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The smooth, elegant curves of the Infiniti J30 make it one of the most distinctive, if not controversial, cars on the road. And in a segment over-run with import and domestic luxury-car wanna-bes, it doesn't hurt to stand out from the crowd.
Despite a few questionable touches that smack of insecure nouveau riche, the J30 is a luxury sports sedan that will live up to just about anyone's expectations. Elegant and smooth are words that quickly come to mind when describing this Japanese import. And even after a few years on the market, the J30 remains a unique head-turner.
The look-at-me exterior wraps around a contemporary, functional and much more subtle interior. The leather-draped inside is the sheer definition of luxury, and the J30's gauges and instrumentation are both attractive and functional.
Under the skin, we're talking about a peppy performer that deftly blends acceleration, handling and creature comfort.
For those who like their ride firm and precise, the J30t is the recommended choice. It comes with aluminum-alloy wheels, recalibrated springs and stabilizer bars, and a rear deck lid spoiler.
We chose the J30t as our test vehicle and spent a week getting to know just what it had to offer.
We do have one note, though. The J30 will cost you at least $38,550. Make that $40,550 if you opt for the Touring package (J30t). That's nearly as much as what the larger, more powerful and more luxurious Infiniti Q45 cost back in mid-1992 when the J30 made its debut.
These days, every new design has to spend time in the wind tunnel before a carmaker commits it to production. The right aerodynamics can boost a car's fuel economy and top-end performance. Even Cadillac and BMW have begun to round off their traditionally boxy designs.
The Infiniti J30, however, is downright elliptical. Its shape can be described as cloud-like, from the gently sweeping tip of its front bumper to the tail of its sloping trunk.
The look is aimed primarily at newcomers to the luxury-car market who are searching for vehicles that are distinctive and expressive of their lifestyles. How-ever, the J30 does bear a subtle resemblance to traditional luxury cars such as the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Aurora because of the similar swoopy styling.
Whatever its roots, the J30 looks like Prince Charming to some buyers, but to others it has all the appeal of a frog on a lily pad. Count us among the loyal, royal converts. One of our only complaints was the J30t's rear spoiler, which looks like an afterthought.
Also, no matter how attractive they are, aerodynamic designs almost always involve some sacrifices. The fast roll of the trunk translates into a loss of luggage space. And the aggressive curve of the roofline may pose some problems for taller backseat passengers.
There aren't many changes for '95. The J30t gets the most modest of cosmetic make-overs thanks to new taillights. Functional changes include power lumbar support for the driver's seat and an automatic antiglare rearview mirror.
If you're one of those drivers who spends more time in your car than you do in your living room, then you'll appreciate the inside of the Infiniti J30. Its Italian-style, deeply gathered leather is rich and elegant, and has a sumptuous touch. Infiniti has incorporated just the right touch of wood - a deep burl walnut - to appeal to traditionalists without offending the terminally hip.
You can tell this car was designed in laid-back California by its muted and tasteful blend of colors. Our test model was bathed in coordinated earth tones: beige, sand and cream.
Instrumentation is well-placed, well-lit and easy to read. Controls are logically located and a snap to use. You won't have to take your eyes off the road to find the windshield wipers, nor risk life and limb searching for the radio's volume control. Even the cupholders are functional, which, we've found, is not always the case.
However, we did have a problem with the abominable analog clock that sits like a gold-rimmed cyclops in the middle of the instrument panel. It is an incongruous touch, apparently meant to appeal to those people who need to be constantly reminded of their lofty position in the hierarchy of automobile ownership. Scrape off the gold foil, Infiniti: Your buyers already know they've arrived.
Just like any good living room, the seats in the J30 are plush and comfortable. The front seats deliver a firm, wraparound fit that makes you feel you're in contact with the car and the road. Rear seating is a bit more cramped, especially for taller passengers, but the seats themselves are also plush and comfortable.
When you're plunking down $40,000 on a new car, you expect an abundance of luxury touches, such as leather seats, walnut trim and a 6-speaker AM/FM/cassette with CD player. However, the powertrain is equally, if not more, important. And here, this sport sedan is ready to deliver.
The J30t's 8.3-second 0-to-60 mph performance won't make you the fastest kid on the block, but the 3.0-liter V6 under its hood is powerful and reassuring, especially at highway speeds. With 210 hp and 193 lb.-ft. of torque, you needn't worry about overtaking a semi on a narrow, backwoods blacktop.
The V6 also delivers a pleasant engine note, the sort of confidence-building thrum that you normally expect to hear coming from a larger V8.
It's a good thing the engine sounds so good, because it helps mask the fact that wind noise is a little louder than one might expect from a car in this price class.
The J30 also tends to pass a bit more road noise than one might expect. Don't misunderstand us: Noise levels are extremely low, but in the era of heightened expectations, the best cars in this class have become almost as silent as a recording studio.
If you get the J30t, expect a little more ride harshness than you'd find with the base J30. It's a more-than-acceptable trade-off, though, for the J30t's firm and supple ride. Handling is sure and stable, and steering is precise. There's a bit of body roll in hard cornering, but it's by no means objectionable. And braking is sure and straight, even on moderately slick roads.
If the J30's price tag shattered your illusions about inexpensive Japanese cars, you may not like the EPA fuel economy numbers, either. The J30 averages just 18 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. These figures are adequate, but not world-class.
The Infiniti J30 is a well-balanced mix of luxury and performance, and if you define its styling as sculpted rather than bulbous, you'll love the way this car draws admiring glances. If you're talking power, performance or features, the J30 is a superb sedan.
Regarding the small number of drawbacks: Few buyers are going to care about the J30's mediocre mileage numbers, and unless you're carpooling with four large adults, you won't worry about the rear-seat dimensions. However, the price tag could change your value equation. Once you add on destination charges, dealer options and taxes, you're starting to press into the automotive stratosphere.
We'd definitely put the J30 on our shopping list, but if money is a big factor to you - and we'd like to know someone for whom it doesn't matter - then you should at least consider competitors such as the Acura Legend, Saab 9000, Mercedes-Benz E320 and even the new Oldsmobile Aurora.