Subtle performer with premium features
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Tasteful style masks high-speed potential of the Infiniti G37 and it's high-tech "manumatic" transmission.

Automatic transmissions with manual shift modes are all the rage these days. Originally designed to improve performance and enhance the driving experience, they are now standard on vehicles with no sporting pretenses, like minivans. Proof be told, many 'manumatics' are over-rated. In many of them, the manual shifts are not very crisp. And especially in high performance cars, the transmissions shift faster in the automatic mode than most drivers can shift them manually.

Our test 2010 Infiniti G37 Coupe AWD was a notable exception, and not because the transmission was a slouch in automatic mode. To the contrary, upshifts were clean and abrupt under hard acceleration. And the automatic blips the throttle for the driver during downshifts, making them feel like those done with a smoothly-driven manual transmission.

But the transmission shifts even better manually. Upshfits and downshifts can be done even quicker, and each time they felt like a manual clutch had been expertly disengaged and engaged. The fact that the transmission works so well in automatic mode probably helps explain why the manual mode feels so good. Whatever the case, if all transmissions performed like this, even minivans would be fun to drive.

The transformation is all the more remarkable given the G37 Coupe's styling. Although two-doors always look sportier than sedans, Infiniti disguises the car's potential with soft, gently flowing exterior lines and a refined, sophisticated interior layout. The inconspicuous grey paint and beige interior made ours especially subdued. And driven gently, our G37 Coupe felt solid but not much more exciting than an Altima coupe, the popular midsize offered by Nissan, Infiniti's parent company. The ride is slightly firmer, but hardly jarring.

Pushing the G37 reveals its other side, however. As the speed increase, the car reveals itself as a true sports coupe capable of competing well against high-priced Audis, BMWs and even Jaguars. The 3.7-liter, which is very docile around town, comes alive as the revs increase, even generating a raspy exhaust note. At the same time, the G37 never lost its poise or threatened to become harsh. Even charging along twisty roads, it never felt rushed.

Part of credit must go to the unobtrusive but effective ATTESA E-TS All-Wheel-Drive System. We never felt the traction shifting from the rear to front wheels, but never felt close to losing grip, either, even while driving through the first heavy rainstorms of the season.

Those going through a midlife crisis might find the styling too subtle. After all, what's the point of all this performance if no one else knows it? The well-bolstered front seats are one of the only hints of the G37 Coupe's potential. And even they are offset by the tasteful interior wood trim on the dash and console. Then again, some people don't want to draw undue attention to themselves. They understand the element of surprise.

Such subjective questions aside, there is little to fault about the G37 Coupe. Yes, the back seats are ridiculously small. The trunk could also be bigger. And rearward visibility is limited, which makes the optional rearview camera a good idea, even though it is part of the $1,850 navigation package.

On the other hand, if you're willing to forego such options, the G37 Coupe AWD with the rewarding transmission can be had for around $40,000, a real bargain considering the competition.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 G37 Coupe AWD.

• Manufacturer: Infiniti.

• Class: Premium midsize.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Two-door.

• Engines: 3.7-liter V6 (330 hp, 270 ft-lbs).

• Transmissions: 7-speed automatic with Drive Sport mode and manual shift mode with Downshift Rev Matching.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 18/25.

• Price: beginning at approximately $40,000 (45,315 as test).

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