Infiniti's search for market share has followed quite a few interesting trails. The original brand launch featured an ad campaign of Zen naturalist imagery and a rather peculiar looking sedan; the Q45. Long on performance and short of luxury clichÈs like wood trim and chrome, the very rapid Q lost the sales race to the more conservative Lexus LS400. Infiniti's second volley, the J30 toned down the sportiness and turned up the styling, but came in at a price too dear to sell in volume. With the I30, Infiniti took a more pragmatic approach, upgrading the excellent Nissan Maxima with a more appealing shape, a traditional chrome grille, plenty of standard equipment and ample plastic woodgrain. Coupled with an aggressive pricing strategy, it worked. The I30 has an excellent feel, comfortable accommodations and just enough class to hold it's own in a very exclusive club.
The styling amounts to little more than a simple clean up of all the homely details that ruined the Maxima's look. Contours are more classic, the pudginess is gone and the rear end has lost that humpbacked look. While not the most articulate fashion statement, the I30 is no embarrassment. One can readily picture a dapper gent in black feeling very producer while tooling about. The looks being adjudged a comely 7, we take a peek inside.
Our jet negro I30t came with tan leather, neatly fitted and well tailored. The dash is a functional piece anchored by a great sounding Bose system with an easy to utilize single in-dash CD unit. No fuss, no fumbling, and all too sweet. Comfy seats, flat and firm, not optimized for the ample cornering power, but well suited to the commute butt. To my delight, a five speed manual poked discretely into my right hand. Snagged first and let my foot down.
Ah, the sweetest bit of the I is the Nissan V6. Liquid hammer, most hydraulic of the 3.0 liter sixes, solid tip in, strong midrange and a pull to top revs like a dog in heat. This is the best part, the mechanical heart of the I. Best in class. While the chassis is developed directly from the Maxima, which handles beautifully, there are some differences. The I is just drumbeat quieter, and heavier by a hundred pounds. The standard suspension seems a touch softer than the Max, but the Touring option sets things somewhat firm, trading cush for crisp in a satisfying balance. Our 5 speed I30t test car was just to my taste. The clutch had a vigorous bite and the gears came quick and sure.
Handling was secure; general feel nimble, well damped and easy. A bit of jitter marked broken road passage, but no wander surfaced to mar the ride. Accurate steering, pleasantly weighted. Good brakes, but a fair bit of dive. Trimly sized, very efficient and comfortable. A great driver. Happy price can often be found, as Infiniti often discounts the I to come in well under sticker. A smart buy, an energetic tonic and passably chic.