2011 Infiniti G37 Coupe

2011 Infiniti G37 Coupe

I'm a car nerd. I’ll confess, I love digging through stats for nuggets about performance.

And I lean hard toward thinking a lot can be made of power-to-weight ratios. I’m always in favor of lighter cars, because low weight allows so many other efficiencies: a smaller engine, which leads to yet more weight loss, and then a lighter suspension, because you have less chassis to support, and that, in turn, means lower unsprung weight.... It all trickles toward a car you can dance around turns, rather than shove and cajole through esses.

But here’s the thing: Stats don’t tell the whole story.

You might, for instance, just look at the curb weight differential between the Cadillac CTS Coupe (4,096 pounds) and Infiniti G37S (3,694 pounds) and presume that the $47,035 Infiniti (Journey model, as tested) would outgun the $50,035 Cadillac (Premium Collection model, as tested).

2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe

Factor in the Infiniti’s more powerful, 330-horsepower V-6 vs. the Cadillac’s 304-horsepower V-6, and you have yourself a mismatch. And if life were only about numbers then Shakespeare--and sex--would each be as joyful as doing your taxes.

Thank heavens neither is true. With cars, as with any product, “goodness” is at least partially subjective.

Also, average citizens don’t drive their cars at test tracks. (Think of the cost to replace the tires! $1,076 for the Infiniti; $1,268 for the Cadillac.)

We drive them in traffic, in weather, in varying conditions and for varying reasons. What your car might achieve on a skid pad is nifty to know about, but how, exactly, does that help me while I’m stuck in the 6pm crawl home? Daily is far less sexy: trying to fit some awkwardly shaped cargo into the trunk; trying to open the very long doors of a coupe in a crowded grocery-store lot; asking a 15-year-old to struggle into the backseat of a low-ceilinged coupe... Yeah, that’s what this story is about. And some stats, too.

The Fun Stuff

One reason to be an Infiniti fan is that the carmaker keeps touting performance first. They’re always hard at work out-gunning Audi and BMW (or trying to), even if it means tipping the scales in favor of, say, a communicative ride that allows for some harshness rather than the Valium feel that other luxo-perf. brands lean toward. With the latest G37S, Infiniti has backed off the caffeine ever so slightly, so the engine at idle is a little more isolated, though not at the sacrifice of a full-whack power wail when you’re banging near the 7,500-rpm rev limiter. Steering is standout, telling you precise details at 7/10ths of grip on a dry or wet road, although on-center is a little soft when you’re tooling along.

Call it a triple-shot kind of attitude to the engine, steering, and suspension, rather than the G35 Coupe’s quad-dose of espresso.

This carries over to the seven-speed manumatic, which, like its Z cousin with synchrorevmatch, blips the throttle on downshifts in Sport mode, for smoother gear changes, but won’t upshift out of gears (in Sport mode). One thing I really like: the solid magnesium paddles are fixed to the steering column, not the steering wheel, so if you’re mid rotation and want to up- or downshift you hands are always adjacent to the paddles.

Another shot of caffeine: The $1,850 Sport Package includes a very well bolstered, 12-way-adjustable bucket seat for the driver (8-way for the front passenger) that’s supportive but not tiring. Rally around corners or commute daily and this perch is equally comfy and hugs but doesn’t bear hug.

And the Infiniti corners and changes direction predictably and easily. I’ve read elsewhere that the car seems poised to break away at the limit, but with the VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) switched off I found it was dead simple to power throttle around or just sense a skid and dial in some counter steer as needed. No sweat, but plenty of entertainment.

As for the CTS, steering is an entirely different animal. It has the same precise on-center feel of the Corvette, but unfortunately lacks that car's pure steering communication when you're carving asphalt. It's light for daily driving, but weights up a great deal when you're plowing asphalt with its 19-inch tires. Interpreting the feedback takes time, and because you also get less communication from the back end of this car than with the Infiniti (the suspension rolls a little more, though that also makes the Caddy a more comfortable rig for commuting), it also takes conditioning to learn what the CTS Coupe will do at the limit.

That 500-pound elephant in the chassis? Yeah, unfortunately you feel it. The car corners very well given its great weight, but it doesn’t like switchbacks the way the G37S does. So a hard left, no problem, but a series of right-left-rights and the plow-forward nature of the CTS Coupe has you blowing apexes. You can learn to time the stall of understeer as the car recovers between corners, but that need to wait (or try to muscle it back on line) tells you a lot about how much heavier this car is.

Then again, it’s also plenty fast, if a little slower than the Infiniti, and shy of its fairly high limits is a very pleasing daily driver. Also, the brakes are better in the Caddy, not, perhaps on ultimate bite, but in feel, which makes these binders a little more confidence-inspiring when you’re really driving the CTS Coupe fast.

One laggard: The six-speed manumatic in the Cadillac is shiftable via plastic buttons on the backside of the steering wheel, which, from a tactile perspective feels cheap, and while performance is quite good (you can downshift into a gear that’s near redline) it’s not as quick as the setup in the Infiniti, nor is there rev matching.

Less Good...
A great looking car is important--especially to the opposite sex. And by our informal tally, the Infiniti is a winner among women and the Cadillac... isn’t. At all.  The high, slablike sides and heavily geometric form as well as massive, hard looking nose drew all sorts of negative commentary from the fairer sex, and the big, high caboose not only drew derision from women, but most men seemed to think it was excessive, too. That said, guys think this car is HOT--and all those guys surveyed were already married, so maybe their wives could put up with it.

Inside, the same trend lines continued. The hard-edged theme doesn't draw much but ire among the ladies, who coo-ed far less about the comfortable ride than they carped about hard-to-fathom controls. To be fair, this wasn't just a beef from women who sat in or drove the car, as I found the climate functions, buried in a tiny LCD down by the driver's right knee, to be a big failing, since you have to take your eyes off the road for a long time to discern what adjustments you're making.

Still, the Cadillac's broad shoulders make it more comfortable for bigger people, since it yields more hip- and shoulder room, though the Infiniti boasts superior front leg- and headroom. In the backseat of the Cadillac there's more than five inches of bonus knee room vs. the Infiniti. Bottom line: if you want kids to sit in the backseat you need to look at the Cadillac. In the G coupe it’s a squeeze.

Also, the Cadillac has a bigger trunk and larger pass-through opening, so it’s a more practical car if you’d like to regularly carry golf clubs or similarly hard-to-load items.

Both cars have some drawbacks. The radar-based cruise control on the Infiniti regularly fails to function in the rain, and that obviates the cruise control entirely. Worse is that the Cadillac’s very large booty makes backing up a very careful process. Our tester had an optional backup camera, a must, but even then it’s difficult to nail parallel parking with the CTS Coupe, no matter how good you are at using your mirrors, and you’d better be very attentive at who is following you on the interstate because that huge center blindspot can make passing dangerous.

And the winner?
I think both of these cars are pretty dang sweet, and as I said at the start, stats may tell you some of where the Cadillac is better, some of what’s glorious about the Infiniti, but numbers say zilch about the emotive response these two cars create when seen by men and women.

For me the decisions is simple: If you drive lots of highway miles, the Caddy is probably a more comfy choice, especially if your local freeway infrastructure is battered, but if the winding open road is always calling, the Infiniti is the choice, hands down.

One more stat: Either car can now be had with AWD, and the G37 Coupe is now available with both the Sport Package (this slick transmission, suspension, etc.) and, AWD. If you live in the snowbelt that’s a big deal, because that makes these four-season sports sedans.