Imagine you’re looking for a $41k imported sports sedan. You want something fun to drive. Sayonara, Lexus. You were traumatized by an orthodontist. Aloha to Acura’s tin grin TL. You appreciate the difference between having it and flaunting it. Auf wiedersehen, BMW and Mercedes. That leaves the Audi A4 3.2 Audi and Infiniti G37 6MT. Oddly enough, I recently sampled those two exact cars. Funny how these things work out.
The moment Audi introduced the A5 last year, the A4 became a victim of its own dowdiness. Audi saw that one coming; they redesigned the A4 for 2009. It now looks like a four-door A5. (Cynics might see it as Germany’s answer to the Impala/Monte Carlo, but I couldn’t possibly comment.) The A4′s exterior and interior are new; the 2.0-liter turbo and 3.2-liter drivetrains are not, although the 2.0t offers 11 extra ponies and some welcome low-down grunt. As before, customers can purchase the 2.0t with or without quattro, while the 3.2-liter is four wheel-drive only.
In 2007, Nissan redesigned the G series for an even more modern look, then blessed Infiniti’s sedan with the same 3.7-liter V6 engine serving time in the snout of the G37 coupe. The 6MT refers to the standard six-speed manual transmission. The package includes upgrades to the suspension and the brakes. Most of the good stuff is also available as a Sport Package on the “Journey” model, but the shift-it-yourself tranny’s only available on the 6MT.
Both the Audi and the Infiniti show strong family ties to their more expensive siblings. The G37 wears Infiniti’s trademark windswept look well. That said, from some angles, the G37 comes off as an Altima that went to finishing school. The Audi shows up at the ball with the pissed-at-the-world glower previously seen on the R8 and A5. Audi’s LED eyeliner looks overwrought, as if the designers had to figure out how to incorporate BMW’s “angel eyes” into a car without round headlights. More than one person asked me about the row of lights. Other than attracting attention (which they certainly do). I couldn’t provide a single reason for their existence.
Although the A4 and G37 appear to be about the same size, the Infiniti is two inches longer. The A4 has a two-inch advantage in width. Interestingly, the G37 is classified by the EPA as a mid-size while the A4 is considered a compact. With the front seats positioned for my 6′3″ frame, both cars suffer from a severe lack of rear legroom.
When you’re firmly ensconced in the driver’s chairs, concerns about the rear passengers’ discomfort quickly disappear. The G37 features highly-bolstered front seats; the driver’s throne adjusts a dozen ways. The side bolsters on both the back and bottom adjust in and out and there’s an extendible thigh support on both front seats for those long of limb. As a bonus, the instrument cluster moves up and down when you tilt the steering wheel, so everything stays in clear view.
The A4′s seats may not be as Gumbi-fied as the Infiniti’s but they’re still quite comfortable. Since they aren’t as aggressively bolstered, those whose derrieres have been ambushed by gravity may find them a bit more accommodating than the G37′s.
The G37 offers plenty of toys for for your forty large. Unfortunately, the center stack was designed by the same symmetry-OCD-affected engineer that tidied up the Murano. The G’s main controls are located on a shelf in front of the touch screen, an arm’s length away. The system incorporates the readout for the radio and HVAC settings—controlled by buttons and knobs further down the center stack. Thankfully, the radio and sat nav voice control have redundant controls on the steering wheel. Once you learn where everything is and what it does, you’re OK. Until then, not.
Audi doesn’t give you a nav system at this price point. But you do get Audi’s MMI mouse-driven controller, which adjusts everything from the bun warmers and sound system to the sensitivity of the automatic headlights. The basic controls are mounted in the A4′s center stack, but you have to reach past the shifter to get to them. While the MMI is easy to learn, I reckon a car’s primary controls should be mounted on the console where they’re within easy reach and don’t require eye time.
Both the Audi A4 and the Infiniti G37 6MT sport the very latest in recycled beer can aluminum trim technology with the metal applied to the dashboard and the door panels—like every other car with performance pretenses. At least it’s real metal and not silvery plastic.
Unfortunately, both automakers just said no to real-deal cup holders. In the Audi’s case, they’re different sizes. The smaller one won’t hold anything larger than a soft drink can or small bottle of water. The Infiniti’s cup holders hide under a sliding cover. The square indents don’t offer a lot of support for round beverage containers.
Audi and Nissan’s drivetrain engineers have done their level best to make your caffeine-free transportation worthwhile. In the G37′s case, they deployed the same rear-wheel-drive FM platform underpinning the 370Z. Push the G37′s smart key Start button and the 3.7-liter, 328 hp V6 responds with a sinister snarl. Running it up to the redline is both anti-social and aurally gratifying.
The G37′s clutch action is light and precise. Rowing through the gears at speed can propel a G-man or woman from 0-60 in just over five seconds. Driven a bit more conservatively, the G37 delivers a reasonable 17 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway. Nissan says this engine marks the first application of their VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift) system on a production vehicle in the American market. If that’s what makes this engine so sweet, they need to spread the wealth.
The G37 6MT’s standard sport suspension keeps you glued to the road. I may infuriate a few Bowtie Blowhards, but there were times when scurrying around a switchback resulted in flashbacks to my Corvette-driving days. Just make sure the sprogs are well secured in the back seat; any curve becomes a challenge to better your personal best.
Performance-wise, the Audi A4 is outclassed. Put the key fob in its slot, then push it in another quarter inch and the 3.2L 265 hp V6 purrs to life. Ingolstadt’s engine gives up 60 hp to the G37 AND it has to haul around an extra 240 lb. The Audi takes a full second more to perform the 0 to 60 benchmark. At least the fuel mileage is comparable at 17/26. The six-speed automatic transmission is silky smooth when left to its own devices. However, if you feel compelled to take things into your own hands, paddle shifters are noticeable by their absence.
Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is as seamless as ever. In normal conditions, it sends just over 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. When traction becomes an issue, the A4 sends the torque to whichever wheels need it. You can’t beat the control and security in inclement weather. The trade-off: in the dry, you never feel quite as one with the road as you do with the rear wheel-drive G37.
The A4 3.2 quattro and G37 6MT both sticker within $500 of our arbitrary $41K price point. For $41.3K, Audi gives you the A4 and not much more. Our test car had but one option: the $425 “Aruba blue pearl effect” paint job. Your forty large buys you rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth, and HomeLink, but upmarket, mission-critical sat-nav runs an additional $2.5K.
The G37 6MT starts at just over $34K. The $2.5K Premium Package which brings it even with the A4 3.2 toy-wise, includes a sunroof, memory settings and power lumbar support for the chairs, a premium Bose sound system, Bluetooth and other toys. The G37 6MT’s navigation package adds another $2.15K. Tick the boxes for a couple other “gotta-haves” (e.g., rear spoiler and lighted kick plates) and you’re still $400 below the A4.
Either of these $40K-ish cars will get you from point A to point B rapidly, in comfort and style. If your driving routine includes a lot of snowy or rainy weather, the A4 3.2 quattro is an excellent playmate with a feel-good cabin that makes mincemeat of mondo mileage. However, when the going gets twisty, the twisted get going in a G37 6MT—it’s far and away the better driver’s car of these two. Before you dismiss the G as more performance than you need and less safety than you want, I suggest you take it for a test drive.