The BMW 3-Series has been the gold standard for small sports sedans since America had a gold standard. Well, it seems that way. The Ultimate Driving Machine has seen off the Germans (Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4), Americans (Cadillac CTS) and Japanese (Infiniti’s G-force). Repeatedly. Despite the min-Merc’s rep as a credible corner carver, it’s the Infiniti that’s posed the most dangerous threat to the 3′s rep. In fact, Infiniti’s persistence is the automotive equivalent of the posse in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Who are zees guys? These days, the G-Unit chases the 3 with a bigger engine, remapped power delivery and a Bimmer baiting tagline: “Beyond Machine.” We shall see.
The BMW 328 xDrive is the least Bangled of the Bimmer bunch, retaining its golden rule proportions—despite speed lines from a Japanese cartoon. This iteration finds itself more plump than its predecessors, but hey, would you complain it if was a steak? That long nose covers a straight six, the engine configuration that’s delighted generations of pistonheads. Literally. What else do you need to know?
The Infiniti G37x has an entirely different posture, with nearly the same stance. It is erumpent and rolling, like a silk scarf in the wind. The overall effect is more sinister than commanding. It doesn’t appear to be in the same weight class as the champ. Ha!
The Infiniti’s cabin had an interior decorator on their design team. The Washi paper-like aluminum trim is Shirley Temple-class cute. The flow and wrap looks sensuous, but also calming. The BMW’s innards were designed by engineers. No flourishes are found. From this seat, you drive your car. Ja? BMW breaks up the purposeful lines with varying textures and shades. Everything feels good, and that’s enough.
The BMW 328xi and Infiniti G37x’s stable-yards are grossly mismatched. BMW brings the venerable 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine making 230 hp @ 6500 rpm. The Infiniti wields 328 hp @ 7000 rpm from a 3.7-liter V6. Yes, the 335′s 300-horse turbocharged engine would crush the Infiniti into a fine powder. But that particular motorized meisterstuck is seven-Gs more (cash not cars). The truth is most sports sedanististas compare cars dollar-for-dollar.
The 328 is quick. It’s not going to make your mouth dry, but palpitations are not beyond the realm of possibility. Ye Olde variable valve timing produces a strong, steady surge up and down the rev range. A good driver can control and work with every ounce of the 328xi’s urge, using momentum to achieve what sheer grunt can not.
The G37 is fast. The engine’s 269 lb-ft of torque (@ 5200 rpm) reveals itself like it’s been there all along, waiting for you. Again, astute valve control delivers unto your right foot and two hands a strong, usable engine. Still, you gotta pay attention.
The G37′s dynamic vehicle control, traction control, ABS and all-wheel drive system do their level best to keep you at your level best, away from solid objects. I plowed this thing through light and heavy virgin snow. The experience was almost disappointing. The rear-wheel drive bias fools you into thinking you can break the rear end loose. You can’t. At least not if you’ve got a wife, two kids, a mortgage and a desire to support same.
The BMW’s equipped with almost the same system. I’m sure lawyers someplace will disagree. But the result is identical: more confidence than anyone other than Gunnar Thermaenius should have on a snowy road (to pick a neutral party).
Holistically speaking, the differences between the BMW 328xi and Infiniti G37x are remarkable (’cause that’s how we roll), but not profound. On dry pavement, the G has so much power you have to hold back, even when it’s not strictly necessary. It strains at the leash and then heads for the hills. If you’re not having enough fun, just hammer it and hold on. Done.
As you’d expect, the 328xi has a far more tossable, user-friendly feel. It encourages the enthusiastic driver to approach its limits a little at a time. By the same token, the G37′s stoppers are absurdly effective. But the 3′s brakes are effectively absurd; you can slow the sedan from outrageous speeds with logic-defying grace and seemingly infinite power.
The G37x’s new seven-speed is the world’s best continuously variable transmission (only not). The 3′s six speed is just as smooth, but lacks that final dollop of crème fraîche. Response under full throttle is identical, as are the official gas mileage ratings.
Overall, the cars are equal. The G trounces the 3 in the power department. Yet there is a purity to the 3 series that remains insuperable; it wasn’t designed to evoke or compete with anything. It’s a 3 series. It was built as a whole and ultimately it translates to a special, unified driving experience that can’t be overcome with power and tricks. I wouldn’t fault anyone for buying a G. But for me, synergy supplants paper prowess. The 3 wins.
[The original comparo crashed the entire site, due to some photo-related code. I apologize for losing your insightful commentary. I promise it won't disappear this time.]