In the increasingly crowded near-luxury car market, the new Inifiniti I30 weighs in pretty hefty. With 37 more horsepower this year, plus fresh styling and more safety features, it's certainly a big step up over its ancestor.
The I30 has some tough competition, though, namely the Acura 3.2TL and Lexus ES 300. What's more, the similar Nissan Maxima costs less and carries much of the same goodness. And that's why Nissan has endeavored to make this I30 more of a distant cousin to the Maxima, and a better fighting prospect against its competitors.
For starters, the new I30 was styled at Nissan’s Japanese studio while the Maxima was done at Nissan Design International in California. While the cars do share most of their components, they have quite dissimilar front and rear sections. The valet probably isn’t going to think you're driving an ordinary Nissan when you pull up in the new I30.
Besides new styling, several features give the 2000 I30 a leg up on its predecessor. Features now designated as standard include leather interior, a power rear window sunshade, moonroof, automatic transmission, 16-inch wheels, and an elegant analog clock. Traction control and heated seats are $300 and $420 options, respectively. A Bose audio system equipped with a subwoofer and an in-dash cassette/CD player is also standard, while a trunk-mounted six-disc changer can be added for $740.
Whiplash on the run
New on the safety front for the I30 are front seats equipped with Lear Corp.’s new active head restraint system. The system helps reduce whiplash neck injuries in collisions by better locating the head restraint bolster to support the neck in a crash. In addition to the active head restraint system, the new front seats are also equipped with side airbags to protect occupants in a side collision.
The sportier I30t touring model gets High Intensity Discharge headlamps with smoked lenses to set it apart from the regular I30. The car also comes standard with 17-inch wheels and tires that are more aggressive. A sport-tuned suspension and a limited-slip front differential help better deliver the car’s power to the pavement. A sport package is available on the I30t for $1,000. It includes a rear spoiler and side sills.
2000 INFINITI I30
Spirited drivers will be disappointed that the new I30 will not be available with a manual transmission when it reaches showrooms in September. Some enthusiasts may lament the demise of the manual transmission in the I30, but Infiniti claims only a few percent of I30 buyers chose the manual in the previous model anyway. On the upside, doing away with the manual transmission allowed Infiniti to relocate the parking brake from the center console to the left side of the driver foot well to free up space on the center console.
Versus Acura and Lexus
It’s a capable car, and at $29,885 for the I30 and $32,065 for the I30t (including destination), a solid value. However, when the competition is considered, Infiniti may not have such an easy time.
In the horsepower race, the newest Infiniti is tops with 227 horsepower directed to a four-speed automatic transmission. However, the Acura 3.2TL has a nearly identical rating of 225 horsepower and a new five-speed automatic transmission for the 2000 model year. Not far behind, but still in last place, is the Lexus ES 300 with 210 horsepower flowing through a silky smooth four-speed automatic.
When price is thrown into the mix, the 3.2TL has a decided advantage against the Lexus and the I30, especially when it includes High Intensity Discharge headlamps, heated seats, and traction control in its $28,405 base price. High-intensity headlamps are standard only on the I30t and are available as an option on the Lexus for the 2000 model-year, and they are both priced several thousand north of the 3.2TL.
Another issue central to the debate between the Infiniti, Lexus, and Acura centers on each company’s retail facilities. Infiniti and Lexus dealers have repeatedly ranked high in J.D. Power and Associates’ Sales Satisfaction Index study, a well-regarded measure of how customers are treated at dealerships. Judging by the numbers provided by J.D. Power and Associates, you are much more likely to be satisfied with your retail experience if you buy the Infiniti or Lexus.
However, the decision as to which car you should buy also lies in what is most important to you. If it’s a sportier feel you desire, the I30t and 3.2TL should be at the top of your list. The Lexus is quite a bit softer feeling than those two. On the other hand, it does handle bumps and other road imperfections better. While you're shopping, also note that the ES 300 gets a number of updates for 2000. A few of the things new include optional 16-inch wheels, a restyled lower front fascia, updated taillamps, and the previously mentioned HID headlamp system.
The I30 makes for a fine executive express, and the restyling up front gives it some much-needed character. If you don't miss the manual gearbox too much, it's the edgiest of this Japanese trio.
The Car Connection Consumer Review
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