First Drive: 2011 Infiniti IPL G Coupe
Our waiting Infiniti IPL G Coupe idles curbside. Exiting its enormous Thermos-sized chrome exhaust tips, the invisible waveforms invite a closer listen. The baritone note suggests power, with a cadence that is is lumpy, sounding closer to a V8 with a heavy cam than any V6 we've ever heard. A harbinger of things to come, or just an evil audible tease? We had flown to California's Napa Valley to find out, but first we needed some context.
Photos copyright ©2010 Rex Roy / AOL
The 2011 IPL G Coupe is the first vehicle to come from Infiniti's newly formed in-house tuning division called – wait for it – the Infiniti Performance Line. In other words, you're witnessing the start of something new for Japan's sportiest premium brand.
Nat Mason, IPL's manager, is not your run-of-the-mill marketing type, and he's certainly not the type of guy you expect to find at Infiniti – even with the brand's enthusiast leanings. Mason has personal ties in the enthusiast community and drag races a first-generation Chevrolet Camaro RS with a 540-cid big block.
A straight shooter, Mason was quick to clear the air, noting that the IPL is not meant to be the equivalent of Mercedes-Benz AMG or BMW M, telling us "Listen, we could have developed a new G Coupe with our 5.0-liter or the 5.6 [V8]. But at what cost? Sure, it would have been a halo performance vehicle, but traditionally those don't sell well." In other words, we all need to remember that the auto business remains a for-profit enterprise.
Recognizing that Infiniti hopes to continue increasing sales by expanding its model line (through August, U.S. sales were up 25 percent), Mason tells Autoblog that the purpose of its new IPL is to provide an incremental step up in performance and style beyond products that are already badged "Sport."
So now we know why the new IPL G Coupe is not intended to hunt M3s. It was never meant to.
The target is unashamedly one rung lower, the likes of the BMW 335is. Mason said, "Compared to the number of customers willing to pay around $70,000 for a sport coupe, there are many more people willing to spend incrementally for a limited edition vehicle that delivers more luxury and performance." Mason points to a sweet spot of just under $50k.
IPL could therefore stand for Increases Prices Little. It was with this understanding of IPL that we approached the svelte two-door G Coupe seen here, a car that you'll find in dealerships come December.
From a distance, this new model is still immediately recognizable as a current-generation G Coupe. Everything we liked about the G37 remains unchanged. The profile still looks fresh and the IPL treatment enhances things visually with new front and rear fascias, different side sills and IPL-exclusive 19-inch split-spoke wheels. Colors for 2011 include Graphite Shadow (a.k.a. metallic gray) pictured here, plus a Malbec Black (another metallic with heavy red overtones).
Besides the handsome wheels, the new front fascia stands out. Its rakish design carries the bodylines forward from the hood, throwing them toward the pavement in front of the car. The look is aggressive while falling just shy of boy-racer. The enormous 120mm dual exhaust tips, however, cross that line, albeit just a little.
Inside, the changes are more subtle. Red accent stitching ties in both interior colors (graphite or bordello red), silk-finished aluminum complements the standard leather and... that's about it. While we understand that unique sport seats or a re-engineered short-throw shifter might have pushed the MSRP over $50k, we find it hard to believe that there wasn't room in the development budget for a purple and red IPL emblem on the tach dial or a 3D dash plaque.
Otherwise, the IPL's equipment list is equivalent to a contemporary G37 fitted with Premium, Sport and Navigation packages. In other words, the IPL G Coupe is loaded. You'd expect nothing less at the car's $47,950 MSRP ($875 destination and handling extra) – a mere $3,000 more than a well-equipped G37 Sport.
Thankfully, the IPL team has spent time and money on the powertrain and chassis. For starters, the IPL's 3.7-liter VQ37HR V6 breaths better. The exhaust was opened up considerably – back pressure dropped 30 percent – using bigger dual pipes and a different crossover design. This enabled engineers to recalibrate the engine's ECU, raising the horsepower peak to 7,400 rpm and the redline to 7,500 rpm (an increase of 500 revs). Fuel and spark maps were changed, allowing for a richer high-rpm fuel mix, yet no internal engine changes were required to make the extra power. Compared to the standard G37 Sport, output climbs by 18 ponies to 348 horsepower, while torque gets a six pound-foot bump to net a total of 276. This mild increase could also lend another meaning to IPL: Increases Performance Little.
The balance of the IPL G Coupe's driveline remains unchanged, meaning a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic sends power rearward to a limited-slip differential that uses a viscous coupling. The suspension gets new shock tuning to make the best of the 20-percent stiffer front springs and the 10-percent stiffer rear coils. Brakes and steering components are G Sport carryovers while the tires are staggered Bridgestone Potenza REO50A summer compound radials measuring P225/45R19 front and P245/40R19 rear.
All of these changes come together nicely on the road. The IPL G Coupe feels like what you'd expect: a slightly hotter and very well-rounded G37. The ride is a little firmer, but not harsh. Turn-in is precise but not darty. IPL's Mason said, "When we were working on the suspension, we went through 70 different combinations before we chose this one. The changes don't make it a track car, but we think it's a car you'd drive home from the track and be very satisfied."
On the throttle, it's tough to tell any immediate 0-60 mph difference between an IPL and a G37 Sport. Tests may reveal the IPL being ahead by a tenth or so, but the difference you do feel is in how the engine revs – especially in the mid and upper rpm ranges. The IPL 3.7-liter loves winding up and feels like it's got amazingly long legs. Importantly, the engine never loses its composure, unlike others that protest hitting their redline with a spike in noise, vibration and harshness. The tach's white needle also looks good sweeping around the G's violet-trimmed gauge.
We drove two IPLs; one with the six-speed manual and the other with the seven-speed automatic. Naturally, we preferred the former because it demanded a higher level of driver involvement and appreciate more of the balance Infiniti engineers have achieved.
However, we're not trying to cast aspersions on the automatic – the two-pedal arrangement does make gathering speed incrementally easier. In the process, though, the auto steals some of the IPL's spirit. For whatever reason, the unit we drove refused to hold off shifting until the horsepower peak, choosing to change up at about 7,200 rpm and stealing that last 200 rpm.
As evidenced by the S line of vehicles from Audi and BMW reintroducing the "is" nomenclature, Infiniti recognizes an existing market opportunity. It's likely customers will note the company's response. Mason also said, "We're not going to produce a fixed number of IPL vehicles, but production will be limited. At this point, we're looking at the IPL G Coupe maxing out at about five-percent of G Coupe production."
In coming months and years, IPL plans to expand its offerings to include additional vehicles with likely candidates being other G and M vehicles. Stay tuned, because if Infiniti continues to expand its model line, a genuine ultra-performance halo vehicle will eventually make sense. When that day arrives, we'll take our IPL G56 in flat black, thank you.
Photos copyright ©2010 Rex Roy / AOL
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