2009 Infiniti G37x Coupe – Click above for high-res image gallery

Infiniti recently invited us to Napa, California to show off its 2009 model lineup, and while they didn't bring the all-new G37 Convertible (we'll be at the Los Angeles Auto Show to report on that one), they did hand us the keys to the new all-wheel drive G37x coupe and the more-powerful 2009 G37 S sedan. Does all-wheel drive make a slot car out of the coupe? Does a larger engine transform the sedan? Read on for our full impressions after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

2009 Infiniti G37x Coupe

It seems as if Infiniti has finally put it all together. They started with the sexy FM-platform Coupe, shoehorned the hot 330-hp VQ37VHR 3.7-liter V6 under the hood, mated it to a new transmission, and connected it to the pavement through a performance-oriented ATESSA E-TS all-wheel drive system. This has to be the ultimate Infiniti, right? Well, our time with the car indicates that the sum of these parts equals a mixed message. The new G37x may satisfy the masses, but it doesn't attempt to masquerade as an enthusiast-oriented sports car.

First, the product planners have chosen to mate the ATESSA E-TS only to the new 7-speed automatic transmission – sadly, you won't find a G37x S 6MT anywhere in the lineup. Even thought the Infiniti team boasts the "Drive Sport" mode and "Downshift Rev Matching" features on the new 7-speed auto, it is still a traditional "slushbox" with characteristic automatic transmission inadequacies. Second, even though the ride height and suspension are unchanged from the standard RWD model, Infiniti will not offer Four-wheel Active Steer (4WAS), the Sport Package (and big brakes) or the Performance Tire & Wheel Package on the G37x. That said, the most scalpel-like Infiniti Coupe for '09 will remain the G37S Sport 6MT (essentially unchanged from '08).

So, where does the new all-wheel drive G37x fit into the lineup? In a sense, it is the most capable model, but for very different reasons.

We spent about an hour behind the wheel of the G37x, and it all began to make sense. Most notably, the new 7-speed automatic is an excellent transmission. Shifts are quick and smooth, and you don't find yourself cursing its gear selection during normal driving. We left it in "D" and it performed admirably without needlessly hunting for a ratio. Add efficiency to the transmission's accolades as it sips less fuel than the 5-speed automatic it replaces. Fuel economy for the rear-wheel drive coupe with the new 7AT jumps from 18 city/24 highway to 18/26 thanks to its tall gearing (the all-wheel drive G37x is rated at 18/25).

The default torque split on the ATTESSA ET-S all-wheel drive is 0:100 (front:rear). When the G37x is floored from a standstill, the rear tires chirp for a split second before the fronts hook up – it reacts nearly identically to the way the Nissan GT-R does under similar circumstances. If a wheel is off the pavement, the TCS (electronic traction control) light will illuminate briefly while the system instantaneously transfers torque to the wheels with adhesion. On abrasive pavement, it just rockets off without drama. Compared to the Audi's quattro, BMW's xDrive, and Mercedes' 4MATIC systems, the ATTESSA ET-S wins hands-down in terms of sportiness and reaction time. It is rear-wheel drive until you exceed the grip of the tire's contact patch – just the way we prefer things.

Even though it's second-fiddle to enthusiasts, the G37x Coupe will be the car of choice for those looking for seamless all-wheel drive capabilities, with nary a penalty in driving dynamics (or even to be noticed at the pump). It is hard to argue against the benefits of four-wheel traction while pulling out of corners, off from stoplights, or during any type of inclement weather. In that sense, the fitting of ATTESSA ET-S does make this one of the most capable G Coupe models in the '09 lineup (comprised of the G37 Coupe, G37 Coupe Journey, G37S Coupe Sport 6MT and G37x AWD Coupe).

