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G37S stays in control

Infiniti's 2008 coupe handles turns with grace

SEATTLE -- Considering that today's test coupe is meant to compete with such elegant hot rods as the Mercedes-Benz CLK, Audi TT, and -- perhaps most significantly -- the BMW 335i coupe, I was shocked when it rocked noticeably from side to side. Sometimes it lurched fore and aft, and even moved ahead as if pushing water.

Of course, it may have been because I was sitting in the 2008 Infiniti G37S Coupe aboard a ferry.

We were leaving this port city for a distant island where I would be allowed to drive the car over highways and back roads. I've been waiting a long time for this car, and it delivered all I hoped for, except in one area. More on that later.

The G37S has a smoother-than-ever V-6 that now pumps out 330 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque. It runs on premium fuel and estimates are that it will get 18-19 miles per gallon.

The 3.7-liter powerplant can be linked to either a six-speed manual transmission (Sport model) or a five-speed automatic with optional paddle shifters. I've long been a fan of the manual, but this current generation of paddle-shifting automatics has grown on me, especially when the transmission does not interfere before the red line is bumped and can smoothly handle rpms on quick downshifts. Still, the tight and fast tosses of the manual in the Sport model brought me back to at least some of my senses.

There was never a problem pulling out to pass, even when it had to be done quickly. And letting the car "lug" before demanding it produce quick torque tug to accelerate on long stretches of uphill highway proved effortless for the G37S.

It's not a light car at 3,717 pounds, owing largely to a huge door to allow access to rear seats and the extra side-impact bracing for that big door. But the weight does not pose a problem for handling. It can be felt, but it transitions from side to side in what can be described as a light and graceful dance. If you'd prefer the clog dance of oversteer, you must induce it by getting into the gas pretty heavily coming off the apex of a corner. Only then can you sense the rear trying to come around.

But as with everything else involving the steering in this car, even induced oversteer can be fixed ever so gently. That's primarily because of a steering option Infiniti has dubbed 4WAS. It varies the front steering ratio (basically "shifting" the gears that steer the car) to adjust for speed and driver input.

In addition, the rear wheels steer slightly to adjust for what's happening up front. This makes for incredibly smooth and tactile steering, especially noticeable during our testing, when we purposely held too much speed in a turn whose radius kept shrinking. Should there be an emergency, stopping this solid car at speed could easily be accomplished by 14.0-inch brake rotors up front, 13.8 in the rear.

Inside, it was spaceship-futuristic, with white and violet instruments set behind the wheel and beneath a looming brow. The leathers were thick and comfortable and the seats were well-bolstered, dropping the driver and passenger low, as in a cockpit. That made the central control pod -- which runs from a screen on upper dash all the way back to center console armrest -- feel high enough to isolate the two people up front from each other. Bands of silvery metal décor that looked like they were made from parchment provided a remarkable touch to the interior.

The rear seat area was easily reached thanks to the big door, but it did not have much to offer an adult-sized passenger. The back is OK in a (literal) pinch. Fortunately, the rear seatback can also be folded flat, turning what is a mighty small trunk into cargo space for two.

The Infiniti G37 Coupe will be available any day now, with starting prices of $34,250, $35,000, and $35,500 for its three models. Those base prices should worry some competitors -- they are several thousand dollars lower than their comparable cars.

Oh, and the one thing missing from the G37 Coupe? All-wheel-drive. But AWD is offered in G-series sedans, and I'm told that those of us in New England who like it will soon be made happy by Infiniti.

Royal Ford can be reached at ford@globe.com.

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