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.
Exterior styling revisions front and rear (grille, lights) are intended to allow the I35 to follow the new Q45 in Infiniti's new styling direction. Together with new 17-inch wheels, a new headlamp cluster, and other cues, it looks sportier and more contemporary than the I30. Those headlamps are xenon high-intensity discharge for better visibility.
Infiniti is Nissan's luxury car division and the Infiniti I35 is based on the same basic platform as the superb Nissan Maxima. When Nissan redesigned the Maxima and I30 for 2000, the company made a conscious decision to give each vehicle its own character and image. Designed to offer performance, practicality and value, the Nissan Maxima sports radical styling.
I35 is more conservative, designed to offer luxury and attention to detail. The Infiniti retailers (the dealerships) are trained to reflect this, offering a higher level of service and attention to the needs of their customers. Infiniti owners demand this.
The I35 is actually 2 inches longer than the Maxima, but this isn't noticeable from the outside. Unique styling projects elegance. The soft, gentle slope of the hood and front fender line draws your eye to the redesigned front-end treatment that features Infiniti's trademark grille and powerful lighting design. The rear-end design is less distinctive than the front, although the taillight treatment adds sparkle.
The I35 offers an elegant interior with handsome leather seats and brilliantly designed ergonomics. An easy car to live with, the Infiniti I35 is roomy and comfortable and easy to operate. It will probably never annoy you.
2002 interior changes include new premium leather developed in Florence, faux bird's-eye maple trim, and a new analog clock. Italians know fine leather and the I35's seats feel supple and supportive. An eight-way power driver's seat complements a four-way passenger seat. Steering wheel and driver's seat are positioned well and offer plenty of adjustment to ensure a safe, comfortable position for most people. The front seats incorporate an active head restraint system designed to help reduce injury from whiplash by automatically moving the headrest forward to support the head and neck in an accident. By pressing a button, the seat can be programmed to move back automatically whenever the ignition switch is turned off to facilitate easy exit and entry.
Heated seats and a heated steering wheel get comfort off to a quick start on cold mornings and are part of the Cold Weather Package ($420), which also includes heated outside mirrors. We didn't care for the new faux wood trim, but it is used sparingly. Infiniti's use of analog clocks is a nice tradition that continues.
2002 also brings a new gauge cluster, stereo system, trip computer, and steering wheel. Side airbags are standard. The new instruments are brightly illuminated, making them highly legible. The compass on the mirror is appreciated. Expansive amounts of glass give excellent visibility in all directions.
The new leather-covered steering wheel is a fine wheel indeed. It features thumb-operated buttons for the stereo on the left and cruise control on the right that are well-designed and easy to operate. Nice thick stalks are used for the wipers, turn signals and lights. The telescoping center console seems awkward, but drivers who use armrests may like it.
Automatic temperature control is standard and features big labels on big knobs. There's a big knob for temperature, and stacked buttons for front and rear defrost. It's an excellent design and the system can be easily operated while wearing winter gloves. Power windows feature auto-up and auto-down for driver and front-seat passenger.
The stereo sounds fantastic, a 200-watt Bose AM/FM/CD/cassette audio system acoustically tuned to the I35's interior. A big knob makes it easy to adjust the volume and it's easy to seek stations. The in-dash CD player is brilliant: it holds six discs, it's easy to load and unload CDs, and by pressing easily understood buttons you can quickly zip around to find that favorite song among six CDs.
Climbing into the rear seats we immediately noticed ample legroom and headroom. The back seats are roomy and comfortable, something you wouldn't necessarily expect looking at the car from the outside. Three three-point belts are provided, but it is, of course, more comfortable with just two adults in the back seat. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down. I found this feature useful for hauling a fistful of fly rods to North Carolina's Outer Banks.
A foot-operated parking brake pedal has replaced the hand brake of the previous generation. While we prefer a hand-operated parking brake, moving it to the floor has uncluttered the center console and improved the appearance.
A low lift-in height makes loading cargo into the trunk easy. I35 has a decent-sized trunk, slightly bigger than the trunks on the Acura TL and Lexus ES 300, and way bigger than the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans. I35 can carry a fair amount of luggage, especially with the rear seats are folded down. Trunk lid hinges intrude upon the cargo space when you shut the trunk lid; the upside to this design is that the trunk lid pops up when you press the button on the keyless remote, good when your hands are full. An emergency inside trunk release was added last year for incr
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.