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The Infiniti I35 gives you luxury driving for under 40 grand.

2002 Infiniti I35 Road Test
A Blissful Drive

A weekend getaway in Toronto at the Park Hyatt proves holiday shopping can be stress free.

By Bill Roebuck

With parking lot rage on the increase as too many overanxious shoppers crowd suburban malls, I recently opted for a sophisticated holiday shopping adventure in Toronto with my wife. The plan involved spending an evening at a nice downtown hotel, shopping, a first-class meal, and massages to ease our weary bones. The goal was to shop without stress.

The icing on the cake would be to have a great car to make the trip to the city, and Infiniti came to our assistance by making available a test drive of its new I35 Sport luxury sedan. The scenario was completed with a booking at the Park Hyatt Toronto (the former Park Plaza) on Bloor St. at Avenue Rd.

The I35 proved to be ideal transportation for a stress-free weekend. Formerly known as the I30, it has been revamped for 2002 with a larger engine, improved transmission, updated styling and interior refinements.

The Park Hyatt was well-located, as we wanted to be nearby to Yorkville, but also to Chinatown and Kensington market, the latter to find a variety of out-of-the-ordinary and inexpensive trinkets for Christmas stocking stuffers and other holiday gifts.

The hotel also is home to the new Stillwater Spa, which opened in the spring of 2002, so we took the opportunity to book hour-long massage sessions for the morning after our arrival. To keep the trip simple and as stress-free as possible, we also made dinner reservations at the Annona Restaurant in the hotel (an alternative was Morton's Steak House, also in the hotel, but we opted for the modern fusion food of the Hyatt's signature restaurant).

We lucked out with light traffic on our drive into town from Oakville. With heavy shopping traffic, we knew the trip could take as long as two hours, but we were at the hotel in half an hour. The seat and steering wheel heaters warmed us up quickly for the drive. The I35 coddles you with soft leather power seats and well-located controls. It features one of the clearest dashboard designs available, as all controls and instruments are easy to read and reach. The rear seats also are roomy and comfortable, with surprisingly extensive legroom for a vehicle in the midsize sedan category.

As we started out, we tuned the 200-watt Bose audio system to 680 News to check for traffic problems (there weren't any), and then switched to our favourite FM stations. If it had been a longer trip, we could have brought along a half-dozen CDs to place in the in-dash changer. The stereo also includes a handy cassette player, as well as speed-sensitive volume adjustment. The system's sound was crisp and full, with no noticeable distortion.

The turn into the hotel's driveway showed up one of the I35's minor shortcomings -- its turning circle seems a bit wide for a car this size, at 12.2 m (40.0 ft). A gathering of the hotel's staff offered comments of admiration of the I35. It is one of the best looking new sedans in its class on the road. This model, in a soft green called Millennium Jade, looked elegant yet gently sporty. The new I35's distinct appearance belies its $39,500 base price tag. The I35 Sport we drove retails for $42,500. The only option on the Sport is a $900 chrome wheel package.

The Sport model is the same as the I35 Luxury but with a sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, side sill spoilers and vehicle dynamic control. The latter feature helps maintain control in understeer, oversteer or slippery conditions. Handling of our test model felt firm and very controlled, smooth without being soft.

We hadn't visited this hotel for several years, so we were in for a surprise. The 70-year-old structure had been renovated two years ago with the boutique hotel look of the Park Hyatt brand. The interior is completely revamped and very elegant. The hotel's famous rooftop lounge still exists, though.

Our standard room on the tenth floor of the North Tower had a south-facing window, but the view was partially obscured by other buildings. The average guest room size is 500 square feet, with suites available in sizes from 800 to 2,500 square feet.
Our room was beautifully decorated and appointed with dark wood furniture. A fax/copier machine and two-line phone with data port sat on the desk, but we weren't tempted to use them for this venture. The marble bathroom was spacious and tasteful, the tub deep and comfortable, and the giant shower head generous with its distribution of water.

Our weekend shopping adventure not only included the multitude of shops on Yorkville and Cumberland Avenues across from the hotel, but a quick hike over to Chinatown on Spadina Ave. at Dundas, where we went looking for inexpensive but uncommon gifts. Many of the shops here are jammed to the rafters with goods, so it takes patience to uncover novel "finds." We ended up at Peter's Chung King Restaurant at 281 College, just west of Spadina, and stopped in to enjoy a lunch of very fresh Szechwan cooking served by friendly and competent staff.

Next stop was a quick walk over to Kensington market, a world unto itself. If Retro is on your shopping list, this is the place to come; if you're old enough, many of the shops will take you right back to your memories of the 70s.

Dinner was at Annona in the Park Hyatt, where we tried the sea bass as well as duckling with scallops. There was an Asian tang to both dishes, which were well prepared and presented. The restaurant's executive chef, Joan Monfaredi, cooks international cuisine, combining classic preparation and modern presentation. We skipped dessert, which was difficult because of the wonderful menu descriptions of the offerings.

The next day started off with a light breakfast in our room, followed by a visit to the Stillwater Spa. It's one of the reasons the Park Hyatt Toronto was voted Toronto's most romantic hotel by Frommer's 2001 Toronto guide. The spa features a Couples' Massage Room, where two of you can enjoy the massages of your choice on separate tables and the use of whirlpool hot tub in the room. As this room was fully booked, we opted for traditional Swedish massage, and a Stillwater Signature massage that combines Swedish, trigger point and stretching techniques. The men's and women's change rooms feature small steam rooms, saunas and hot tubs for further relaxation.

Afterwards, we visited more stores to complete our stress-free shopping sojourn. By now, we were looking forward to the drive home in the I35, where the soft leather seats continued the pampering we'd been receiving. Clear roads meant we could experience the full 255-horsepower of the 3.5-litre V6, which was both smooth and quiet. Shifting of the four-speed automatic was unnoticeable, and features such as skid control, ABS brakes, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution were at hand if needed. Safety features include front and side airbags and active front head restraints.

Other useful gadgets on the I35 Sport include a power rear sunshade, Xenon gas headlamps, steering wheel mounted audio controls, automatic climate control, air filtration system, and realistic-looking simulated maple wood accents.

All these amenities enhanced the peaceful ride, making the Infiniti I35 a prime gift-toting carriage for stress-free holiday shopping.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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