SAN DIEGO — Credibility, thy name is G35.

Barely a decade into its crusade to stand toe-to-toe with German-made sport/luxury sedans, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s Infiniti upscale division launches its most convincing thrust yet, the athletic and accelerative G35.

Oh, Infiniti and its arch-rival, Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus division haven't exactly shamed themselves with their prior efforts at chipping at that vaunted German performance heritage. Lexus, as we know, now represents its own sort of standard, but in the mid-'90s, Infiniti lost its way.

When a seriously adrift Nissan got its groove back in 1999 — thanks to its well-documented “Revival Plan” — so too did Infiniti rediscover its focus. The G35 is the first product to fully represent Infiniti's post-Revival Plan direction.

The G35 is a stretched-out midsize sedan, the first Nissan product to leverage the all-new “FM” platform (see WAW — Jan. '02, p.63) — an architecture to which a frighteningly large chunk of Nissan/Infiniti's future success is hitched.

Although those first Q45s and Lexus LS400s proved the Japanese could at least replicate German flagships, BMW AG's 3-Series always has represented the real target. Match the dynamic excellence and gotta-have-one zeitgeist of the 3-Series, and you've decoded the final strand of German market-domination genetic code.

And yes, as mentioned above, Infiniti's 2003 G35 comes oh-so-close, don't you know. Lexus made a serious but ultimately flawed stab with last year's IS 300 rear-driver, and now with the outstanding G35 you get the sense that it can be done. I say here and now that in some crucial dynamic measures, Infiniti's G35 bests the almighty BMW 3.

Powertrain, the heart of any credible attempt to battle the 3: Regular readers are well aware of Ward's unyielding affection for the Nissan's VQ-series DOHC V-6 engine family, and the G35's 3.5L variant, at a stout 260 hp, punishes anything in the class: BMW 330i, 225 hp; Cadillac CTS, 220 hp; IS300, 215 hp; Audi A4, 220 hp, Mercedes C-Class, 215 hp. Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s Acura TL Type S packs 260 hp, too, but it's a front-driver, and you don't want that. The G35's 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm) of torque roundly thumps everybody.

If the VQ engine's expansion from 3L to 3.5L has ever so slightly impugned on its legendary refinement, the payback is a broad-shouldered thrust that includes more authoritative step-off and a serious acceleration window when you tromp it anywhere north of 3,000 rpm. The VQ remains remarkably, uncannily smooth, and proves a V-6 can be the NVH equal of BMW's hallmark inline-6.

But what about chassis, BMW's other knockout punch? The G35's longish 112.2-in. (285-cm) wheelbase is nearly 5 ins. (11.5 cm) longer than the 3-Series, and that's great for interior stretch-out space and overall ride quality. But the G35, when pushed hard, does just that: pushes. The understeer is heavier than that generally on offer from the 3-Series, and the G35's steering is a bit too touchy when you swivel the wheel that first five degrees from center.

Aside from those comparatively small faults, the FM chassis is a winner, and the G35 is a highly rewarding car to swing through the curves, with plenty of grip and the sort of responsive rotation that makes a well-sorted rear-drive chassis the thing to have (the G's near-perfect damping and all-aluminum independent suspension at each corner don't hurt the cause, either).

The 4-wheel disc brakes, too, are impressive, equal to any shenanigans you're likely to attempt in a 4-door sport sedan.

The “catamaran”-inspired sheetmetal is pretty attractive, I submit — every civilian I polled insisted the G35 is stunning — and the 0.27 coefficient of drag is a killer number, proven by the remarkably silent interior. The profile is aggressive, and the shape is refreshingly clean and inviting.

Consider that the G35 comes standard with the glorious V-6, a 5-speed automatic with a shift-it-yourself mode (a 6-speed manual comes later this year) and a host of good equipment that includes stability control, and the starting price of $27,100 is, well, compelling.

Yes, the basically attractive interior suffers somewhat from that attractive pricing, and the truth is that some of the desirable (perhaps necessary) option packages can quickly pump the price, but you can't spend more than about $37,000 for the G35, so even a fully loaded G is a solid value against the pricey 3-Series.

Infiniti's G35 has nudged astoundingly close to the 3-Series in many measures and at least equals the mighty 3 in some important dynamic aspects. That it does so at such an advantageous price point makes the G35 the most serious non-German threat yet to BMW's sport-sedan supremacy.

2003 Infiniti G35
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 5-passenger 4-door sedan
Engine: 3.5L (3,498 cc) DOHC V-6, aluminum block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net): 260 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm) @ 4,800 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Bore x Stroke (mm): 95.5 × 81.4
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 112.2 ins. (285 cm)
Overall length: 186.2 ins. (473 cm)
Overall width: 68.9 (175 cm)
Overall height: 57.9 ins. (147 cm)
Curb weight: 3,336 lbs. (1,513 kg)
Market competition: Audi A4; BMW 3-Series; Cadillac CTS; Lexus IS 300; Mercedes C-Class