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.
As part of our car's Premium package, it came with a Bose audio system. The audio quality was very good, although it didn't completely blow us away. We heard fantastic clarity in the high end, but the mid range was a little muddled. The bass was reasonably strong, but we like a subwoofer that can kick us in the back when we want it. One particularly cool thing about this stereo is that its CD player uses a 24-bit digital audio converter, much better than the 16-bit DACs found in most stereos.
The DAC is put to good use, as 9.3GB of space on the navigation system's hard drive is available for music storage. Put a CD into the slot, and you have the option to rip it, with a Gracenote database providing track information. Infiniti calls this portion of the hard drive the Music Box. We ripped a few CDs to it, which was easy, but weren't too impressed with the interface when we tried to search for our music. We couldn't get it to show us a list of the albums, artists, or genres we had on the drive. Instead, we had to turn the dial on the multicontroller to go through each song list and down to the next album. This part of the system could be much better.
We found a similar interface with the CompactFlash playback. CompactFlash cards fit into a slot in the stack. You can load them with music, but the screen will just show a list of folders, rather than an MP3 player-type interface that would let you choose artists and albums. We actually did get that type of interface with the iPod integration. We plugged an iPod into a port in the console, and all of our music was viewable on the LCD, categorized by artist, genre, and album.
Along with these more exotic options, we also had a six-disc changer that plays MP3 CDs, and XM satellite radio. The interface for MP3 CDs was similar to that used for CompactFlash cards, just showing all the folders on the disc. Navigating through the XM satellite radio channels was relatively easy, as one set of buttons lets you move through each category of music.
Bluetooth cell phone integration was also included with our test car, rounding out a really complete tech package. This system works well with voice command, and we easily paired up an iPhone to the system. One drawback we noticed is that it doesn't automatically load your phone book into the car. Instead, you can manually voice tag entries, or dial by voice or through the on-screen keypad.
As another nice tech feature on the G35, the rear-view camera uses a full set of graphic overlays to let you know where the car will go and how close you are to objects behind the car. When you turn the wheels, the directional overlay curves to show where the car will go when you reverse.
Under the hood
The Infiniti G35's smooth and sedate styling masks the real performance character of this car. We took it on winding mountain roads with plenty of turns more suitable to a short wheelbase sports car, yet it proved responsive and precise. As we gunned it into each turn, we noticed minimal understeer as the nose pointed right where we wanted it. We could easily get a little slide out of the rear, which the car's traction control smoothly corrected.
Infiniti's popular 3.5-liter V-6 forms the heart of the G35. This engine, which produces 306 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 268 ft-lbs of torque at 4,800 rpm, makes a nice growl as it propels the car forward. We never wanted for acceleration with the G35, but we would have liked better mileage. Fuel economy is not terrible with the G35, but we would like to go above 20 mpg as an average. The EPA rates the G35 at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, but we averaged 19.5 mpg during our time with the car, even with plenty of freeway miles. On a brighter note, the G35 gets a ULEV II rating for emissions, a step above California's minimal LEV II rating.
Our car mated the 3.5-liter V-6 to a five-speed automatic transmission. We would like to see a six-speed in this application, which might improve the average and highway mileage. But in other respects we were very impressed. The transmission has a normal Drive mode and a Sport mode. In Sport mode, we noticed the transmission aggressively downshift based on our braking. For example, when we attacked turns, the car downshifted when we hit the brakes before the turn, giving us plenty of power as we gunned it through, and held the lower gear for an adequate amount of time as we picked up speed in the following straightaway.
The transmission also has a manual gear selection mode, which lets you shift with the stick or with column-mounted paddle shifters. First off, kudos to Infiniti for mounting the paddles on the column, as the paddle position doesn't change when you turn the wheel. But, as with most automatics, manually selecting gears doesn't work quite as fast as we would like.
Generally, we liked driving the G35. It feels like a good-size sedan, but with a lot of power on tap. The car is very easy to control, with responsive steering that tracks very well.
Our 2008 Infiniti G35 Journey came in with a base price of $32,050, a very reasonable amount for a car of this quality. Of course, all of the cool tech options bring the price up. Our car came with three packages, Premium ($2,500), Sport ($1,650), and Navigation ($2,150). Along with its $715 destination charge, our total racked up to $39,065. And we really can't recommend dropping any of these packages, as they all bring important features into this car. For example, the least techie option, the Sport package, adds an indispensable limited slip differential and the really cool paddle shifters.
Beyond a few quirks, oversights, and flaws, the 2008 Infiniti G35 proved an excellent tech car. Its cabin tech score is very high, only brought down by our problems with the music interface and our desire for better traffic integration. Likewise, its performance score is very good, but brought down by the mediocre mileage. There is also a lot of competition amongst tech-laden sedans in this price range. With a judicious choice of options, you can get a Cadillac CTS for the same price, which offers somewhat better cabin electronics. For a little less money you can also get the Mercedes-Benz C300, but its performance isn't quite as good.