The Infiniti G -- one of my favorite entry-level luxury cars -- has been fighting the good fight against the BMW 3-series for several years, and now they've completed the lineup by adding a convertible. So can the drop-top G live up to the reputation of its hard-top sisters -- and how does it do against the BMW? Read on. $44,715 base, $50,365 as tested, EPA fuel economy estimates 16-17 MPG city, 24-25 MPG highway.
First Glance: Don't believe everything you read
If you're looking for a fair, unbiased review of the 2009 Infiniti G37 convertible, I've got to be honest with you: This isn't it. By all means, please keep reading, but bear in mind that my advice on whether or not you should buy this car -- which, by the way, is that you should -- is seriously suspect.
To say the new G37 Convertible is flawed is an understatement. In fact, it's almost a textbook example of what not to do when you turn a car into a convertible. I suppose the fair and honest thing would be to give it two stars and recommend you buy something else.
But I'm not going to do that, because for all that's wrong with it, I absolutely loved this car, and I'm willing to cut it a little slack. Okay, a lot of slack. Why? Because it's a G37, which means it's fast, it's good-looking, and it lives for the curves. For all the things it does wrong -- and there are a lot of 'em -- I can name a half-dozen convertibles of superior design that I'd turn down for a drive in the G37.
Before I start ripping the G to shreds and then backpedaling like crazy, allow me to talk about the one thing I think we'll all agree it gets right: Styling. Infiniti went to great lengths to make the hardtop-convertible G look good, top up or top down, and it does. Tight roof panel gaps (link goes to photo) eliminate the awkward look that most hardtop convertibles have with the top up. Top down, it looks like the sheetmetal was poured, not stamped. It's more sculpture than car, although I can't remember hearing of anyone getting a speeding ticket in a piece of sculpture.
In the Driver's Seat: Wear gloves, pack light
Inside, the G convertible is similar to the G coupe. My car had a tan interior with optional ($550) rosewood in place of the G's standard metal trim. It's not as good looking, but probably a wise choice in a car whose interior bits will bake in the sun -- bits like the power top switch, which is made of metal and black plastic and is positioned on the center console, where the sunlight streams in and heats it to about a thousand degrees. I have scars on my fingertips from lowering the G's roof. Why couldn't Infiniti put the top switch on the dash, like Lexus did? Still, there are some nice touches, like the optional Bose stereo with noise-canceling speakers in the headrests -- perfect for top-down tunes.
The back seat is a weak point; the seats themselves are decent, but there's very little legroom. Typical of convertibles, you say? Well, the G's chief competitors -- the BMW 3-series, the Lexus IS-C, and the Volvo C70 -- all have better back seats.
The trunk, however, is more like a bad joke. With the top up, it's a meager 10.3 cubic feet, including a small compartment under the trunk floor, which is partially taken up by the tire inflator kit. With the top down, trunk space (a term I use loosely) shrinks to a tiny 2-cubic-foot slot that makes the Pontiac Solstice look like a Volvo wagon. What does Infiniti expect you to put there? Socks? A couple of pens? Memo to Infiniti: People like to take convertibles on road trips. Good thing the back seat is useless for people, because you're going to need it for your luggage... or your groceries.
On the Road: Sin and redemption
If there were a list of convertible cardinal sins, chassis flex would be #1. A car's roof provides rigidity, so convertibles require extra bracing to keep the body from twisting. I expected Infiniti to get this one right, but the G37 Convertible exhibits appalling levels of flex -- on rough roads it quivers and shakes like a wet Chihuahua.
Sin #2 is weight, and the G37 is guilty as -- well, as sin. A little fat is expected, what with the bracing and the top mechanism, but the G37 uses a steel roof, whereas many of its rivals use lightweight aluminum. Result: the convertible weighs 4,100 lbs, a whopping 460 more than the coupe. That's like driving around with three adult passengers! The extra weight takes its toll on acceleration and fuel economy; I averaged a dismal 16.7 MPG.
That said, the G37 is still a sports car at heart. With 325 hp under the hood, it's respectably quick, even if it lacks the edge of the G coupe and sedan. My tester had a 7-speed automatic with a sport mode that did an excellent job of keeping the engine on the boil. It lacked the optional sport-handling package, and as I hammered it through the About.com Cars Top Secret Curvy Test Road, I found myself constantly at the limits of traction, tires squealing and stability control "SLIP" light flashing. And yet, despite being at the end of its tether, the G felt confident and well-balanced. I pride myself on being a world-class coward, but I felt perfectly comfortable pressing the G to its limits, and I had so much fun that I took it for a second run on the Test Road. And a third. And a fourth.
Journey's End: Bad advice
So let's see where we are. The G37 is overweight, it's not stiff enough, and it has a useless back seat and a hopeless trunk. On the scale of convertible uselessness, the G37 sits somewhere between the Pontiac Solstice and the old-shape MINI Cooper. And it doesn't accelerate or handle as well as the G37 sedan or coupe.
In terms of rivals, the BMW 3-series -- pricier but worth the money -- trounces the G37 on handling, rigidity, back seat and trunk space. Ditto for the Lexus IS-C on all but handling. The Volkswagen EOS and Volvo C70 also do the job better. One could even make an argument in favor of the Chrysler Sebring; it's horrid to drive, but at least has a decent back seat and trunk.
So would I recommend buying an Infiniti G37 Convertible? Would I spend my own hard-earned money on a convertible with inferior engineering and inferior practicality, just because it puts a smile on my face?
As a matter of fact, I would.
See, I told you not to take my advice. -- Aaron Gold