10 grand more nets you a bigger flat-six producing another 50 horsepower and a driving experience transformed from friendly to frenzied. There’s a fuel-economy penalty of 2 mpg, but that still makes the Cayman S, which sprints to sixty in under five seconds—and into your all-time favorites instantly—as miserly as a six-cylinder Ford Fusion. Direct injection debuts in the 2009 Cayman, meaning more power and more fuel economy. For 2010, we expect the Cayman will fold our laundry as well.

2009 Chevrolet Corvette
16 mpg city/26 mpg highway

Surely a big pushrod American V-8 growling epithets through twin exhaust pipes must have a drinking habit on par with Ike Turner’s. Certainly the massive tires that help make the Corvette into a dynamic worldbeater must create all sorts of mileage-killing rolling resistance. Hell, Vette owners probably run down chipmunks for sport and do burnouts over their shallow graves while opening canisters of Freon, such is their disdain for the environment and hatred of better citizens who drive hybrid vehicles. Surely, right? One problem: The Corvette gets better highway mileage than many hybrids, including the Chevy Tahoe hybrid, Lexus GS450h, Lexus LS600hL, Lexus RX400h, and Toyota Highlander hybrid.

Chevy’s secret? Torque, 428 pound-feet of it, that, when parlayed through a sixth gear so long it could stall many a lesser engine, allows the Vette to putter along on the highway at an engine speed that would be considered a high idle on most cars. The 6.2-liter V-8 also slingshots the Corvette—in its slowest form—to 60 mph in four seconds flat, within striking range of just about any speed machine made. Maybe 26 mpg isn’t fuel efficient to Vespa jockeys, but for a car with the Vette’s speed and fun potential, it’s untouchable.

Davidoff introduces first Maduro cigar

For the first time in the company’s history, Davidoff of Geneva has released a maduro Davidoff. The Robusto Maduro R is a dark, 5 inch long, 52 ring gauge cigar adorned with the Davidoff white label and a secondary black band that reads “Maduro R” in gold letters.

“It’s the first maduro that we’ve ever done,” said Michael Herklots, general manager of New York City’s Davidoff cigar shops. “But it’s not a maduro in the way that the American market knows it. Maduros are classically broadleaf and fermented in a certain way, but this is just a naturally dark Nicaraguan wrapper, so the assumption can’t be that it is going to be a sweet, medium-bodied smoke.”

Herklots added that the Maduro R is not just a Special R with a dark wrapper thrown around it, but an entirely new blend made specifically to complement the wrapper, which comes from the Jalapa growing region of Nicaragua.

“A maduro cigar from Davidoff has been requested for a long time, and this is a flavor profile that has never existed in the Davidoff portfolio before,” said Herklots.

The Maduro R was blended by Henke Kellner and comprises a dark, Cuban seed sungrown Nicaraguan wrapper, Dominican San Vicente binder and Dominican filler. It comes in slide-lid boxes of 25 and retails for $15.50 each or $387.50 per box. This is a regular production cigar and is available in the robusto size only. As of now, Davidoff has no official plans to release the new maduro blend in any other sizes.