luni, 20 iunie 2011

Infiniti G37S Coupe (2010)

There was a real sense of loss as I watched the G Coupé being trailered away this month. It was a car that endeared itself with every passing mile, one brimful of character and confidence. It was an unusual day if I wasn’t asked about the Infiniti – who made it, how much it cost and what it was like to drive were the commonest questions – and it was a car that made me feel special, something arguably far more important than top speed, fuel economy, purchase price or any other criterion used to judge a car.

The Infiniti enjoyed its drink – the G gorged itself on the best part of 1300 litres of unleaded during its six-month stay, returning around 21.6mpg. But I never begrudged the £90 weekly fuel bill because burning every drop of petrol was a delight. The grunty 316bhp 3.7-litre V6 was quite happy to amble along around town and burble around country roads but it was at its aural and dynamic best hammering up against its 7500rpm redline, the powerhouse slingshotting the coupé along with license-loosing addiction.
Although its on-paper stats of 265 lb ft at 5200rpm make it sound peaky, the all-alloy unit was anything but. As soon as it was above 2500rpm it rocketed along in any gear, an appetite for pace matched by the taut suspension, wrist flick four-wheel steering and agile tail-happy chassis. Flinging this car hard and fast along well-known roads was magic.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox was the dynamic weak point in what was otherwise a polished and driver-centric package. Although the paddle-shifter was a learner, it just never seemed to deliver the requisite gearshift quality when it was needed. I got slushy when I wanted crisp, jerky when I wanted smooth and ponderous when I wanted quick. Note to those Infiniti engineers working on the next-gen G – an eight-speed double clutcher next time round, please. And make sure it and the engine fully understand each other.

I loved the G’s cabin. More flamboyant than anything from Germany, it combined a superb ergonomic layout with extravagant levels of standard luxury, safety and infotainment equipment. There wasn’t a great deal of room in the back, but my two young daughters didn’t mind, enjoying the Infiniti’s acceleration and sense of drama instead. 
The intuitive Connectiviti+ satnav, stunning Bose audio set-up, excellent chairs, active bi-Xenon headlights and smart cruise control all deserve a special mention. They were quite brilliant, as appealing as the car’s design. Although it had its detractors, I thought the G looked just the way a powerful and opulent coupé should – muscular, elegant and distinctive. That it made a highlight of its Japanese origins, rather than try and mimic its European rivals heightened its appeal.
As did the people behind it. Whenever I spoke to Infiniti global boss Andy Palmer, European head honcho Jim Wright or chief designer Shiro Nakamura, I was always struck by how they talked about Infiniti’s success in emotional rather than statistical terms.

Don't get me wrong, the company has a huge challenge ahead of it – one made even harder by the current economic climate and the recent devastating earthquake in Japan – but Wright and Palmer know just how hard fought success will be. Hence the modest sales aspiration and equally pragmatic levels or market penetration. As Palmer told me at Geneva, “It will be tough, but I am extremely ambitious about Infiniti. Its time is now.” Having spent a hugely rewarding six months in his company’s performance flagship, I wholeheartedly agree with him.

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