Like most people, whenever I see a Rolls Royce Phantom pull up next to me at a red light, I can’t help sneaking a peek to see who’s sitting in the back seat. I did this while test driving the 2008 Infiniti G37 recently and a funny thing happened.
The person in the Rolls was sneaking a peek at me.
Well, not me exactly. Clearly the elegant, but still unidentified woman was ogling the Vibrant Red G37, and she wasn’t the first.
During my time with the car, I saw so many people staring lustfully at the G37’s curvaceous body that on more than one occasion I felt like opening the window and yelling: “Take a picture! It’ll last longer!”
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Once, while parallel parking the car in a particularly tight space, I noticed a man standing on the sidewalk keeping a watchful eye on me. Figuring it was the overprotective owner of one of the cars I was trying to fit in between, I was extra careful with my placement, aided by the G37’s backup camera.
When I got out he approached me with an inquisitive look on his face and asked, “what marque is?” “Marque” is how the rest of the world says “brand” when referring to a car company. Turns out he was a German tourist more interested in the G37 than the rest of the sights on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
I can’t blame him.
The G37 could almost pass for an Italian exotic and is probably the best-looking car made in Japan (it’s email@example.com for those of you who are fuming at either of those notions.) Redesigned for 2008, the shape is a big improvement over last year’s pretty, but slab-sided and relatively vanilla G35.
The new interior mostly follows suit.
The driver gets a clean but stylish layout that combines as many visual elements as Infiniti mixes metaphors describing them. Comparing the aluminum trim slicing its way across the dashboard and surrounding the controls on the center console to both a Samurai katana sword and the distinctive rough texture of Japanese washi paper, the goal seems to be to add a calming Zen atmosphere to all of the functionality on offer.
Included in the loaded G37 Sport I tested was Infiniti’s class-leading multimedia center with one of the best navigation systems available at any price, as well as XM satellite radio and a hard drive that you can rip CDs or copy songs onto from a compact flash card.
It also had Infiniti’s Intelligent Cruise Control, which uses a laser to regulate the distance between you and the car you'd otherwise be tailgating, and the Adaptive Front Lighting System that turns the lights ahead of the car as you go around curves. Similar technology is becoming the norm across the luxury car spectrum, but in a vehicle that starts at $35,550, it is a welcome option.
The only real flaw is that most of the dashboard is covered in a very typical-textured black material that is as good as any, but not particularly special. Compared to the supple creased leather found in the more mundane Infiniti EX35 crossover, it’s less than remarkable.
I can’t say enough good things about the seating position or the seats that keep you there, both are as close to perfect as you can hope for. Along with moving in every way you’d ever need them to, the buckets have power-adjustable torso and thigh bolsters that you can squeeze tight around your body whenever you want to go a little crazy, or if you’re just feeling lonely and need a hug.
I’m sure Tanner Foust was relieved to hear that I fell into the former category when I dropped him an e-mail asking if he’d be willing to meet up with me at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., during practice for the Formula Drift event he was competing in.
With an unassuming appearance that belies his ability to wrestle an automobile into complete submission, the 2007 defending champ of the fast-growing form of motorsport known as "drifting" is an absolute master of car control, and the kind of guy you’d want to have behind the wheel when things get hairy. Take a look at the chase scenes he did the driving for in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Drifting involves driving a car through a series of turns as sideways as possible, taking it to the absolute limit of adhesion and holding it there as long as you can without losing control, scoring style points from a panel of judges as you do. Tanner likens it to riding a wheelie on a bicycle. It seems impossible the first time you try it, but once you discover that perfect balance point between ultimate grip and spinning out, it’s as easy as, well, riding a bike.
Maybe not that easy.
To do it properly, you need a car with excellent handling, rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission. For 2008 the G37 meets all of these criteria. Combined with the sport suspension, the top of the line G37 may not be the perfect car to take to the track, but it sure is capable enough if you do.
Despite falling squarely in the luxury automobile category, the G37 shares a platform and many of its underpinnings with the 350Z from corporate cousin Nissan, like the heavily modified example Tanner competes in. The Infiniti does have an 8-inch longer wheelbase to accommodate a backseat, but also comes with a more powerful 3.7-liter, 330-horsepower version of their shared V-6 engine, a powerplant that ranks among the world’s best.
In the hands of a pro like Tanner, the G37 can be cajoled to slide through a circuit of sweeping curves and hairpins all day long without much effort. For a novice like me, it’s a little harder than that.
There are many ways to initiate a drift with a car, but one of the cooler techniques is called a "clutch kick." Turn wide into a corner, press in the clutch, then, as the rear tires start to slip, floor the accelerator and drop it. If you time it right, the rear end will pop out to the side, tires spinning wildly as you modulate the steering and throttle to keep the car under control through the rest of the turn. Competitors in the Formula Drift series can do this at more than 100 mph, carrying the slide for hundreds of yards, smoking their rubber into oblivion as they do.
Hit it perfectly and you will impress anyone watching, including yourself. Get it wrong, and you’ll be using that backup camera for a very embarrassing reason.
I did a little of both.
What you take away from an exercise like this is an appreciation for what the G37 is all about. A car with a ride this smooth shouldn’t be able to stay so flat and composed when subjected to such extremes, but the G37 feels like a solid plank of wood during cornering, while managing to retain its comfortable ride on smooth straights.
On the drive home, having been to the edge and beyond, I could really sense how the car was communicating with the road. It was everything I could to do to keep myself from slipping that back end out every time I turned, but public roads are no place for that sort of thing.
Unfortunately, they are not always as smooth as the surface of a racetrack either. When the G37 is going over bumps on the left and different bumps on the right the stiff sport suspension rocks the car back and forth like a linebacker running tires during the preseason. It’s not harsh, and the car remains in control, but it doesn’t soak it up the hits quite as well as an ostensible luxury coupe should and the occupants bear the brunt of it. That’s the trade-off for the great handling. Unless you live in the snowbelt, or in a big city that spends more money on speeding cameras than road improvements, it's well worth the trouble.
Short of that, there's not much else to complain about. Those otherwise great backseats are stingy with the headroom thanks to the sloping roofline, making them a tough fit for anyone over 5-foot-6.
More to the point of a driver’s car, the gas pedal is hinged to the floor and there’s a raised piece of plastic in front of it that can get in the way of your heel, depending on where you like to put your foot when you drive. I managed to work around it, but wished I didn’t have to.
But those are gripes. Overall the G37 makes driving an effortless pleasure rather than a chore. In other words, it's a luxury car.
One look will tell you that.
2008 INFINITI G37 SPORT 6MT
Base Price: $35,550
As Tested: $43,365
Type: Front-engine, rear-drive, four-passenger coupe
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
Power: 330 horsepower, 270 pound-foot torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
MPG: 17 city/26 hwy
What do you think of the G37?
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.