Every November or so, Motor Trend releases its Car of the Year press release where it announces the best new (or heavily-revised) car for the following model year. Primarily, it entails rounding up numerous press vehicles, testing them around some willing automaker’s desert proving grounds, driving them on the worst California roads imaginable, and then spending hours lamenting that the Mercury Marauder isn’t available with a manual.
Car of the Year has been a Motor Trend institution since the 1950s, and among its recipients have been the 1974 Ford Mustang II, 1999 Chrysler 300M, 2002 Ford Thunderbird, 1997 Chevrolet Malibu, 1971 Chevrolet Vega, and the 1972 Citroën SM, which is quite cool, but not COTY material due to unreliability and having more quirks than an American audience can handle.
Motor Trend actually made one of their better decisions by selecting the G35, based on the same platform of the Nissan 350Z. However today, instead of talking up the G35, the subject of the November 2002 press release I’m focusing on, I’m going to examine why Motor Trend had no other choice but to give its 2003 award to the Infiniti G35.
First off, in the press release, Motor Trend states that the award is about “overall significance, competitiveness within a market segment, and value for money” and examine numerous aspects of the car from the styling down to (hopefully) the spare tire. In those regards, the G35 was significant as it presented a viable alternative to a BMW 3-Series with much more power and a much lower price. Japanese reliability may have been a factor, though it drove fairly well.
But I think you should focus on the cars that Motor Trend used for this COTY test. The cars involved weren’t exactly direct competitors. A compact Suzuki Aerio (does anyone remember that one?) faced off against a full-size Lincoln Town Car (even though the Panther platform was over 20 years old by that point), which in turn battled a deadly Dodge Viper.
A contender was the infamous E65 BMW 7-Series (the crazy-looking one), with an early build of iDrive, an extra layer of steel atop the trunk (the Bangle butt), and the knowledge that running costs after three years of free scheduled service would put the mechanic’s kid through college. So that one wasn’t going to make it.
There was also the Volkswagen Passat W8, now known as among the most unreliable cars in the world. (Of course, its unreliability was noted with the benefit of hindsight, presumably whenever the engine and/or the transmission gave out.) There also was the Saturn Ion, now notable for its propensity to suddenly switch off at 60 miles an hour rather than its dent-proof body panels.
On top of that were three different 2003 Mercedes models being tested: the E-Class, the SL-Class, and the CLK-Class, all of which have gone down as the most unreliable Mercedes-Benzes of all time, despite being immensely beautiful. Even Mercedes-Benz had to apologize for the appalling quality of those cars, though their service bills almost certainly put many mechanic’s children through college.
Despite vehicles I’ve listed which didn’t stand a chance of winning, the G35 actually did face some real competition. There was the 2003 Honda Accord, the one which later had automatic transmission problems, and the 2003 Toyota Corolla, which was notable for being nowhere near as boring as the last version.
However, the Honda probably didn’t win because it wasn’t rear-drive (and a high-end EX model came dangerously close to the G35’s base price), while the Corolla, though extremely good for 2003, was perhaps too boring to be awarded COTY, though that didn’t stop Toyota from promptly selling millions of them.
So in the end, that left the G35. It was absolutely no contest. It was immensely significant to the market (250+ horsepower, rear-drive near-luxury sedan for under $30,000), the value for money was astounding considering the cars it was competing with (3-Series, C-Class, IS), and it actually drove fairly well (it had to, considering the 350Z platform).
I’m just thankful Motor Trend didn’t select the 7-Series or E-Class as Car of the Year. They would’ve been lamenting a lot more than the Marauder’s transmission options.