Having just apexed Turn 3 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, I have two choices before going into Turn 4: ease off the gas, or man up and floor it. Turn 4 is completely blind and I don't want to be the first journalist to wreck the latest incarnation of Infiniti's golden child. I can hear the screams of SCC readers yelling "Man up" and I floor it, unleashing the 330 horses from the new VQ37VHR engine. The 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe blasts through Turn 4 with aplomb and rips down the straight.
And so it goes for much of the day. With more than its fair share of turns, elevation changes and blind corners, this track is the perfect setting to see if the new G has the guts to back up its good looks. To make things interesting, Infiniti has also made available a G35 coupe, several variants of the new G37 (six-speed Sport and five-speed automatic), and even a BMW 335i coupe, the main competition.
As the laps go by, it's clear the G37 is more refined than its predecessor. If the G35 was a bowie knife, the G37 is a samurai sword. Handling is confident and the G37 has a nice neutral feel, even in the most technical sections. Whereas the G35 could get loose, the G37's stability control and four-wheel active steering feels like an invisible hand keeping me on the track. The only downside is that these driver aids tend to dampen the perception of speed and insulate against the connection to the road.
The G37's increased power is obvious, particularly on the straights where it consistently posts higher top speeds than its predecessor. The ability to brake with confidence is just as important as acceleration. The G37's all-new braking system features four-piston calipers and massive 14-inch rotors up front. Brake fade is virtually imperceptible, even after three hours and a dozen journalists pushing to the limits.
The automatic model clearly lacks the edge of the six-speed manual. Although I dislike any form of semi-manual shifting, the DS mode's downshift rev-matching and quick-shifting Adaptive Shift Control system have me daydreaming of being Schumi's long-lost teammate. The six-speed transmission has a terrific shift action-much better than the old G. Infiniti has engineered the notchiness out and infused it with a solid feel which matches the aura of sporting luxury that imbues the rest of the car.
The million-dollar question, of course, is how the G37 compares to the 335i. The BMW feels more nimble, despite having more body roll under hard cornering. Acceleration also goes to the 3. BMW's new twin-turbo set-up powers the car through the straights 10 to 15mph faster.
One of the major considerations in our impromptu comparison is that a comparably equipped 3 Series can easily take five or ten grand more from your wallet. That's more than enough money to score a turbo kit, throw on an exhaust and even the odds on the straights. Bottom line, the G provides world-class styling and loads of performance at a highly competitive price.
While not the undisputed benchmark in this cut-throat entry-level luxury class, Infiniti undoubtedly has another strong contender on its hands, giving the men from Munich a run for their money by taking the 3 Series head-on. And each generation of G will continue to get better-looking, faster and more capable, providing Infiniti's product planners have their way. Be thankful for the power of competition.
2008 Infiniti G37 Sport Coupe
Estimated Price: TBD
Engine Displacement/Type/Valvetrain: 3696cc V6, aluminum block and heads, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Claimed Crank HP: 330bhp @ 7000rpm
Claimed Crank Torque: 270lb-ft @ 5200rpm
Drivetrain/Layout/Transmission: Front engine, rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual (Sport only)
Curb Weight: 3668 lbs
Weight Distribution (F/R): 54/46
Suspension (Front/Rear): Double wishbone/independent multi-link
Brakes (Front/Rear): 14-in. vented discs, aluminum four-piston calipers (F), 13.8-in. vented discs, aluminum two-piston calipers (R)
Wheels (Front/Rear): 19x8.5/19x9, aluminum alloy
Tires (Front/Rear): 225/45/19 92W (F)/ 245/40/19 94W (R), summer tires