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Nissan created a hit with its 3.5-liter VQ engine, using it in many different Infiniti and Nissan models. What does the company do for an encore? Bore out that engine to 3.7 liters, develop a new variable valve timing system, and drop it in the legendary Skyline, called the 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe in the U.S.
With the Infiniti G37 Coupe, Nissan has built a very powerful and good-looking sports coupe. The Infiniti brand also carries a lot of cutting-edge cabin technology, seen in the G37 Coupe with a hard-drive-based navigation system, music server, iPod integration, hands-free Bluetooth cell phone integration, and a solid Bose audio system.
Test the tech: Skyline on Skyline
Although called the Infiniti G37 Coupe over here, in Japan it's the Nissan Skyline 370GT, the latest in the legendary Skyline series. It just so happens that there is a popular driving road in the San Francisco Bay Area called Skyline Boulevard. For our test of the 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe, we drove it the length of Skyline Boulevard.
For our drive, we went up Highway 17, from San Jose into the Santa Cruz mountains, then exiting north on Black Road, which ends at the start of Skyline. As an additional challenge, our test occurred during the first rains of the season, which would have a notable effect. Because our test car wasn't equipped with the optional navigation system, we had to rely on old-fashioned paper maps to plot our route. But we did have iPod integration, so on the way up 17 we scrolled through our music choices, settling on David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust.
Once on Black Road, the fun began. We were eager to test out the 330 horses of this stellar-looking sport coupe, and work out its six-speed manual. But one of the first turns we hit was a hairpin, and as we pushed the accelerator and cranked the wheel, we found the front of the car continuing in a straight line. OK, back off the gas and let it follow the direction the wheels were turned. Seems we have a problem with grip here, exacerbated by the wet conditions and the car's standard summer tires.
Now that we had a sense of the car's limitations, we approached successive corners with caution until we had a better feel for the car. Black Road continued on with many tight, second-gear turns. We found the traction control light coming on frequently, although the wheels were still slipping all over the place. Once on Skyline, most of the corners were broader, letting us power through in third gear. A lot of these turns go on for an unreasonable amount of time, and as we felt we had hit the limits of our available traction, the end would come in sight. At that point we could hit the gas and use the growling power of the 3.7-liter V-6 to take us out of the turn.
We negotiated turn after turn in the G37 Coupe, building up to a pretty good clip, but always conscious of the slick conditions. Somewhere along the way, the stereo finished up with Ziggy Stardust, so we quickly thumbed the audio source button on the steering wheel, moving over to the six-disc changer, where we had Paul Westerburg's Mono queued up on an MP3 CD. But we also brought the volume down, as we were more interested in listening to the car.
Approaching Highway 92, there are a good set of turns rated at 40 and 30 mph. Coming in to one of the latter, we downshifted hard to second, immediately getting a small torque slide to the left. But as always, the G37 Coupe had enough engine power on top to pull us back on track.
During this exercise, the G37 Coupe's loose grip kept us on edge. We enjoyed driving it, especially when we could let the engine rev high in second gear, as it makes a great throaty growl. The steering itself was tight, with little understeer. But we would opt for some more grippy rubber.
In the cabin
As of late, Infiniti has been offering impressive cabin tech in its models. The G37 Coupe takes this trend and pushes it further. As with other Infiniti cars we've seen, the LCD in the dashboard is standard, even if you don't have the navigation option.
The onscreen interface is composed of menus, and uses a big knob with directional buttons set in its top. There is also an enter button and a back button. This interface is fairly easy to use, but sometimes we weren't sure if we should turn the knob or push the directional buttons (both often gave duplicate results). Another bit of interface confusion comes from the audio controls mounted midway down the stack. These controls let you tune in radio stations, which you can't do with the upper controls. They also let you choose folders on an MP3 CD, which you can also do with the upper controls.
