Infiniti Gives BMW a Run for Its Money

The new G37 coupe has a powerful engine, is loaded with goodies, and looks greatproviding serious competition for the 3 series

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Handling, good looks, powerful new engine, improved gas mileage

The Bad: Tight rear seat, tiny trunk

The Bottom Line: The BMW 3 Series' toughest competitor

Up Front

Aficionados of European sports cars often chauvinistically complain that rival Japanese models are soulless, but there's nothing soulless about the new rear-wheel-drive Infiniti G37. A two-door version of Infiniti's terrific G35 sedan, the G37 is hot, gorgeous, and priced competitively with the BMWG.DE 328i while offering more power and extra features. This new Infiniti coupe combines the upscale interior of an entry-level luxury car with the speed and handling of a sports car.

All versions of the G37 Coupe are powered by a new 3.7 liter V6 engine rated at 330 horsepower, a considerable increase over the G35 Coupe, the model it is replacing, and 24 more horses than the '08 G35 sedan. The new engine can be paired with either a six-speed stick shift or a five-speed automatic transmission with optional steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The G37 comes in three trim levels. The base model starts at $34,965, the Journey at $35,715, and the Sport at $36,265. Even the base model comes heavily loaded with standard equipment. The Journey adds such features as a six-CD in-dash audio setup and dual zone climate control.

The Sport G37, which is mainly for hard-core driving enthusiasts, only comes with a six-speed manual transmission and adds a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels (18-inchers are standard), and performance tires. Those add-ons are available as the $1,850 Sport package on the Journey (that also includes the paddle shifters) if you want a sporty G37 with an automatic transmission.

Other options include a navigation system ($2,200), four-wheel active steering ($1,300), a moonroof ($1,000), a rear spoiler ($550) and wood trim ($450). There's also a $3,200 Premium package that includes a moonroof, a fancy 11-speaker Bose audio system with hard disk storage and an iPod connection, a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, a Bluetooth hand-free phone hookup, and heated front seats and door mirrors.

Despite its more powerful engine, the G37 gets better mileage than its predecessor. Base and Journey models are rated to get 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, the Sport is rated at 17 in the city and 26 on the highway. In 314 miles of mainly highway driving, I got 21.5 mpg in a Journey. Like BMWs, the G37 uses premium gasoline.

The G37 promises to be a hot seller for Infiniti, a division of NSANY. Last year combined sales of the G35 and G37 Coupes fell by 13%, to 17,794 units. However, G37 Coupe sales were up 73% in November and 74.5% in December, which is probably a harbinger of strong 2008 sales.

Behind the Wheel

Why buy a two-door coupe instead of a four-door sedan? The answer is immediately apparent when you slide behind the wheel of the G37. The coupe's cabin has a more intimate, cockpit-like feel than the sedan's. And because there are only two doors, the car's body is tighter and more rigid (36% more rigid than the old coupe, Infiniti says), making handling better.

The G37 has also been tweaked to make it sportier than the G35 sedan. In addition to having a more powerful engine, it's a tad wider. Both models share the same automatic transmission, but in the coupe the transmission is calibrated differently to make the driving experience sportier. The stick shift has been modified to reduce vibration. If you go with the Sport package, the G37 also has enormous high-tech brakes that bring it to a halt incredibly quickly without overheating. (The 14-inch front brakes are as big as the ones in a Corvette Z06.)

In terms of raw speed, the G37 falls somewhere between the BMW 328i and the much more expensive, double-turbo-charged 335i. I clocked my test G37 with an automatic transmission at 5.4 seconds in accelerating from zero to 60, vs. just over six seconds for the 328i and just under five seconds for the 335i. (It's not surprising that the 335i is faster. Though the Infiniti's engine has 30 more horses than the Bimmer's, it also generates 30 lb. ft. less torque.)

The G37's cabin is functional but not lacking in style. The instrument panel and center stack are plain looking, with more inexpensive plastic than I'd like, but also easy to figure out. A classy-looking strip of textured aluminum (or optional African rosewood) curves across the dash and integrates with the doors. The black-leather sport seats are well-bolstered and have light-colored stitching that sets them apart from conventional leather seats.

The G37 is packed with technology. The engine features Nissan's Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL) system that combines hydraulically controlled valve timing with electronically controlled valve lift to reduce emissions and improve mileage. The optional four-wheel steering system uses multiple sensors to turn the rear wheels slightly, improving the precision of the car's steering. The optional intelligent cruise control uses laser sensors to sense the presence of an obstacle or other vehicle ahead and "pre-pressurize" the braking assist system before the driver applies the brakes.

The big negative about the G37's interior is that it may be too cramped for tall or heavyset drivers and passengers. I'm only 5 ft. 10 in., and I didn't have enough legroom unless I had the driver's seat set almost all the way back. The curvy roofline limits headroom in the back seats to the point where my head was scrunched up against the rear window. As for legroom in the back, with the front seats set for my height, my knees were jammed against the seatbacks.

The power front seats have a nice feature that automatically moves them forward at the push of a button and back to their preset position once you've crammed yourself into the rear compartment. However, when I pushed the button while sitting in the rear seat, I felt as if I were in one of those horror movies where the walls of the room start to move inward. The front seat stopped moving back just as my legs were scrunched up about as far as they could scrunch without causing bodily harm.

Another negative: As with most other coupes, the G37's rear seats don't fold down, and its trunk only has a tiny 7.4 cubic feet of space.

Of course, you don't buy a sport coupe for its roominess and hauling capacity. But if you're tall, heavyset, or regularly carry several adult passengers, check this one out carefully before buying.

Buy It or Bag It

At an average selling price of $40,273, according to the Power Information Network, the G37 is priced in the sweet spot for compact sports models. If you're interested in one, keep in mind that through Jan. 31, Infiniti is offering $1,000 off to current Infiniti owners and $500 off to owners of certain competing vehicles.

The G37's average selling price is about the same as that of the BMW 328 ($40,116), which doesn't have quite the same quickness. The BMW 335i is noticeably faster but sells for an average of about 10 grand more than the G37, according to PIN (which, like BusinessWeek, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies).

If performance isn't your priority, or if you just covet the cachet of owning a Mercedes, the new C-Class stands up well against the G37. The rear-wheel-drive-only 2008 C350 Sport, which has powerful 368-horsepower, 3.5 liter V6, starts at $37,275. It's about as quick as a BMW 328i.

Other rival models worth considering include TM Lexus IS 350 (which sells for an average of $39,922), and GM $39,128 Cadillac CTS. Bargain hunters should check out the Acura TL, which sells for an average of about $34,000. Or, if the G37 is way out of your price range, check out the new Nissan Altima Coupe, which looks similar and sells for an average of about $26,000.

Money being no object, my favorite remains the BMW 335i. I also like the Cadillac CTS, but it has much more of an American look and feel. Dollar for dollar, it's hard to choose between the BMW 328i and the G37. My recommendation? Toss a coin or take them both for a test drive.

Click here to see more of the 2008 Infiniti G37 S coupe.

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