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Old March 21st, 2002, 12:49 AM   #1
Magic Mtn Dan
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Watch out for the G35...

DEL MAR, Calif. — About two or three corners into driving the G35, you get the feeling that Infiniti dealers are in for trouble.

Not because of the G35’s road manners or styling, which are nearly flawless. And certainly not for pricing: at $27,100, the base G35 so undercuts the German and Japanese competition while overdelivering on performance, it’s difficult to imagine the zealot that won’t be pleased.

The dealers are in trouble because cars like the G35 inspire fervid enthusiasts — you know, people who carry on entire relationships on message boards and read the details in spec boxes. And while it might surprise some of you, not everyone wants to spend his Sunday on a two-hour test drive with a car nut and his or her newfound obsession.

They’re probably already talking about whether Infiniti was trying to ape the BMW 5-Series at two-thirds the price or simply drop an Altima-esque shape over Group C suspension bits. The answer is that Infiniti has done a little of both — and has probably brought a world of gearheads upon themselves for it.

Leading the wave

The G35 isn’t the replacement for the I35 mid-size front-driver based on the current Maxima — that is, unless you read between the lines. Infiniti is two cars into a renaissance and the new product wave is moving in a different direction: “We need to re-establish the Infiniti brand here in the U.S.,” says Mark McNabb, vice president and general manager, Infiniti Division, and the reinvention of the brand will “put an emphasis on rear-drive vehicles.” With the addition of another unspecified rear-drive mid-sizer to the stable (you can see pictures here on March 29, live from the New York Auto Show), and with the gut-check pricing of the G35, the I35 looks every bit like a has-been.

At least it has the grace to donate a version of its V-6 engine to the G35 on its way out the door. In this iteration the workhorse Nissan V-6 spills out 260 hp and erupts with 260 lb-ft of torque. Since it first worked its way into early Maximas, the Nissan V-6 has been a paragon of mid-range power, and in this application it shows the newly honed edge displayed as vividly in the hotter Altimas. It gets there through a heap of technology, including an aluminum block, variable valve timing, and electronic throttle control.

A five-speed automatic does all shifting. Cringe if you must at the lack of a manual, but it’s a good gearbox, with clean, quick shifts and not much hunting so long as you keep it out of fifth gear on your favorite test roads. Too, it’s not tough to picture a six-speed manual gearbox in a top-end G35, a possible version that no Infiniti folks would confirm.

Race readied

Muscular and refined, this powertrain could lift an ordinary sedan into contention — but in the G35 it doesn’t have to carry the load. Infiniti teams it to an extremely capable, supple suspension penned by Kazutoshi Mizuno, the former team manager of Nissan’s Le Mans and Group C racing programs.

Mizuno says his team put a priority on a very “flat” ride, with little body roll and good ride quality. To that end, the engine is positioned behind the front wheels for a better weight balance. The G35’s front suspension has multiple links in front, while the rear has a more egalitarian shock-and-coil setup, although not shock-over-coil MacPherson struts. Aluminum suspension pieces reduce the unsprung weight for better handling, and Nissan claims its home-penned shock absorbers control small vibrations better than off-the-shelf components.

In whole the tuning is honed to the level that BMW aims its 5-Series models. There is, in fact, very little body roll, and with sharp, linear steering, the G35 feels instantly comfortable to drive above posted limits. It sweeps into curves beautifully, takes a set as swift as Venus Williams, and doesn’t thump your behind at every bump, reminding you of the reason the Germans can command a premium. The feeling is in fact close enough to BMW’s lofty standard that just the merest sliver of self-proclaimed drivers will say they feel a difference. Trust them but feel free to doubt their opinion.

All G35s come awash in safety equipment. The most obvious, at least when you crash, are the G35’s dual front and side airbags, and side air curtains. Pre-tensioned seatbelts and child-seat anchors, too.

The G35’s brakes are controlled by enough computer power to offer Vehicle Dynamic Control, Infiniti’s version of yaw control, plus Electronic Brake Distribution (which varies brake force depending on suspension load) and Brake Assist. But even better is the sheer power of the brakes themselves and their ideal pedal feel. If you’re not convinced about the sporting intentions of the G35 by its dynamic goodness, one arresting 70-to-zero halt will educate you.

