Ever trying to capture the BMW 3-series magic, for 2009 Infiniti has blessed its G37S with the same hi-po 3.7-liter V-6 found under the hood of the angry Nissan 370Z Coupe. Continuously-variable valve timing and trick VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift, wherein the intake valves self-regulate cylinder breathing) boost power and efficiency for the 2009 G37 sedan. 328 hp, 269 lb-ft, and EPA ratings of 17/25 are yours with a G37 Sport 6-speed manual like the one we drove. Even driving it like we hated it, we averaged right at 20 mpg, a testament to the impressive heights of efficiency Nissan has reached with the latest iteration of its venerable VQ-series V-6.
In terms of raw acceleration, it seems Infiniti has hit the mark. A twin-turbo BMW 335i costs around $40,000 in base form; Car & Driver measured 0-60 mph acceleration of 4.8 seconds. The Infiniti G37 S bases at around $34,000 and manages a 0-60 mph sprint in 5.0 seconds with the new 7-speed automatic by Motor Trend's clock. $6,000 for 2/10ths of a second doesn't really seem like a solid value for most buyers in this segment.
But how these cars deliver their power is worlds apart. Below 4,000 rpm, the Infiniti engine is certainly smooth and mellifluous, but it just doesn't feel remarkably powerful. Our tester had the close-ratio six-speed manual. In second gear at 3,000 rpm and below, a floored throttle resulted in decent snap but nothing really eye-opening. Try the same thing in the BMW and you'll be positively thrilled. That said, the 4,000 to 7,600 redline rush in the Infiniti is totally manic. That's the range where this engine shines, and it's a thrill ride everytime. But in day-to-day driving, tapping into that region results in inappropriate roadway hoonage that causes dog walkers to shake their fingers and cops to take immediate notice. Simply put, the BMW's power is more readily accessible; even in the slower base 328i (price competitive with the G37S), engine response simply feels more ready, linear, and available.
When you get into the 3.7-liter's sweet spot, at least with the manual transmission, the engine lets you know it's working hard. The shift lever buzzes and vibrates, transmitting every explosion from all six cylinders to your fingertips. On- and off-throttle, the shifter lurches right and left like an old Ford F-150 pickup. And worst of all, the fussy clutch engages near the top of its travel and has a sweet spot so small that smooth launches are nigh impossible and every gear change is felt. Drivetrain lash is so prominent that on- and off-throttle changes are as subtle as a 1988 Honda Civic. Frankly, this lack of drivetrain refinement in a $30,000-plus sport luxury sedan is close to unacceptable and likely a deal-breaker for shift-it-yourself drivers. The BMW's stickshift is beautifully isolated yet perfectly direct; its clutch rewards good operation with perfect launches and imperceptible, creamy shifts every time.
The G37's drivetrain deficit is a shame, because in so many other areas the Infiniti is fantastic. The cockpit features highly legible gauges, a beautiful ambiance with a serious soft-touch black dashboard, machined aluminum trim, and elegant, soft blue LED ambient lighting. It is within inches of BMW's interior sweet spot, and the nav screen and iPod interface are arguably better than the BMW with a simple twist-and-click controller and extremely elegant primary radio and HVAC controls that do without the German's old-school orange LED display. One quirk: the trademark Infiniti analog clock is not synchronized with the nav/info panel's digital time display and as such demanded two inputs rather than one for the daylight savings switch.