Sunday, April 13, 2008

Oh G

In 2004 I bought what I thought was my "dream car" -- a Subaru Forester 2.5XS. It has been a good car, and a good compromise, but its all-wheel drive and ground clearance don't do much for me in Houston. It is handy for hauling the dog, and for trips to Ikea. But lately I've gotten the performance car bug. I've grown particularly fond of the Infiniti G35. So much so that I've even thought about buying one, maybe even trading in (or selling) the trusty Forester. What holds me back from doing so it that I'm currently in debt-paydown maniac mode. Nearly ever cent I make goes to paying off debt -- and I'm making good progress. But bumping up from a $400 car payment (Forester) that is due to end in one year, to a $600 payment for five more years... Well, I'm quite looking forward to ending my car payment next year. The debts will fall that much faster, and the 401k groweth. Anyhow, Debi recently suggested I try renting a G35. Hertz has them in their "Prestige" collection. What a great idea! So earlier this week I signed up for 24 hours of Infiniti.
Here are a few impressions. Overall I liked the G35. It rides nicely and is quiet inside, even at high speeds -- at least on smooth pavement. It is a bit tricky to drive because it has too much power! The approx. 300 hp 3.5L V6 is just too powerful. Combined with a tricky throttle, it made the car hard to drive smoothly. Push the gas, and nothing happened. So you push it harder until suddenly VROOM!!, the rear tires screech and the car lurches forward. Not great if you're trying to merge into traffic and you need some speed. A car like this could really use (and is available with) AWD. I was really surprised that what I liked most about this car was its 1) nice, smooth ride, and 2) quiet interior. Since these things impressed me more than the power of the engine, I think I might consider a more sedate but quieter and perhaps more refined sedan such as a Lexus ES350, which is a lovely vehicle. I didn't do any aggressive cornering. The car felt very low (of course, compared to the Subaru) and wide and heavy. It made it a bit uncomfortable to drive at first.
The interior was so-so, and got better after dark when you couldn't see all the bits of various colors. It was assembled ok but had not held up well to 21,000 miles of rental car use -- lots of dirt, smudges, etc. The seats were nice, leather, supportive. The plastics were ok but I felt my $22,000 Subaru overall had nicer cabin materials. Or at least they were put together in a more pleasing way.

Again, though, the main problem (for me) with so much power is that you can't use it -- not legally on the road. You punch it for some passing power on the highway and suddenly you're going way too fast. Accelerate from a stop sign and you'll get wheelspin and suddenly you'll be at 60 mph... watch it in those 30 mph zones. We observed 0-60 times of just over 5 seconds.
Back in the Subaru, I was happy. You can gun it and there's no way the 178 hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder is going to spin those wheels unless you're on glare ice. It could use a little more power, but all the power that is there is 100% usable all the time. (Yep, I probably should have opted for the 225 hp turbo version). You're higher up, and visibility is better. I like the cabin better and think it looks good -- simpler than the G35. However, the suspension in the Subaru is not as good, and after 52,000 miles (many on 4x4 roads) the poor Subie has plenty of squeaks and dashboard clicks. Driving, the Subaru has a light feeling, in a mostly good way. In normal cornering it feels planted, and, well... normal. That might be because I drive it everyday. But when you turn sharply, you get a little body lean... it seems natural to me, and it gives you some feedback.

Renting the G35 has changed my entire car outlook. I'm still thinking about sedans, but I'm more interested in less power. Despite not loving the new Accord, I know it's available with a manual transmission and a slightly peppy 4-cylinder: 190 hp-ish, if I recall? The V6 is now up near 270, pretty close to G35 land... Some reviewers somewhere even said (of the new V6 Accord) -- might this be too much power for a family sedan? The G35 seems to have that problem. Get the AWD version.

1,000 Mile Challenge Update:
Mileage: 126
Days: 13
Remaining: 77
Average Daily Mileage: 9.7

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