Four-hour affair

The G35’s long, lean proportions are a classy counterpoint to its performance. The design themes it shares with the Nissan Altima — the C-pillar’s arc, the headlamp profile — play out even better here. The sole awkward line cuts a rectangle into the decklid. Nissan says the design is “zero lift,” which either means it’s very stable at high speed or you should wear some sort of support garment. Maybe both.

The cabin’s also sharp, and a great place to work. The front seats are fairly firm and comfortable, although some seat controls on the side of the bottom cushion press insistently into your leg. The rear seats are easy, four-hour affairs even for strapping Germanic adults who favor toaster pastries. The trunk is fairly large, too, mostly because the fuel tank is formed under the rear seat.

For a base price of $27,100, the G35 sports a comprehensive list of equipment: all power features, cruise control, air conditioning, and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. A leather-upholstered model with an eight-way driver’s seat and 17-inch wheels goes for $28,950. Option packages list a 200-watt Bose stereo, twin climate controls, a sport suspension setup, high-performance 17-inch wheels and a rear spoiler.

Once you get past decidedly minor quibbles with the trunk cutlines and the seat comfort, it’s difficult to find the soft underbelly of this taut, lithe sport sedan. No doubt the G35 will bring a whole new set of shoppers into Infiniti stores where former Buick drivers used to wander. The brand’s numbers were down slightly in 2001 — from 78,351 to 71,365 in 2001 — but the G35 and other coming models, including a new mid-size luxury sedan to be unveiled later this year and a new American-made sport-utility vehicle, are in the pipeline, along with a G35 coupe. Packing one instant classic and promising more to come by its goodness, it’s difficult not to see momentum at what used to be known as the third most important Japanese luxobrand.

2003 Infiniti G35
Base price: $27,100 (with leather package, $28,950)
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 260 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 186.2 x 68.9 x 57.9 in
Wheelbase: 112.2 in
Curb weight: 3336 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 19/24 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side impact airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Electronic Brake Distribution, Brake Assist
Major standard equipment: Power windows, cruise control, in-dash six-disc CD changer
Warranty: Four years/60,000 miles




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Old March 21st, 2002, 12:54 AM   #2
Magic Mtn Dan
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You'll definitely want to watch out for this 400HP Supercharged Cat...

Bringing heritage up to full speed.
by Paul A. Eisenstein

World Report: Front-Drive Jag X (3/17/2002)

The Jaguar mythos has always been larger than life, even if some of its products didn’t quite live up to the loftiest of expectations. Consider what happened when Ford Motor Co. took over the British brand, a little more than a decade ago, desperately hoping to capitalize on that cachet to transform Jaguar from a modest niche player into a major luxury brand.

The S-type, introduced to much fanfare three years ago, was supposed to herald Jaguar’s entry into the big league of high-volume luxury marques. The midsize sedan certainly did yield a big boost in sales. But it also drew a sharp rebuke from skeptics who felt it’s Ford roots were showing like a bad bleach job. There were clearly some compromises forced by the sharing of platform and many key components, the instrument panel looking all too much like the Lincoln LS, rather than the work of Coventry’s heralded craftsmen.

Yet there’s been a positive side to Jaguar’s recent sales gains. Emboldened, the British company has set out to right such wrongs, and in surprisingly short order. The 2003 remake of the S-Type doesn’t get it all resolved, but the “saloon” car that will be hitting the streets in the coming weeks is a markedly truer Jaguar in both style and substance.

Tailing history

To get a sense of what the changes mean, TheCarConnection set off for several days of driving through the mountains and valleys of Spain’s Costa Brava.

The skeptics will still have something to gripe about. The S-Type’s all-too Ford-like tail sees little change for ’03, though on the other hand, the midsize sedan’s many fans will be pleased that the undeniably distinctive front end remains untouched, as well—with one notable difference. But more on that in a moment.

Visually, the most dramatic changes occur inside the passenger compartment. The instrument panel and center console of the original S-Type was a collection of square pegs in round holes, an amalgam of angular components that did not fit the sensuously sweeping lines that Jaguar’s design team had crafted. With this update, the look is unquestionably “Jaguar-esque,” strongly influenced by the flagship XJ sedan.

