- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

For many automobile enthusiasts, especially those without an excess of disposable income, the sport sedan delivers the optimum compromise between enjoyable driving and practical family traveling.

Ideally, a car nut should have a garage full of vehicles for different purposes: a sports car for pure driving pleasure, a minivan to haul the soccer team, a pickup truck for gardening, yard work and general hauling, an SUV to tow the boat, a classy sedan for the theater, maybe a couple of classic cars for nostalgic moments, and so on.

Aside from increasing a person’s so-called carbon footprint, the expense involved — not to mention the parking and garage spaces — makes such an array of machinery out of reach for all but a few such as Jay Leno of the “Tonight” show, who has a large collection of automobiles and motorcycles.

For most people, any old Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion or Chevrolet Impala can handle the bulk of family chores: carrying the children, squiring the spouse on a romantic weekend, or transporting an occasional grumpy mother-in-law. For the financially challenged enthusiasts among us, the sports sedan offers the same virtues, but also tactile driving pleasure.

Fortunately, the world’s manufacturers offer an array of sports sedans that can satisfy the diverse tastes and incomes of people who want an automobile for more than its appliance attributes.

Among the more prominent is the Infiniti G35, which is new to the game. It was introduced in 2002 as a 2003 model, and is in its second iteration. The original was a four-door sedan, followed by the G35 coupe, which many fans regard as a Nissan 350Z with a back seat.

The 2007 G35 sedan, the subject here, comes in four versions, starting with the base car at $32,165 and progressing up to the tested G35x with all-wheel drive, which has a starting price of $34,665. In between are Journey and Sport models.

They all share the same engine: a 306-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode or, on one of the Sport versions, a six-speed manual gearbox.

The G35 was designed as a rear-wheel-drive car, for better balance and to handle the engine’s power. But that setup can be skittish in the slippery road conditions that occur in foul-weather states, so Nissan wisely added the all-wheel-drive model.

Even with several hundred pounds of additional weight because of the all-wheel-drive hardware, the G35x can accelerate to 60 mph in about six seconds. It uses an automatic clutch to apportion power from front to back, which is claimed to give it better traction on snow and ice.

Standard equipment also includes stability and traction control, limited-slip differential, antilock brakes, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, side air bags and side-curtain air bags, tire-pressure monitoring, leather upholstery, heated eight-way power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an audio system with six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability, an auxiliary jack for IPods and similar devices, remote keyless entry and starting, bi-xenon headlights with fog lights, heated outside mirrors and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The tested G35x also had a premium package with a memory system for the mirrors, seats and the power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a motorized sunroof, garage-door opener and Bluetooth hands-free telephone system.

A navigation package with voice recognition, XM satellite radio and a 9.5 gigabyte music hard drive completed the setup, which brought the test car’s suggested price up to $38,915.

One item of standard equipment deserves special mention. The instrument cluster moves with the adjustable steering wheel, which means that for most drivers the instruments never are blocked by the wheel’s rim.

The G35x is a midsize car with fairly tidy dimensions and adequate, but less than generous, space inside for four people. The front seats are firm, with good lateral support — ideal for spirited driving on curving roads.

Out back, the outboard passengers have enough knee room. But head room, with the optional sunroof, is nonexistent for anyone over about 5 feet 10 inches. The center position, with a hard cushion and a large driveline hump on the floor, is impossible for anyone but a small child or a duffel bag, so don’t believe the five-passenger designation.

On the road, the G35x is an abrupt car, with crackling moves. Press the accelerator pedal, and there’s no hesitation. The engine reacts instantly, and the car lurches forward unless you carefully modulate the pedal. This is known as rapid throttle tip-in.

Similarly, the five-speed automatic transmission eschews smoothness for snappy shifts between gears. It doesn’t matter whether you leave the shifter in “drive” or elect to use the manual-shift mode.

The manual operates only with the console-mounted shifter; there are no steering-wheel-mounted paddles as on some sport sedans.

Handling also is quick. Move the steering wheel and the car reacts immediately. With a tightly snubbed suspension system, the quick steering gives the G35x its controlled feel around corners. Surprisingly, the ride is not particularly harsh except on very choppy road surfaces.

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