Saturday, July 19, 2008

G35 versus 328i

Cars. Which one? It's a battle between the Infiniti G35 sedan and the BMW 328i coupe. A weird battle in some ways because they are quite different cars. I've driven incarnations of both; see previous post for comments about an extended test drive of the G. But let's start at the beginning.

Let's consider only cars, because I don't want an SUV. I want a compact or midsize sedan, powerful, quiet and pleasant (= luxury). How doth one judge a car? Looks nearly always come first. Reliability a near second (for me). Power, efficiency, handling. Value figures in prominently.

Of all new cars, which is the most beautiful? I think that honor currently goes to the Lexus ES350, which is a strikingly gorgeous car, only spoiled ever-so-slightly but its little bit of Camry-ness.
Lexus gets the sheet metal right, and they really get the paint right. All the colors are great, but the white is particularly pearly and by far the nicest paint I've seen on a car. Problems: even Consumer Reports calls this car boring to drive. Also, it lists for around $32k but is only available as a $39k incarnation. On top of that I found the dashboard to be downright old-person-ish. A polished slab of wood with controls sticking through holes drilled by someone in shop class.

Where to from here? Who else has offerings in the $35 car entry-level lux sedan market? Almost everyone, so here goes. Audi? Nice interiors (I hear) but they're refined VWs, with the coarse engines to match. Acura? No way with the new chrome fronts, and they just never appealed to me.. fancy Hondas. Lexus IS? The 250 is underpowered, the 350 is expensive and both also rank as not-too-fun-to-drive and also have very small back seats.

I'm left with the Infiniti G and the BMW 3-series. I can't stand the rear end on bimmer's 3-series sedan, so it'd have to be the 328i coupe. First, the looks. The bimmer is a gorgeous car, simply astounding. Especially on the screen or the page. In person they can be a bit baffling, lovely one moment and funny and squashed-looking in another or from a different angle. Up close they have some details marring the perfection, such as the cutouts for the headlight sprayers. Putting those things aside, though, the 328i coupe is a car I drool over.
I stopped writing right there, because it's so obvious the 328i coupe is the car for me. Right? The problem is that the G35 has a bunch of little advantages that start to add up. First off, it looks good as a 4-door, and it's even a mid-size, with acceptable rear seat room. Four doors are handy, especially when there's usually a kid and a dog around. Second, it's got lots more power and is nearly 1.5 seconds faster to 60 mph (5.4 vs. 6.8 seconds, automatic transmissions). Third in the big-deal department, it's 6 or 8 thousand dollars cheaper when similarly equipped. Another way to say that is you get lots more for $33k in the G versus the BMW. To stay below $35k in the BMW coupe you get basically just leather as an option. Not even an automatic transmission. In the G for around $33k you get fun stuff like a 6-disc changer, XM radio, bluetooth, fancy auto-dim mirrors with compass and garage door opener, a spare tire, power front seats and a proper ipod connector. There are scads of the Gs sitting around on the dealer lot, whereas good luck finding the BMW you want, and good luck getting a price much below sticker.
I don't think you can call the G an ugly car. It's nice. But what it lacks, I think, is refinement. Car and Driver said it first, and it's a good way to differentiate the 3 from the G. It's an Infiniti, sure, but it's a Nissan. The 328 is the latest iteration in a long chain of car evolution from a company very much focused on the driving experience. Supposedly. But I think there is a lot to say for that. BMWs aren't gussied-up Minis. They are their own car. I visited the BMW dealer recently and their cars are something to behold. Sit in a G35 for a while and your impression is that they tried but they didn't quite make it. Still the darn car tugs at me. As a complete package it seems to offer a lot of value. Look at the ultimate "value" sedan: the Honda Accord. The top-end model, EX-L, retails above $28k. The G35 Journey with Premium is less than $5k more. And that makes sense because the G35 sits right there between nice econo-cars and real intro lux.

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