The addition of the all-wheel drive Coupe (and upcoming Convertible) to Infiniti's G series means the lineup will now smartly match that of close German competitors. The Japanese offering is sportier (e.g., lower ride height), but the other guys still offer a version with a clutch pedal. There is no doubt that the new 7AT will satisfy a large chunk of those who wander into showrooms looking for a manual transmission, but we still wonder if Infiniti is leaving something on the table. With die-hard Infiniti customers forced to watch Nissan dealers peddle the supercar GT-R, and the Q45 just a fading memory, the upscale brand needs its own flagship. It really is time to search the parts bin and toss a bone to loyal Infiniti enthusiasts. We suggest they snap together a direct-injection forced-induction G37x Coupe with a dual-clutch gearbox. Come on, that's all we are asking for.

2009 Infiniti G37 S Sedan

Answering the horsepower calls, Infiniti dropped its VQ37VHR 3.7-liter V6 under the hood of the G Sedan for 2009. Rebadged the G37, the new engine up front is rated at 328 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque in the sedan (still down a few from the G37 Coupe). Compared to last year's VQ35HR 3.5-liter V6, the G37 Sedan sports an additional 22 horses and (an imperceptible) additional 1 lb-ft of torque. In addition to the increased displacement, the new engine features "VVEL", a system that combines hydraulic-controlled variable valve timing and electronically controlled variable valve lift on the intake side. Not only does it enhance performance and response, but it also helps with emissions and fuel efficiency. The 6-speed manual (in the G37S Sport 6MT) is unchanged, but the automatic has been upgraded to the aforementioned 7-speed electronically controlled unit with "Downshift Rev Matching" like its predecessor. Fuel economy for the Sport 6MT is unchanged with the new powerplant (it remains at 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway), but the 7AT efficiency jumps from 17/24 to 18/26 thanks to its tall gearing.

The brakes have also been upgraded on the G37S Sport 6MT sedan (the big brakes are also optional on the G37 Sedan Journey). The standard models are fitted with 12.6-inch front rotors and single-piston calipers (12.1-inch in the rear). The 6MT gets beefier 14.0-inch fronts with 4-piston calipers and 13.8-inch rotors in the rear with 2-piston calipers.

The wheel and tire sizes also remain unchanged, but their styling has been updated to differentiate the model years. If you look past the new wheels, two new colors (including standard Scratch Shield paint) and new "G37" badge on the rear, nothing will visually distinguish the exterior of the '09 model from the outgoing '08 model. On the inside, Infiniti made a few minor changes. They include some improved trim and a redesigned seat heater switch. There are four '09 models arriving in the showroom: G37 Sedan, G37 Sedan Journey, G37S Sedan Sport 6MT and G37x Sedan AWD.

We spent about 45 minutes in the '09 G37S sedan and enjoyed every minute of it. The new 7-speed auto is geared low enough to really launch the sedan from a stop, yet tall enough to keep fuel economy in check (we would like to hear some more exhaust note on the S model, if anyone is asking). In terms of sheer acceleration, the new gearing should drop the 0-60 time a bit, but Infiniti doesn't publish numbers and we didn't have our test gear with us. Our "butt dyno" says the car is quick. Really quick. We are betting the new engine/transmission combo helps the G37 sedan sprint to 60 mph in about 5 seconds flat – that's faster than the Audi A4 3.2 and Lexus IS350, but it still won't snuff a stock BMW 335i.

Where the G37S sedan really excels is in the handling department. Transitional handling and balance are excellent, and it exhibits far less body roll than its European counterparts. As we mentioned, the brakes have been bumped up in size, but we never abused them to the level that their additional swept area or mass would have made a difference. We hit the pedal hard, and the G37 stopped each time without a whimper.

Don't tell the displacement junkies, but it's not the new 3.7-liter VQ that transforms the G37. Sure, the new V6 offers more horses under the hood, but the torque is practically unchanged. The increased efficiency is welcomed, but is offset by the additional engine volume (check the 6MT fuel mileage figures again). The metamorphosis is wholly credited to the new 7-speed transmission – it delivers smooth shifts, an accurate power band, and improved fuel economy. The sedan feels faster, more responsive and more comfortable at speed. It's just what the four-door G needed to continue standing on the podium.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

Travel and lodging for this event was provided by the manufacturer.

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