Here’s the long and the short of the 2011 Infiniti IPL G Coupe—it may look like a car, have wheels and seats, an engine and wheels, but this isn’t a car. It’s an analog synthesizer, and you compose burbly symphonies with only your right foot.
Before we get to that glorious sound, a little background: Infiniti had me down to Napa to sample a few different cars, including the M56S I reviewed the other week, and the main event was the debut of the Infiniti Performance Line of vehicles. IPL is aiming to be a slightly different animal than BMW’s M Divison or Mercedes’ AMG line, giving Infiniti customers some added flash and sportiness for under $50,000. To paraphrase Infiniti’s boffins, the IPL customer “wants to be noticed” but isn’t exactly going to run down to the track with their new IPL vehicle right off the bat. To this, I tried to hide an involuntary wince. “Sounds like a recipe for a delicious soup of mediocrity,” I thought, “garnished with a sprig of an inferiority complex.” Could you tell I approached the IPL with a healthy skepticism? An Audi S-line treatment wasn’t going to cut it in my book. Of course, you can’t waive a magic wand and ignore what Audi, BMW, and Lexus offer in terms of sport models. They exist, they all cost more than the IPL price ceiling, and they’re all significantly different animals.
Let’s put them aside for a moment and examine the recipe a little more closely. At the heart of the IPL coupe is a massaged version of the standard 3.7 liter VQ-series V6. This motor has good genes; thoroughbred ancestors, you might say. It’s smooth, and it makes good power – 348 HP in this application. These extra 18 ponies are liberated through a combination of engine management tweaking and a 30% reduction in exhaust pressure via a true dual exhaust setup. Other non-cosmetic tweaks include a stiffened suspension front and rear, and a standard viscous LSD. These are all good things. They will ultimately make a difference in the overall driving experience. But I want to get back to the sound for a second. Find a quiet room with some bass-heavy speakers (and perhaps a Marantz amp to drive them? I have no shame.) and take a couple of deep breaths. Now click the link below.
Yeah, THAT. This is the true reason for the IPL coupe’s existence, even if Infiniti doesn’t know it yet. I drove the car for about 45 minutes, and I pulled over several times to jot notes down onto a pad. I looked at the notes after the drive, and I’ll be damned if every line wasn’t another euphemism for how the car sounded. Luckily you don’t have to read through that list, because you can just listen to the audio file that I secreted out of Infiniti’s lair o’ engineers and make up your own. Of course, unless you can transport the speakers to Napa and bounce them off the hills and vineyards there, it won’t be truly the same. But close.
Lest you think that this sound was overpowering, let it be recorded that it was certainly noticeable. A pleasant drone permeated the cockpit while cruising, which served as a reminder that you were indeed actually driving the IPL version. This is also as good a time as any to point out that from the driver’s seat, without that noise there’s not a ton to let you know you’re driving an IPL version, unless you’ve opted for the Malbec Black exterior paint that allows you to select the Monaco Red leather interior, both unique to the IPL. Like the standard G cars the interior is a pleasant and relatively luxurious place to reside. For example, the trademark dash cluster that tilts with the wheel is functional and sporty, but leaves a large and slightly unsightly gap underneath the wheel—only if you’re looking for it, however. So while it’s not up to Audi’s class-leading interior treatments, we’re light-years away from the last G and even further from the it’s-just-a-Nissan-with-a-funny-clock era of the mid-1990s.
If you can’t tell from the pair of howitzers poking out from the revised rear fascia, the exterior treatment is where the IPL differentiates itself most from the lesser Gs. Deep side skirts and purposeful gunmetal-finished wheels made the flanks pop. The front and rear bumper treatments resembled the regular Sport package units, but it’s as if the engineers simply twisted a knob that said “angular aggression” and dialed it up about 30%. Pointier, and distinctive enough to know that you’re looking at a factory upgrade rather than some tacked-on fiberglass afterthought. The overall effect would maybe be more subtle if I didn’t examine the car while it was parked right next to a regular G. Let me put it this way: the average passerby will certainly hear it coming, whip their head around, and follow the passing IPL G Coupe with their eyes as it rumbles by. They’ll perceive a sporty, up-rated version of the G37 coupe, but unless they’re specifically clued in, I doubt they’ll know it’s an IPL rather than a Sport. Is this a bad thing? No, I think it’s mission accomplished – the IPL will get you noticed without a chrome fender vent or 65 lbs of badging. If anything, it’s the distinctive exhaust note of the car that’ll be its signature, much as I can tell from blocks away without catching sight of the vehicle that a normal VQ-powered Infiniti or Nissan just pulled away from a light.
With only a limited time behind the wheel, I didn’t have enough time to discover any of the car’s bad habits. We were still in the honeymoon phase when I handed the key back, and frankly I didn’t want to stop consummating the experience. The manual transmission is a joy, pairing a completely intuitive and nicely weighted clutch with a smooth shifter. Positive detents dispel vagueness, but the total shifting experience is a bit on the slow side – quite appropriate for a luxury-sport vehicle. The other major driver interface, the steering, utilized Infiniti’s variable boost system and ultimately could have stood to be firmer with more feedback, at least in the conditions I was driving it in. Again, appropriate for the vehicle and its intended audience. The brakes were stout and hauling the coupe down from speed was effortless.
Another area where the IPL coupe scored high marks was in the handling department. Much like the M56S I reviewed, it was an excellent combination of spring rate and dampening, yielding flat and predictable cornering while taking the edge off bumps and irregularities. I knew it worked because the M37 sans the Sport package, as I mentioned in the M56S review, simply didn’t. Of course, the IPL allowed more road feel through than the larger M, and it also inspired confidence. I truly feel like this is a car where a driver can approach his or her own real world limits (not the chassis’ limits) and have a hoot. The feel, if not the actual skidpad numbers, approach a BMW level of driver enjoyment.
So the IPL definitely was better than the “soup of mediocrity” I expected, but it’s time for the mandatory equivocation and invocation of perspective. At the price point the IPL is shooting for, the G Coupe is a decent deal. After all, a G37S 6MT with all the option boxes checked is already north of $47,000 – add to this uprated suspension and the dual exhaust, which by the way won’t be initially available as dealer-installed options, and you’re looking at a reasonable cost increase for the special IPL bits and pieces. For example, the M3 coupe starts at $58,000 and rockets skyward as soon as you fiddle with it in the slightest. My take is that it wouldn’t be the worst place to park fifty grand if you wanted to vibrate the boulevard with VQ noises. That being said, I did sincerely wish there was more to let me know I was in an IPL version rather than simply the sound. Give me an subtle embroidered headrest crest, a wheel emblem, something. As I said above, don’t plaster the vehicle with a metric ton of faux chrome baubles, but remind me from inside why I spent several thousand more than the G37S coupe.
But don’t mess with the noise it makes. That part is perfect.