A wolf in Infiniti's clothing. by Helen V. Hutchings
Are you the kind of person who shops at Nieman Marcus or Loehmanns? Sears or Montgomery Ward? When you buy frozen veggies in the supermarket, does the store brand suffice, or will only the gourmet brand do? The answer to these questions will go a long way in determining whether Infiniti's new I30 is the car for you.
Infiniti is Nissan Motor Corporation's luxury division, and they have been selling automobiles stateside since 1990 when they introduced their flagship, the Q45. The I30 is Infiniti's latest offering. It's a mid-level, front-drive luxury sedan slotted between the V-8-powered Q45, the rear-drive J30, and Infiniti's entry-level, four-cylinder G20.
In the crowded entry-luxury segment, the I30 competes against some real standouts like the new BMW 328i, the Mazda Millenia S, the Lexus ES300 and even Nissan's Maxima. Luckily for Infiniti, the I30 is blessed with solid performance and luxury car credentials that deliver on its promises. But, is it worth the premium? That all depends.
If you are an attentive car follower you have probably noticed many similarities between the I30 and the Nissan Maxima. This is no coincidence. The I30 is built from the same platform as the Nissan Maxima and shares some of its electricals, mechanicals and a fair share of its sheetmetal. This is not a negative because the Maxima is a wonderful vehicle in its own right. However, the Maxima, option for option, will leave a similar taste in your mouth for less money than the I30.
That aside, the I30 is an excellent vehicle with thoughtful luxury touches that set it apart from its more pedestrian cousin. For example, its security system, which comes standard, responds quietly and with a welcoming glow of interior cabin lights to signal unlocking, or the polite flash of headlamps to confirm it has locked itself. No honking horns for this car. If that's not enough, all the I30's security functions are directed by the keyfob, which also has a built-in panic mode should you wish to draw attention to yourself in a potentially troublesome situation. And on those really hot days, you can even lower the front windows with the fob, permitting hot air to escape from your vehicle. A nice touch.
The I30 comes in three trim levels: the Standard, the Leather Appointed and the Touring, which we had the pleasure of sampling. If the base I30 is well appointed -- which it is -- then the I30t is downright loaded. The I30t includes leather interior, HomeLink, power everything and a CD player, and adds a Traction Enhancement System, handsome 15" crosslace alloy wheels, meatier tires and a sleek spoiler. The I30t also rewards the driver with upgrades underneath the car. The suspension has tuned a bit firmer in order to respond to the demands of the more aggressive driver.
Safety equipment for the I30, no matter what trim level, is on par with the segment and include crumple zones, side door beams, dual airbags and antilock brakes.
All I30s come standard with attractive, but rather bland exterior styling. The Japanese have mastered the art of creating soothing and clean automobile lines without offending anyone. The problem is they don't excite anyone either. While it may not excite, the I30 does have classy, understated looks which come off elegant without being ostentatious. The front end grillework echoes the Q45's, contributing to a family resemblance while adding some luxury cachet.
A big part of the Infiniti mystique is the relationship they have their potential and current customers. This approach to sales and service is embodied in a program called The Total Ownership Experience. The showroom and service staffs act like hosts and hostesses sporting gracious, low-key manners. Once you become an Infiniti owner, the experience extends to 24-hour roadside assistance, which is free for 48 months, even if your warranty has reached its mileage limitation.
When your car needs to be serviced or repaired, a loaner car will be made available to you with little fuss. When your car is done, whether it be an oil change or tune-up, it will be washed and vacuumed. A look at recent J.D. Power customer satisfaction ratings will show that Infiniti's Total Ownership Program is producing enviable results. If being treated like a king or queen is important to you, look no further.
The Inside Story
The I30s interior compartment is well executed and roomy for both front and rear seat passengers alike. Up front there is an open and airy feeling, with exceptional all-around visibility. In the back, there is room for three across seating when needed. Here the I30 exceeds others in its class -- like the ES300 and 328i -- and rivals some bigger cars too. (Infiniti likes to boasts the I30 has more interior room than a Rolls Royce Silver Spur III.)
Ergonomically, there are no qualms to be had with the I30. It benefits from typical Japanese execution. All controls are logically arranged and easy to reach, with switches and buttons positioned and marked in such a manner that there is no confusion over function. To top it off, the wood trim and leather upholstery helps convey a warm and luxurious feel.
The only reservation about the interior execution of the I30 is the optional front seat heaters. They were somewhat anemic in operation, even when on the highest setting.
The Bose audio system, standard on all I30s, is simple to operate and a pleasure to listen to. Two hundred watts, four amplifiers and six speakers release sound into an well-engineered interior cabin, resulting in clear, full sound. A CD player and cassette deck are standard, and conveniently placed within easy reach of the driver or passenger. For those of you with big CD collections, there's an available multi-disc trunk-mounted auto changer as an option.
A unique feature on the I30t and the Leather Appointed Model is the Integrated Homelink Transmitter. Each vehicle's Homelink system can be programmed to replace radio controlled devices such as garage doors or front gates. Even your home alarm or lighting systems can easily be manipulated by using the handy controls mounted in the driver's sunshade. It's a thoughtful safety feature that also reduces clutter in the car.
Ride & Drive
An I30 will make your daily commutes less of a chore and give weekend jaunts added pleasure. This is because the I30's athletic 3.0-liter V-6 engine has been engineered to deliver its 190 hp very willingly. The torque curve is relatively flat, so power is available when it's most often needed or desired. This means no matter what the driving situation, the I30 will respond. Judging by my stopwatch, the I30 should get you to 60 mph in the low sevens. It's unmistakably brisk.
Another bonus with the I30 is the availability of a five-speed manual transmission, an ever-decreasing phenomenon in this segment. The smooth-shifting five-speed certainly helped bring out some character and personality in our I30t test car -- and I suspect quicker 0-to-60 times, as well. Whether you equip the I30 with a manual or the four-speed automatic, the I30 is one of the stronger performers in its class.
Isolation from road sounds and irregularities is also excellent, but the sense of the road is not lost in the I30t. Occupants, regardless of whether they are seated in front or back, experience a quiet, comfortable and stable ride bordering on the sporty. Infiniti engineers created a suspension called the rear Multi-Link Beam, which combines elements of multi-link and torsion beam suspensions. The result helps keep the tires of this front-drive sedan in optimum contact with the road in addition to effectively buffering the passenger compartment from noise and road irregularities. This suspension is also more compact than other set-ups, contributing to increased rear seat and trunk space.
Anytime you combine a willing engine with a capable chassis and suspension, you are bound to get strong results. The I30 is proof of this. It hustles up to speed and confidently handles just about anything a normal driver would care throw its way. Toss in handsome styling, a long list of luxury amenities, features like Homelink and Infiniti's Total Ownership Experience, and you have a complete luxury car package competitively priced with respect to its peers.
There is no doubt in my mind the I30 is an excellent automobile, and to us well worth the price. The question for you as a potential purchaser, is whether it is worth the premium over the similar and eminently-capable Maxima? That all depends. Do you prefer coffee or cappuccino?
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