Yesterday afternoon, I took a spin up the freeway to the dealership, something I prefer not to do if there's any way to avoid it. (Mental note: Buy a scan tool, fercryingoutloud.) You might have read the reason in the previous edition:

And the main reason I don't feel like driving is the unwelcome appearance of the dreaded yellow Service Engine Soon indicator light, which, the last time it showed up, cost me somewhere on the wrong side of a thousand dollars. If it's the same issue, the parts ($600ish) should be covered by Nissan's parts warranty (one year); if not, well, we'll worry about that when the codes are pulled.

Inasmuch as I'd actually made a timely appointment for this visit, the service manager took my keys and directed me down to the end of the driveway, where an Infiniti G35 sedan, vintage 2006, was waiting for me.

The '06 was the last of the previous-generation G sedans, the first American variation (albeit made in Japan) on the Nissan Skyline theme, and Nissan's first serious assault on the BMW 3-series. It has its quirks: the seat controls are inboard and not particularly intuitive, and the orange instrument lighting is less easy on the eyes than you might like. (Both of these issues were fixed for 2007; I've actually driven an '07.)

But every time I get into one of these snug little beasties, I have the same thought (besides "Wheee!"): Would it be that difficult to produce something like this in the States? In this particular market segment — let's call it "compact executive cars" — only Cadillac fields a credible contender, the CTS. Lincoln has a nice little front-drive sedan in this class, mostly because it was easy to clone one from the Mazda6 chassis, but whether Zephyr or MKZ or whatever, it's still a front-driver unless you order AWD, and all that weight on the nose tends to cut into the tossability factor. Chrysler? They have a big RWD bruiser, but nothing in this class, unless you count the deeply-weird Crossfire, and it's dead after 2007 anyway, its one-generation-ago Mercedes-Benz platform way obsolete and its sales minimal. Even mighty Toyota doesn't seriously chase this segment, trying to split the difference with the rear-drive IS and the front-drive ES.

Or maybe it's just that the G is the closest thing Infiniti has to a volume car, exactly as the 3-series is BMW's bread and butter. In April 2007, Infiniti sold 9945 vehicles in the US; 5674 of them were Gs. Had I a whole lot more money than I do, they could probably sell me one. The BMW, say the experts, is marginally better; however, the price difference is a little more than marginal. And if I grumble at how much it costs to fix something on an Infiniti, you can imagine how I'd howl at the repair bills on a Bimmer.

Still, in the absence of anyone willing to offer me seat time in a contemporary Maserati — I've done a few miles in a Maser, but not in the last couple of decades — the G has become my benchmark for driving fun. (My current I30 falls a bit short; it's surprisingly agile for its size, but it's still a front-driver, albeit with a smaller turning circle than one expects from such, and the transmission really needs a fifth cog.) And I persist in thinking that driving, even on crowded roads, and even with the spectre of $4 gasoline not so far in the offing, needs to be fun — otherwise, you might as well take the bus.

The Vent

  1 June 2007

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 Copyright © 2007 by Charles G. Hill