Reviewing at the 2010 Infiniti G37 convertible

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Reviewing the 2010 Infiniti G37 convertible
Glacier Blue metallic was just the right color for the G37 retractable hardtop convertible that got dropped off in my driveway for evaluation one day before we got pummeled by two feet of early December snow. Rear wheel drive, summer tires - and a drop-top roof. It's the equivalent of taking a rubber knife to a gunfight.

But I managed to get one good day's drive in before the G was entombed for the duration.

WHAT IT IS

The G37 is a mid-sized luxury-performance sport sedan/coupe/retractable hardtop coupe. The retractable hardtop convertible was introduced to the lineup in the summer of '09. Prices start at $43,850 for the base rear-drive version with automatic transmission and run to $43,900 for the Sport version with six-speed manual transmission.

WHAT'S NEW

In addition to the new three-piece retractable hardtop, the G37 retractable hardtop has slightly different exterior bodywork (compared with the coupe) and there are some subtle changes to the rear track/suspension. The optional GPS navigation system now has DVD playback capability - and there's an updated gauge cluster, center stack and console.

All-wheel-drive will reportedly be offered later in 2010 (it's already available with the G37 coupe and sedan).

WHAT'S GOOD

Brilliant retractable hardtop; 370Z levels of power/performance/handling (same basic engine/drivetrain and a similar chassis layout) with more space inside (four seats vs. the 370Z's two). Supermodel good looks with the top up or down. Costs a lot less than a BMW 335i soft-top convertible ($50,700). Stronger standard V-6 than the just-launched retractable hardtop Lexus IS350C (306 hp) and has a manual transmission - which you can't get in the automatic-only Lexus.

WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD

Brilliant retractable hardtop adds about $9k to base price vs. G37 hardtop coupe. Also adds nearly 500 pounds of curb weight.

As helpless in the snow as a supermodel in an evening dress and high heels.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The G's standard 3.7 liter V-6 engine is basically the same as the 3.7 liter V-6 used in the Nissan 370Z sports car - with posted horsepower (325) just slightly down from the Z-car's rated output (332 hp).

Another similarity the G shares with its Z-car cousin is the availability of a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

The big difference, drivetrain-wise, is that the G37 can be ordered with a full-time all-wheel-drive system (the Z-car is rear-drive only).

Adding the retractable hardtop - and the extra chassis bracing needed to maintain the structural rigidity of the body - also added some 460 pounds to the car's curb weight, bulking it up to 4,095 lbs. vs. 3,633 for the G37 coupe. The extra poundage subtracts some performance as well as some fuel economy. The G37 retractable hardtop clears 60 mph in about six seconds flat with rear-wheel-drive and six-speed stick - which is about half a second slower than the coupe. Gas mileage drops slightly from the coupe's 18 city, 26 highway to 17 city, 25 highway.

AWD will likely add about another 200 pounds.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

If you test drive the hardtop coupe and retractable hardtop convertible back to back - with the roof up, for the convertible - it's hard to tell the difference between the two, despite the retractable hardtop's considerably higher curb weight. The hardtop coupe is quicker, of course - but that quarter to half-second difference is something you need a stopwatch to notice. And when you factor in such things as driver reaction time/ability (for stickshift versions) it's pretty much a wash.

The 3.7 liter V-6 has power to spare - and easily copes with the G's two-ton curb weight. Same with the handling.

On a track - or if you're driving like you would if you were on a track - the retractable hardtop's additional bulk will cause you to lose a step relative to the hardtop coupe. But we are talking fractions of a second's difference, like winning (or losing) the Kentucky Derby by a nose. Both versions have grip thresholds that will satisfy all but the truly maniacal (and high-skilled). Though it's a high-performance two-door, the relatively long wheelbase (112.2 inches) imparts a less darty feel than its short-wheelbase (100.4 inch) Z-car cousin, but with similar steering precision and overall balance. This probably means the average driver will be able to drive the G more aggressively with a higher confidence level than the more expert-oriented Z-car. Take two average drivers, give one a G and the other a Z and it'll be a pretty even race.

But the really impressive thing about the retractable hardtop is how little you notice it is a retractable hardtop - when the top is up. It's just as quiet, just as secure-felling as the coupe. If you have access to a series of railroad ties or "Belgian blocks," you can abuse the car and summon forth some rooftop and A-pillar movement. But again, it's something that's all-but-unnoticeable on the street, in real-world driving.

The car's big functional limitation is the same limitation that applies to all low-slung sporty rear-wheel-drive cars equipped with high-performance tires: It sucks in the snow. And don't think all-wheel-drive will help much. In a car like the G, all-wheel-drive is intended mainly to improve handling on dry and wet roads. Snow is a no-go. The car still sits low, it still has tires that have no business leaving the driveway when the flakes begin to fall. Bum a ride.

STYLING & UTILITY

The retractable hardtop's body is slightly different here and there relative to the coupe - but as with the extra weight, it's something you notice more on paper than in real life. For example, the retractable hardtop is about 1/4 inch longer overall. It's not something you can tell by just looking. Overall, the lines are very similar - and it's easy to mistake the retractable hardtop for the standard coupe - until the top goes down.

That process takes less than 30 seconds - with the works disappearing gracefully into a storage area behind the rear seats. Of course, all that stuff doesn't actually disappear. It ends up folding into the trunk/cargo area - leaving only about 5 cubic feet of capacity vs. 7.4 for the hardtop coupe. But, again, this is a fact of life with any retractable hardtop (and most soft-top convertibles, too).

The main thing I'd worry about is what happens when, down the road (and after the warranty expires) something goes wrong with the hugely complex (and thus, expensive) retractable hardtop mechanism. The rich people who buy a car like this new probably don't worry about it since they're rich - and besides, they don't keep cars longer than five or six years anyhow. The second owner may feel differently... .

As a two-plus-two, the G37 has a set of small but at least conceivably usable rear seats - maybe not for people (a low roofline and minimal legroom ensure that) but for the stuff that you'd otherwise have to leave behind if all you had available was the trunk.

QUALITY & SAFETY

It is becoming more and more difficult to objectively distinguish between what are considered "entry luxury" cars (with opening prices in the mid-high $30k range) and full-on "luxury" cars - as far as the look and feel of the materials, the features in the car and so on. Increasingly, the chief differentiator is price rather than content. The "luxury" cars simply cost more than the "entry luxury" cars. That's ok, I guess, if you're paying more just so you can say you own a more expensive car than Bob next door has. But if you blind-tested a car like the G37 against something that cost another $20k more, it'd be a real challenge to tell which car carried the higher price tag, just by what you get. Stuff like the G's standard self-healing paint (it's flexible enough that minor scratches are gradually absorbed), Bose Open Air sound system with headrest mounted speakers that modulates the sound output to compensate for outside noise, adaptive climate control that adjust fan speed in relation to top position and vehicle speed, Intelligent Cruise Control that maintains your set speed even on downhill grades, radar-based automatic braking, heated and cooled front seats, hard-drive GPS navigation - the proverbial "works."

Some of this stuff you have to buy in a package - which not only bumps up the price but also forces you to buy some items you may not especially want in order to get the things you do. But there's no finding fault with the state-of-the-artness, opulence or put-togetherness of the G.

Convertible-specific safety upgrades include pop-up rollbars (they deploy if sensors detect a possibly imminent rollover) and a wind deflector to mute buffeting at high road speeds. The rest - ABS, traction and stability control, a full complement of air bags - are givens for a car in this class.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A perfect ride for Pacific Coast Highway - but not the hot ticket for the Appalachian mountains in the middle of a bad winter.

Tags: #Infiniti