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As we spun down winding mountain roads, exercising the famous 3.5-liter V-6 and shifting with its paddles, we inwardly smiled, as the exterior of our gray 2008 Infiniti G35 didn't hint at the power and performance within. It is a sleek and curvy modern design. We like the way the hood nestles caplike between the two front fenders. However, the general shape of this sedan makes it look like a car for the everyday commute. Perhaps it looks like a car that middle managers might use to take team members out to lunch, or a car that won't attract much notice from the local authorities.
But the G35 is more than just engine growl and traction control lights. Infiniti has been taking its cabin technology seriously, and that's clearly shown in the G35. Our test car was fitted with the latest navigation system, Bluetooth cell phone integration, and a stereo that could play from a wide variety of different audio sources, such as MP3 CDs, iPods, and even CompactFlash cards.
Test the tech: Traffic jam
Usually we come up with a plan for our tech test, but with the Infiniti G35, the test just kind of appeared in front of us as we drove up Highway 101 from San Jose to San Francisco. This part of the highway looks like an Interstate, with four or five lanes in either direction, providing a quick means of travel up the San Francisco Bay Area peninsula, with stops along the way for such tech enclaves as Palo Alto and San Mateo. It's the physical manifestation of the information superhighway.
As we headed back to the office on 101 after a day of test driving the Infiniti G35, the traffic began to slow around us. The G35's navigation system has live traffic reporting, so we looked at its map and saw amber lines along our route, indicating slow traffic moving between 20 mph and 40 mph. We were annoyed that the navigation system hadn't proactively warned us about the traffic, although we've only seen that type of feature on one car, the Cadillac CTS. As traffic slowed further to a slow crawl, the map continued to show amber lines when it should have been red.
We tried to find the specific incident with the navigation system that was causing the jam, but couldn't turn anything up, so we used the car's voice command system to dial our local automated traffic information service through our Bluetooth-paired phone. That worked much better, with the service immediately playing a recorded message, telling us that a big rig had flipped ahead, and all lanes were closed. From the far left lane we began to work our way to the right, happy in our knowledge that we needed to get off of this road, while everyone around us plodded along.
We slowly closed on our exit, and decided to give the car's navigation system another chance. We entered our office address, and the system suggested a route up 101, right through the traffic jam. Then we hit the button marked Traffic Detour under the Route menu, but it merely returned a message saying that it could not figure out a detour based on our current location. We continued with other smart drivers exiting the highway, and manually programmed our detour into the navigation system, requesting the nearest on-ramp to Interstate 280, a freeway that parallels Highway 101, heading from San Jose up to San Francisco. It would be less direct, but it wouldn't have the traffic jam and it is a more fun road to drive.
Following the navigation system's route, we zoomed out the navigation map so we could check traffic flow up on I-280. The map showed green lines running along it, indicating traffic running more than 40 mph, so we continued forward. Looking at 101 on the navigation map, we could see that it had finally updated, showing those dreadful red lines along the road. We were relieved to get on the fast-moving 280, but not so impressed with the integration between the navigation system and its live traffic reporting. We would really like a system that, when it sees we are getting on the highway, would look ahead a few miles and tell us about any traffic problems. But a Bluetooth-paired phone is a good back-up for finding out the current conditions.
In the cabin
We've been impressed by Infiniti's tech offerings, and the G35 shows no letup. The live traffic is an advanced feature, but, it could be better integrated. That's the story with a lot of the G35's cabin tech, as it includes features we really like, but some odd quirks here and there.
This is the first Infiniti we've seen that uses a hard drive to store its navigation system information, allowing for richer graphics and a larger points-of-interest database. We noticed that its performance was generally fast, as is common with hard-drive-based systems. When entering an address, we at first felt that the multicontroller, a dial with buttons mounted on top, would be clunky as we used it to select letters and numbers from the screen. But we got used to it, finding we could quickly make selections using the buttons. We also like that we could choose our destination by freeway on- or off-ramp, and the points-of-interest included a variety of different shops, such as convenience stores and groceries.
The route guidance on the navigation system is also good, and we were very impressed with the really rich graphics for freeway interchanges or turns through complex series of intersections. Better yet, the system has text-to-speech functionality, so it pronounced the names of each street on which we needed to turn. The map can be set to 3D or plan views, and in 3D view it will show major buildings, useful for navigating urban areas. Voice command of the system is somewhat limited. When we used it to find a restaurant, it would only show us places in our immediate vicinity rather than let us look for something further away.