Out with the INFINITI I30, in with the I35. Major upgrades to INFINITI's mid-level sedan make this year's I35 more attractive than last year's I30. That's impressive given that last year's I30 boasted exceptional handling, a smooth ride, and lots of performance.
A new 3.5-liter V6 engine replaces last year's 3.0-liter engine and that led INFINITI to change the name from I30 to I35. Bigger and more powerful, this new engine is one of the best V6s available from anyone.
This year's changes to the I35 go well beyond a simple engine swap. Also new for 2002: fresh styling, a redesigned interior, a refined suspension, improved brakes, and the availability of an electronic stability program designed to keep drivers in control.
What hasn't changed is the combination of sports appeal and luxurious accommodations this near-luxury sedan offers. The INFINITI I35 is sportier and provides a more entertaining driving experience than the Lexus ES 300. It is roomier than the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, the new Jaguar X-Type, or the BMW 3 Series sedans.
The biggest news for the 2002 INFINITI I35 is the new 3.5-liter V6. This engine brings a dramatic increase in horsepower over last year's 3.0-liter engine. That power comes at lower revs, reaching 260 horsepower at 5800 rpm vs. 227 horsepower at 6400 rpm from last year's engine. Torque, that force that propels you from intersections and helps the car power up hills, has been increased from last year's 217 foot-pounds to this year's 246 foot-pounds. (If you must know, the new engine offers improved head porting, a new two-stage induction system, and new injectors, all for improved response, along with drive-by-wire throttle.) The transmission has been upgraded and there's a gated sport shifter. It's a responsive transmission and the only time we even thought about it was when we marveled at how seamless it was.
The new engine makes the I35 very responsive when cruising around time, battling stop-and-go traffic, or accelerating onto a freeway. Punch it and this car takes off like a rocket, quickly going up through the gears to take you well into scofflaw county. It jaunts from 0 to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds; that's quick, more than a second quicker than last year's model, though not quite as quick as Acura's 3.2TL Type-S.
Ride and handling are nicely balanced. The I35 rides smoothly in most conditions, though it feels a little bumpy on rough roads. The steering feels about right, light but nicely weighted. The car is stable at high speeds, rock-steady at 90 mph, though it starts feeling lighter than the Gibralter-like INFINITI Q45 in the 110-120 mph range. The suspension is soft enough that it floats a little over high-speed bumps.
ABS comes standard, helping the driver maintain steering control in a panic stop. During normal use, the brake pedal has an excellent feel. Slamming on the brakes to test the four-wheel ventilated discs generated little nose dive. Pedal feel remained true following numerous hard braking maneuvers; the brakes performed consistently no matter how much we abused them.
Nine hours of driving from Virginia to the southern tip of North Carolina's Outer Banks confirmed this is a dynamically superior car. There were opportunities to challenge the suspension, steering, transmission and brakes, and try as we might we could not get the I35 to complain or misbehave. It remained stable and even-keeled with virtually no body lean, even when driving aggressively through switchback turns. At the same time, there's nothing stiff feeling about the suspension. You can pitch the car into a sharp turn harder than is necessary, and it will turn quickly without any sort of negative feedback. As for the ride, INFINITI is masterful in working with the independent front and multi-link rear. This is a car that you can drive forever and be almost oblivious to the condition of the road surface.
Besides driving quickly through turns, we found two other situations where the I35 passed the test with flying colors. Changing lanes on the freeway, back and forth, there was never a hint of wandering. And on bumpy surfaces, in a curve, under braking, again: rock steady-and this is a test that few cars can ace.
It's easy to do, but don't overlook INFINITI when shopping for a near-luxury sedan, those in the $28,000-$32,000 range. The INFINITI I35 is a great luxury sports sedan. It comes with one of the best V6 engines available and a well-tuned suspension. Stand on it and the I35 delivers thrilling acceleration performance and stable, nimble handling.
Yet the luxurious cabin is quiet and comfortable when all you want to do is settle into the drive, turn up the Bose system and cruise on down the highway. The stereo is just super. The engine is smooth and quiet in normal use and the transmission shifts so smoothly that you can scarcely feel it.
Like all INFINITI models, the I35 comes with INFINITI's Total Ownership Experience, designed to pamper the owner whenever visiting the dealership for service. This is a vehicle we could live with for years and never be disappointed in our choice.