As mentioned above, our test car didn't come with the navigation system, which is a shame because it's a new hard-drive-based system and comes with XM live traffic reporting. And 9.3GB of space is set aside for music storage, a tech feature we've seen in a few other cars that we really like. The nav system also includes voice command, which not only controls navigation, but also handles audio and climate control.
In our test car, we had to content ourselves with the premium stereo system and iPod integration. For premium audio, the G37 Coupe gets a six-disc, MP3-capable changer with 24-bit digital audio converters and 11 Bose speakers. XM satellite radio comes standard with all the available stereo systems. We found navigating folders on an MP3 CD or channels on XM satellite radio relatively easy, despite the duplicate controls. The iPod integration on our test car, which comes as part of the Premium options package, was very useful, as well. The iPod port is mounted in the center console, along with a set of audio and video jacks.
We found the audio from this 11 speaker Bose system strong, with overall good quality. But it lacked the clarity and separation we heard from the Harman Kardon Logic7 system in the Mercedes-Benz C300 that we tested recently. This Bose system is definitely above average, but it could use a little more refinement to make the highs more distinct.
The other major tech feature in the cabin, another feature of the Premium package, was Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration. We paired this system with a Samsung phone using voice command, the only way to access the system. We like that the car's LCD shows available commands when you start using voice command to control the phone system. Call quality was good and the voice-command system did a good job recognizing our commands. The only drawback to the system is that it doesn't copy over your cell phone's phone book, but it does have its own internal phone book that you can manually populate.
Under the hood
We had high expectations for the 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe, but they weren't entirely met. The car looks great and the engine not only produces a lot of power, it sounds good doing it. But we found it difficult to get a really fast start off the line. The engine puts out its peak 330 horsepower at 7,000rpm, with a very high 7,500rpm redline. If you drop the clutch below 4,000rpm it doesn't feel like a whole lot of power is going to the wheels, while the car is restrained at higher rpms because of its lack of grip. You don't get a big kick from off-the-line acceleration, but it starts to feel satisfying at around 40 mph in second gear.
Along with the increased displacement over its last generation of engines, Nissan developed a new variable valve control system, called Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL), for the Infiniti G37 Coupe. This system keeps intake valve lift low at low to medium rpms to improve fuel efficiency, but is probably also responsible for the slow starts off-the-line. On the plus side, the larger displacement engine in the G37 Coupe seems to give the same fuel economy as the Infiniti G35. EPA rated mileage is 17mpg city and 26mpg highway. In our testing, we didn't break 20 mpg, averaging around 19 mpg for city and freeway driving. VVEL is also designed to cut down on emissions, but ratings weren't published for the G37 Coupe at the time of this review.
We found the six-speed manual very capable and enjoyable to use. It generally produced smooth shifts, although one of our staff members found the gate a little tight, making it difficult to hit third and fourth, the middle gears. Interestingly, besides the Infiniti G37 Sport, with its six-speed manual, there are two other G37s, the standard model and a Journey trim level. The two latter have five-speed automatics, a transmission that we can't imagine would be inspiring.
We mentioned our issues with the G37's grip. The Sport trimmed G37 comes standard with a limited slip differential, which should also lend a hand in holding the corners, and may explain why our back end never slid out dramatically. The suspension on the Sport model is very stiff, which should also help handling but can make the ride a bit jarring. There is an option for something called Four Wheel Active Steering, which adds variable adjustment to the steering ratio, but we didn't have it on our car.
Our test car was the 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe Sport, which bases at $35,550. Our only option was the $3,200 Premium package, which includes such niceties as the Bose stereo system, Bluetooth, iPod integration, and power adjustment for the steering wheel. With its $715 destination charge, our G37 Coupe came in at $39,465. Given our choice, we would also have added the $2,200 navigation option, and possibly the $1,150 Technology package, which includes adaptive headlights and adaptive cruise control.
The G37 Coupe has an impressive engine and body styling, but it also has some serious competition in the BMW 335i. With its full tech package onboard, though, the G37 Coupe gets some compelling features with its live traffic reporting and music server.