We badly want Infiniti to make cool cars again.
Infiniti is now 30 years old as a brand. Nissan's luxury arm was born around the same time that Honda and Toyota developed its premium brands, Acura and Lexus. Infiniti didn't come out strong at first, and sales of the early Nissan based cars through the 1990s were slow and lagged behind its Japanese rivals. Sales finally started to improve in 2003 with the arrival of the Infiniti G35, a car that still has its own cult following. It was elegant, had aggressive amounts of grip, excellent handling, and was powered by Nissan's 3.5-liter VQ-series V6. The G37 coupe followed in 2008 and stole enthusiasts hearts with its bored-out 3.7-liter V6 making 330 horsepower. Infiniti also released the sporty FX35 and FX45 crossovers, as well as some more sedate luxury SUVs that did well.
In 2013, Infiniti announced it would expand aggressively into new premium segments. That hasn't paid off so well, and, in 2019, Infiniti announced it would be pulling out of the European market as well as Australia and New Zealand. Last year was a hard year for Infiniti in sales, with only 117,708 vehicles going to dealers, a drop of 21.1 percent compared to 2018's numbers. Infiniti is clearly in trouble, but we're here to help with some ideas of how to make the brand fresh and viable again.
One of our favorite sedans over the past few years has been the Genesis G70. Anyone considering a BMW 3 Series should be looking carefully at the G70 before pulling the trigger. Infiniti has the Q50, but with the BMW 3 Series already having serious competition, it's time Infiniti took a long hard look at the larger 5 Series and its own Q70 model. The Infiniti Q70 appeared in 2011 under a different name and has been marginally upgraded since. It suffers from a tired interior and a sluggish transmission, but Infiniti has some great engines to offer in the form of a 3.7-liter V6 engine developing 330 hp and a 5.6-liter V8 engine serving up 420 hp. Money might be tight, but the Q70 looks good, and a facelift, handling upgrade, and fresh interior would do it wonders if a complete redesign isn't in the budget.
If you go and read through our reviews of Infiniti models, you'll notice that the common denominator is tired or unfinished interiors. We love the Infiniti Q50, for example, but its things like mismatching infotainment screens that let it down and make you wonder how much Infiniti cares about the overall experience. There's also consistent criticism for touch-points, dials, and knobs, being made with non-premium materials and going against the grain of the rest of the car. Consistency in these areas is where the German brands set themselves apart, and Infiniti needs to understand and follow that lead.
The QX70 disappeared without a replacement in 2017, just as sporty crossovers started to become a hot spot in the industry. The driving dynamics made it fun to toss around, and under the hood was the 3.7-liter V6 engine producing 325 hp. A new version with a consistent interior while keeping the handling and power in the same bracket would make for an exciting niche car that would grab a lot of headlines. More power would be even better as Infiniti has a wonderful engine at its disposal.
The Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 model comes with a sweet, sweet engine under the hood. The VR-series 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 is tuned to make 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. It's not the fastest engine around if you stack it against AMG or BMW M cars, but it's strong, responsive, reliable, and still very fast. In an age where people want fast crossovers as well as sedans and coupes, it's too good of an engine to keep for select models. It's more in line with power produced by BMW's semi-performance models, but there's a reason BMW is happy to dilute the M name and make M-Sport trimmed cars, crossovers, and SUVs. Power sells.
If Infiniti is to survive, it needs its name to be on as many lips as possible. Whether or not all-electric vehicles turn out to be our future, the best way to do that right now is to put out an electric vehicle with style and substance. Infiniti has never minded leaning on Nissan's technology, and the Renault-Nissan Alliance is pushing forward in electric cars for the Chinese market. Perhaps it's time to lean into the connection heavily to get products to market.
We know Infiniti is working on electric vehicles fitted with small gasoline engine range extenders, but that's not been showing itself as an elegant solution. Pushing into better plug-in hybrid systems that enhance power as well as economy is a better bet for a premium brand.
One of the big complaints early on with the Infiniti Q50 and Q60 was the introduction of the brand's fly-by-wire steering system. It didn't go down well, with complaints of how artificial it felt compared to the traditional mechanical connection. Just because car reviewers didn't like it doesn't mean its a bad idea, though, and part of the reason it exists is to help develop automated driving. With some work on tuning the system to make it more consistent in terms of feel, the system could be used effectively for a next-level experience in driver aids like self-parking and self-driving on freeways.
Infiniti's QX80 is smartly placed in the market somewhere between the overblown status symbol that is the Cadillac Escalade, and more basic big and practical SUVs like the Nissan Armada. It's a familiar Infiniti story for the QX80 as it's been around in its second generation now since 2010. The basics are there with a powerful V8 engine and a bold design, but the disconnected driving experience and aging interior design need a next-gen upgrade. A new generation that moves into Lexus LX territory would be a welcome move from Infiniti and show the company is pushing forward by dropping the idea that a flagship model has to be a full-size sedan.
Infiniti has a long list of concept vehicles it has failed to convert into production models. The QS Inspiration is a slick-looking electric vehicle, the QX50 mid-sized crossover concept looks luxurious inside and out, the Q80 Inspiration looks like something that could go toe-to-toe with the Lexus LC 500, and the QX80 Monograph is the QX80 the world needs. They all look like Infiniti vehicles should: heavily styled but easily identifiable with genuine attention to detail on the interiors. Yet we're still looking at the same tired lineup we were last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.
If Infiniti starts to put out the cars that it deserves to be known for, branding is still going to be everything. In 2014, Infiniti showed the word the Q50 Eau Rouge. A halo level performance version of the sedan with Nissan GT-R twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 power. It needed new bodywork and a longer nose to fit in the explosive 560-hp engine, and the only other item on the car not off the shelf was a limited-slip rear differential. The reasons given as to why it slowly died on the vine are varied, including the cost of engines being hand-built and not wanting to start a horsepower war, but it would have outclassed cars like BMW M3 and Cadillac ATS- V in power, and been more in line with the M5. Mainly, it seems, Infiniti wasn't interested in having a performance division and competing in that space.
However, there's a reason most brands have a halo car. The Q50 Red Sport is not quite a halo car, as it's a car you buy for the engine despite its interior and handling. If Infiniti were to drop something raw and sublime like a GT-R powered Q50, make a few thousand of them and drop the mic, it would grab the headlines it so desperately needs.