Infinity G37 Coupe Hotter Than It Looks

Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) — Despite Infiniti’s latest “Intensity Captured” ad campaign, I don’t normally think of the brand in terms of sports cars. Nice sedans and horizon-blotting SUVs, sure. Yet when thoughts turn to carving up the asphalt, my inner voice takes on a more Germanic or Italian accent.

Good news for Infiniti: Your ad agency got it right.

Or, rather, your engineers did. The 2008 G37 coupe is a refinement of the G35, which had a five-year run, and it’s a surprisingly direct and unpretentious auto. (The latest V-6 engine is bumped up from 3.5 liters to 3.7, hence the change in the name — what must pass for wit among car engineers.) The fellows in white coats set their mark on an affordable two-door with a spirited drive, and the G37 is that car.

If this coupe were a car salesman, it would give you a firm handshake and never try to sell you the undercoating. It’s confident in itself and what its driver wants to do with it. There’s a real charm to that.

Which is also to say that it’s not a luxury car. It isn’t looking to play in Lexus-like comforts. The test car I’m driving, made in Tochigi, Japan, has a very modest base price of $35,000. The only added amenities are the $1,850 sport package, which includes performance tires and 19-inch wheels, a limited- slip differential and heftier brakes, and a small rear spoiler for an extra $550.

What my test car doesn’t have: a sunroof, GPS navigation or satellite radio (all available options).

Nice Rumble

Which leaves me free to direct my attention to qualifying the grittier stuff like the sound of the 3.7-liter V-6 (nice gurgling rumble), the surge of low-end torque (270 pound-feet) and the pleasure of flying down the highway when you let the horses out of the corral (330 of ’em).

I’ve risen really early on a Sunday morning to avoid traffic and run the four tires as hot as I’d like on the highway and winding back roads. By noon I’ve confirmed that it is indeed a rollicking good time.

My test car has a five-speed automatic transmission that’s one of its better pleasures. (It’s also available as a six-speed manual.) The paddle shifters are attached to the stalk, so they don’t move as the wheel is turned; still, they’re long enough so a pinky or index finger can find them even when you’ve got the wheel turned all the way to lock.

The paddles have a feeling of substance to them, lending a firm “clunk” when you upshift. The car also matches the rev on downshifts — proving the engineers really were concentrating on the important stuff.

Stable on the Curves

Steering is firm, though I would prefer more road feedback. And the surpassingly neutral chassis is a delight. It settles back down even in a series of quick left- and right-hand turns. This makes serpentine roads a wonder. For a sticker price in the mid-$30K range, it doesn’t approach a Porsche level of handling refinement and feels a bit hazy at the outside extremes, yet it’s definitely in the hunt.

The side profile is the most successful. Clearly a refinement of the G35, it has a strong top line and a fast- sloping roof. The front is more muddled: The swept-back headlights have lots of speedy personality, yet the other elements are all over the place. And I seriously dislike the back: There’s too much junk in the trunk (though actually open it and you’ll find precious little space for junk at all).

Midget Passengers Only

Similarly, if you have a rear passenger, turn up the stereo so you won’t hear the complaining. The roof’s severe slope means the rear headroom is only sufficient for the Headless Horseman – – anyone else will have to painfully tilt his or her head.

The seats are fine up front, though, with nicely stitched leather. It’s a handsome interior, with brushed-steel accents on the center console and the inside of the doors. You’ll find cost savings in some of the fit and finish and smaller parts, yet they’re well blended.

A real problem is the blind spot on the driver’s rear left side. The pillar blocks the over-the-shoulder view, and the side mirror doesn’t provide sufficient coverage. In this day and age of safety concerns, it’s not acceptable. I make left-hand lane changes with trepidation.

When it’s time to head back home to brunch, I feel like I’ve earned my omelet and Bloody Mary. I’ve had a fine morning.

Does the G37 have the panache of one of its German competitors? (You’re asking, so I’ll address it.) Well, it isn’t a BMW, yet that’s more than OK. The G37 has its own look and driving feel. It’s marvelously unconflicted about its purpose. You might say it’s comfortable in its own metal skin — and chances are you’ll be, too.

The 2008 Infiniti G37 at a Glance

Power: 3.7-liter V-6 with 330 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual.

Speed: 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds.

Price as tested: $38,015, including destination charge.

Best features: Overall fun drive, with excellent suspension and a fine automatic transmission.

Worst features: Left-hand blind spot; that big ol’ rear end.

Target buyer: The driver who wants a well-centered sports car without draining the bank account.

(Jason Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)