The pre-G35 era of Infiniti vehicles were a tough sell but the brand bounced back with its rear-wheel-drive sport sedan in 2002. Can the next generation of Infiniti sports sedan repeat its past glory?
THE FORGOTTEN G-SEDAN
Prior to the G35, Infiniti had a luxury sedan called the G20. It hardly raised pulses with its front-wheel drive lay out and non-descript looks. Making around 140-hp during its 12-year run, the G20 was a luxury car first, with a focus on equipment. In 1990 things like power windows, power locks, power mirrors, four-wheel disc brakes and a brand name audio system were still considered premium options, yet the G20 had them all as standard.
Extra add-ons including heated mirrors and leather trim were additional extras, but there was hardly any reason to jump ahead to the sport, or touring models. However, those looking for a bit more of a sporting personality would love the limited-slip differential which the non-base trim packages get.
“The G20 was a front-wheel drive, badge-engineered Nissan Primera,” states Dave Sullivan, product analyst at AutoPacific. “Nothing to get excited about.”
NISSAN FLEXING ITS SPORTS MUSCLE
It was 2002 when Infiniti did a 180 on its sport-sedan strategy. The next generation G moved the drive wheels to the back and stuffed two-extra cylinders in the engine bay. And while we know it as the G35, that car went by a far more impressive name internationally: Skyline. Nissan Skylines have a reputation for being the ultimate in Nissan’s product line, featuring impressive performance and technology. For the luxurious Infiniti brand, there was no better car to start with.
“Nissan has had a strong history of performance vehicles and this was Nissan’s way of developing Infiniti’s brand,” says Sullivan.
The effect was immediate. “Nissan dropped some serious power into a RWD vehicle and the G finally got some respect and sales traction,” he says.
Using a platform and engine that was shared with Nissan 350Z coupe, the V6 made 261 hp and 258 lb-ft in the G35 sedan, and 282 hp and 269 lb-ft in the coupe, which was available with either a six-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive models were only available with an automatic. The car immediately gained traction with enthusiasts and car fans.
“The G gave buyers something other than the BMW 3 Series for an entertaining RWD vehicle in the segment,” explains Sullivan. With Nissan using its tried and true formula, and adding some luxury features and technology, the G35 was a resounding success, selling over two times more G35s in its first year of sales, than even the best sales year of the G20. Sales continued on: In just three years, more G35s were sold than the total number of G20s.
It’s hard to say exactly what was so addictive about the G35. It easily could have been the classic combination of rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual, but even all-wheel drive models were smile-inducing. Looking back at it, Nissans ATTESA ETS all-wheel drive system (another trait borrowed from its Skyline lineage) was perfect, since it’s only in all-wheel-drive mode when accelerating from a stop or when there’s any slippage detected. Otherwise it’s in a fun rear-wheel-drive state of mind.
AutoGuide Editor-in-Chief Colum Wood has his own theory as to the G’s success. “It was fast, fun to drive and compared to the Germans, affordable,” he says. “But perhaps the two biggest draws were the spectacular sounding exhaust note and its stunning looks. The sedan always has a bit of a questionable design, but the coupe was a work of art.”
MORE UPDATES – MORE REFINED
In 2006 the G35 sedan was updated again, seeing many key refinements which solidified its place in the sport-sedan segment. The engine finally cracked the 300 hp mark, and overall stability and rigidity improved.
The G became an even more capable competitor to the BMW 3 series with available features like bigger brakes and rotors, a viscous limited slip differential and active steering system, as well as rear wheel steering. It was easily the only choice for those looking for a sport-sedan with better reliability ratings than the German automakers.
The interior recieved a healthy dose of attention and finally earned the right to compete with the rest of the sport sedan segment.
“One of the previous model’s biggest issues had also been solved,” says Wood. “A solid performer, the interior quality was lacking compared to European rivals. Infiniti made-good, giving consumers one less reason not to buy the G.”
SEE ALSO: 2009 Infiniti G37x Sedan Review
In 2009, the G35 sedan received a mid-cycle update and was renamed the G37. The engine saw some love, now putting out 328 hp. The new 3.7L V6 was also seen as a smoother revving engine, and a seven speed automatic transmission was also available. However, at this point the look and feel of the G sedan was getting a bit stale. Sales began to taper off. With high gas prices and reduced budgets amid a global economic downturn, consumers were looking for a more affordable and more fuel efficient luxury sedan. In 2011, Infiniti seemed to have the right idea to solve that problem.
In 2011 the G25 was introduced as the cheaper option into the Infiniti family. It used a 2.5L V6 which made 218 hp. A good idea, it ultimately flopped, with buyers leaning towards the more feature packed Lexus IS250 and sportier BMW 328i.
SEE ALSO: 2011 Infiniti G25 Sedan Review
“The G25 was meant to lower the MSRP, it was also very decontented,” says Sullivan. “You couldn’t get really any options on it.” He adds, “It was nice to drive and sounded pretty good but was just lacking some of the upgrades.”
NEW COMPETITION MEANS NEW STRATEGIES
Going into 2014 Infiniti is looking at a different game than they were 12 years ago. In the sport sedan segment, the Cadillac ATS has joined the fray as a solid contender on the sporty side of the spectrum, while Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 sit on the opposite end, blending good value, a luxurious nameplate and somewhat sporty ride. In the middle sits the brand new Lexus IS, a looker of a car that combines sporty handling and performance with luxurious trim and technology.
The Q50 still retains Infiniti’s flowing exterior design (always one of the car’s best features) and once again has a much improved interior. Finally, Infiniti’s entry-level sport-sedan will be able to compete with the most luxurious competition. Power is the same, since the Q50 will use the same 3.7L V6 as the last generation car. Starting at $36,450 it will likely once again be a solid competitor to the BMW 335i and Lexus IS350, assuming that Infiniti maintains the car’s sporty edge, but with a hybrid model also available, Infiniti might have a car in mind for those looking for another buyer.
“It could likely be the answer for those who want more power or a V8 in the Q50,” says Sullivan. “Don’t expect a high take rate for it at all, since people don’t associate hybrids with performance, thanks to vehicles like the Prius.”
With the Hybrid model costing more at $43,700 and putting out 354 hp, folks might be wondering whether an affordable model might be on the way and rumors do point to a partnership with Daimler to share turbocharged four-cylinder engines.
“I’m looking forward to some of the Daimler engines ending up in the Q50,” says Sullivan. But with a smaller engine and slower car, is Infiniti going to repeat its performance of the G25?
“The Q50 will get a MPG boost and likely have the ability to add content, like navigation this time,” suggests Sullivan. “Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz all offer turbo four-cylinder models, so it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.”
Opinions on Infiniti’s adaption of Mercedes engines are mixed inside the AutoGuide camp. Associate Editor Craig Cole raved about the Mercedes 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder in the C250 stating that, “Despite its tiny-tot size it pulls like a team of horses. It’s strong, even at low engine speeds.” E-in-C Wood, however, called it, “unrefined and underpowered.”
With the first drive of the Q50 happening so soon, Infiniti will reveal if they’ve maintained the predecessor’s legendary sportiness, or if it has been toned down resulting in a more balanced vehicle. Either way, the new Infiniti sport sedan has a reputation to uphold.
Discuss this story at InfinitiQ50.org