There are numerous changes on the technical side, as well, and to experience them at their best, TCC turned to the all-new S-Type R. Aficionados are already familiar with Jaguar’s performance lineup, which includes the XJ-R, as well as the XKR coupe and convertible. That’s “R” as in rocket. And the visual cue, hinted at earlier, is the signature mesh grille.

With this newest addition to the lineup, Jaguar starts with an all-but completely redesigned version of the S-Type’s 4.2-liter, 32-valve, four-cam V-8. In normally aspirated trim, it generates a very respectable 300 horsepower. Bolt on the trademark “R” supercharger and you’re about to burn up some pavement with 400 ponies ready to ride.

Blue-sky driving

We only had to travel a few miles inland from the azure coastline before finding a maze of virtually empty roads. And it didn’t take very long to realize this cat has some very sharp claws. Coming upon slower traffic, we stomped on the accelerator and feel ourselves thrown firmly into the seat. The speedometer read 80 kmh (50 mph) as we pulled into the left lane. By the time we eased off the throttle, it was nudging 220 (almost 140 mph).

No wonder the S-Type has a sport seat package with extra padding and exceptional lateral support. You’ll need it. This is a car that you might call a confidence builder. You’re tempted to approach each corner just a wee bit faster as you learn how well its big tires keep you firmly planted.

Steering is precise and predictable. There’s only a hint of boost at high speed with plenty of road feel coming through, but without any jounce or vibration. And the new and larger sport steering wheel is a pleasure to keep a grip on.

The R features stiffer springs and bushings than the other S-Type models though Jaguar engineers made a conscious decision to keep the suspension a bit softer than what you’d expect from a comparable BMW. That might disappoint a few of the most die-hard performance fans, but the balance of ride comfort and handling is likely to deliver precisely what the vast majority of potential buyers will be seeking.

A similarly conscious decision was made in the set-up of the all-new six-speed automatic (itself a first for Jaguar). Shifts are smooth and nearly seamless with a subtle roll-off rather than a hard “bang.” Again, that might not satisfy everyone though chief engineer Phil Hodgkinson makes a valid point when asserting that, “for 99 percent of our customers, that’s exactly what they want.” There’s always the five-speed stick, anyway.

The reality is, this will almost certainly become a halo car for Jaguar, in many ways accomplishing what the S-Type was supposed to achieve in the first place. It is luxurious, attractive and with the debut of the 2003, much more Jaguar-esque in style, as well as performance. For those who questioned the first-generation S-Type’s pedigree, there’s no debating its heritage anymore.

2003 Jaguar S-Type R
Base Price: $62,400 including destination charges
Engine: 4.2-liter supercharged V-8, 400 hp
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 114.5 in
Length: 192.0 in
Width: 81.1 in
Height: 56.0 in
Curb Weight: 4938 lb
EPA (city/hwy): N/A
Safety Features: front and side airbags, pre-tensioning seat belts, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control
Major Standard Features: Xenon HID headlamps with electronic headlamp leveling, 16-way electrically-adjustable front seats, dual zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, power adjustable pedals, moonroof, six-disc CD autochanger, heated front seats
Warranty: Four years/ 50,000 miles




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Old March 21st, 2002, 09:26 AM   #3
Guy in Belmont
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Looks very plain. *NM*

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Old March 21st, 2002, 09:27 AM   #4
Guy in Belmont
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Might as well drive a TownCar. *NM*

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Old March 22nd, 2002, 12:17 PM   #5
John Brown of Northern Virginia
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Re: Watch out for the G35...

I saw one of these in person last night @ a gas station in D.C. Very, very nice looking car. Overall styling very reminiscent of Audi. This car is L O N G .

John
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Old March 22nd, 2002, 04:50 PM   #6
Brian Eddy
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Re: Watch out for the G35...

Handling is pretty good - I didn't get to push it much, but it stayed very flat, no body roll at all and I didn't even drive the one with the sport package. The engine is nice - strong and smooth. The interior is kind of plain, but nice and a lot of room.

The only issue I had was with the manumatic shifter - there was a delay between the time I would shift and when the transmission actually went into gear. I don't know if the car I drove had a problem with the transmission or not - on the Edmunds board, owners of the car had not noticed this.

After the test drive, I was ready to buy one with a 6 speed manual, but they won't be out for 6 months or so. I may have to try the manumatic again - this would be a great daily driver.
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