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All fields of criticism have their vernacular. Music critics might refer to "sonority" and the skimming reader might wonder what a musician's sorority has to do with anything. "Sonority" is shorthand for a luscious, felt-in-the-breastbone resonance of a performance.
Lately, car guys have been leaning heavily on "focus," as in, "The Mixelton Roadmaster 8000 GT is much more focused than the previous model." Meaning, the car is more responsive and driver-oriented. The steering ratio is quicker, the road feel more vivid in the wheel. The brake attack is sharper, the throttle quicker to pick up. The suspension trades a degree of suppleness for greater roll stiffness and body control while cornering. You know, focus.
FOR THE RECORD:
Motorcycle review: A review of Big Bear Choppers' Miss Behavin in the Aug. 22 Highway 1 section incorrectly stated the elevation of Big Bear Lake as 8,000 feet. It is 6,754 feet. —
The 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe, which went on sale last week with a base price of $34,250, has definitely got the whole Bausch & Lomb thing going on. This is the update to the G35 Coupe (model years 2002 to 2007), a car that signaled Infiniti's return to relevance and -- of no small consequence -- outsold the archrival BMW 3-series coupe by roughly 2 to 1. The G37, as the moniker suggests, has a higher displacement engine, more horsepower (330 hp, up a whopping 55 hp from the G35 Coupe), a redesigned interior and exterior, and lots of fancy-schmanzy technology, including available four-wheel active steering.
All of which makes the G37 approximately twice the car of the G35. At the same time, Infiniti's engineers have tried to give the G37 sharpness, a crispness, or -- the word the company's shamans use -- "vibrancy." Because "focus," I guess, was overused.
Now, as a matter of personal taste, I didn't give a fig about the G35 Coupe. It was a decent car mechanically, and it had some lovely, fluid exterior lines -- some might even call it classic. But no one who stepped out of a 3-series and into a G35 could seriously contend that the Infiniti had the driving dynamics, the shrewd balance, the well-oiled athleticism -- the focus, if you will -- of the BMW.
Meanwhile, the G35 interior was kind of a mess, an unrefined collage of parts-bin switches and hard plastic surfaces that left me colder than Christmas in Murmansk. Luxury sports coupe? Well, that's two-thirds right, anyway.
With the 2008 update, the G coupe's interior decor gets in step with the redesigned G35 Sedan introduced late last year, and that's a good thing. Richer materials, including lovely African rosewood that's a $450, stand-alone option, are contoured into a handsome and serene twin-scallop cockpit design. Infiniti also makes a lot of noise about its aluminum cabin trim textured like washi rice paper -- part of an emerging meme about the brand's Japanese quintessentialism.
The car's electronics are better integrated into the living space. Unlike the nav unit display in the G35 Coupe, which popped out of the dashboard like a piece of LCD toast, the G37's display is situated in its own binnacle into the upper dash. The multi-function rotary control is a bit of a reach from the driver's seat but nothing you couldn't get used to. The instruments and switches are backlighted in a cool violet.
And yet, despite the major healing of the cabin, the Infiniti still doesn't have quite the top-shelf refinement of the BMW. It's here that the BMW's several-thousand-dollar price premium earns its keep.
On the outside, the G37 quietly evolves the previous design. The volumes, profile and fullback stance are virtually identical. The hood, fender flares and rocker panels are a little more sculpted than before. The biggest difference is the large lighting instruments -- headlights and taillights -- that envelop the cars' corners in Zircon sparkle.
The G37's big lens is its hot new engine, a stroked version of the sedan's 3.5-liter with Nissan/Infiniti's Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL) cylinder heads, producing 270 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. The gearing options are a six-speed manual or -- as in the test car -- a five-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. Characteristic of the current generation of smart-shifters, the automatic will vigorously blip the throttle on downshifts and will refrain from upshifting while cornering hard to avoid upsetting the car's balance.
Buttoned to either transmission, the all-aluminum V6 puts on steam in a hurry. Zero-to-60 acceleration is in the mid five-second range, but the car really isn't at its best until it's thrumming along in the middle gears. The variable valve gadgetry has what engineers call broad authority; with it, they could have given the G37's engine just about any character they wanted. They elected to give it a revving, peaky feel, with most of the thrust in the higher range of rpm (unlike the twin-turbo BMW motor, which produces a steady 300 pound-feet of torque pretty much everywhere on the tachometer).
In other words, the engine has a lot of character, a lusty, on-the-cam feel that the Lexus IS sport coupe, for instance, just doesn't have. On the road, it means the G37 is happiest boiling away in lower gears between corners. Putting the power down in tight, low-speed corners will sometimes overwhelm the limited-slip differential and the stability control light will flicker, but mostly, the G37 seems unusually connected to the road. The oversized 19-inch sport tires certainly help.
Our test car was not equipped with the four-wheel active steering ($1,300), which was fine by me. I am not convinced that the 1-degree of rear-steer deflection is worth the weight and complication of the system. The 4WAS also includes a variable front steering algorithm, an artificially induced quickness in the steering at low speed and a more relaxed response at high speed. Again, my car didn't have it and I didn't miss it. I'm a Luddite that way.
The G37 has got major driving game. Stiff, lean and well-balanced, the coupe bites and corners hard and capably, even though, at 3,770 pounds, it's on the hefty side for a sport coupe. The ride is taut and suspension travel somewhat limited, but it takes a fairly big whoop in the road to un-stick the car in a corner. A helpful stream of road feel flows through the wheel into the driver's fingertips; however, on rough pavement you can feel the front wheels dance around a little, possibly due to the added unsprung weight of the massive 14-inch iron brake discs.
Focused? Oh yeah. The G37 has got a hard, bright edge to it. This is a handsome, well-tempered driving machine, powerful but civilized. And, unlike a few other Japanese sports coupes that feel like the compromised sum of a thousand considerations tabulated and averaged, the G37 has got some charisma.
Does it knock the 3-series off its perennial pedestal as the best driver's car in the segment? No, not really. The G37 feels its own weight in ways that would be alien to the BMW. But it's still a fine automobile, righteously quick and soundly constructed. And all for a price that BMW could only match if they left out the engine.
The G37 has more than focus. It has vision.
2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe Base price: $34,250
Price, as tested: $40,000 (est.)
Powertrain: 3.7-liter, 24-valve, DOHC V6 with variable-valve timing and lift; five-speed automatic; rear wheel drive
Horsepower: 330 at 7,000 rpm
Torque: 270 pound-feet at 5,200 rpm
Curb weight: 3,770 pounds
0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds (est.)
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Overall length: 183.1 inches
EPA fuel economy: 18 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway
Final thoughts: To whom more is given, more is expected