There is little point in luxury minnow Infiniti going down established lines or launching product free of risk. If it wants to tear strips from the Germans and Lexus, it needs to be boldly different from the pack.
This is where the brand newInfiniti Q60 couperolls in. This dramatic successor to the lukewarm (but big-selling in America) Q60/G37 is pitched as a youthful, internationalist and high-tech answer to theBMW 4 Series,Mercedes-Benz C-ClassandLexus RC.
Sporting fabulously curvaceous and highly distinctive lines, a potent new twin-turbo V6 engine, a proper rear-wheel drive layout and fancy steering-by-wire and ‘digital’ suspension systems to appeal to the young and successful, it’s a bold and aggressive move.
Simply put, Nissan-ownedInfinitiis getting serious, tiny sales in Australia notwithstanding. For evidence, see the company’s recent moves to headquarter in Hong Kong, sponsor a Formula One team, and grow sales beyond its US stronghold and into Europe and Asia.
Here we drive the flagship Q60 derivative with the highest-output engine, at its international launch in the US, six months ahead of an Australian premiere in the first few months of 2017.
Right off the bat the Q60 coupe has wow factor. The large grille, the sleek and menacing headlights with angry DRLs, the exaggerated and deeply sculpted side flanks, the ‘crinkle cut’ rear window line and wide haunches give the car genuine presence. Tick.
If you’re a well-to-do performance car shopper asking why the hell you’d buy an Infiniti over a BMW 4 Series (beyond exclusivity), the design is reason enough. Read our news story into the company’s process here.
But Infiniti swears black and blue that the all-new Q60 goes deeper than this surface level. We were greeted on the global launch by brand executives telling us to expect a coupe that handles, goes like the clappers and offers a genuinely prestigious cabin.
The result, based on our first impression, is mixed, but we walked away with a much clearer and more positive impression on what Infiniti is going for — and how it is carving a path of its own within the luxury landscape.
The Infiniti Q60’s cabin takes much fromthe Q50 sedan that we’re familiar with already. Some may say a little too much, but consider the 4 Series and C-Class before casting aspersions.
The materials used are certainly premium, with high quality leathers, metallics and plastics throughout, a lovely new steering wheel design and well-bolstered bucket seats (with a small pair in the back, sporting ISOFIX anchors).
Equipment includes a 13-speaker Bose sound system, sat-nav, leather trims and an advanced suite of preventative safety features such as an around-view camera, blind-spot intervention and lane assist. Nissan is big on autonomous car development, and Infiniti is obviously a testbed.
Complaints are limited to the archaic foot-operated parking brake and the odd piece of Nissan switchgear (such as the electric window buttons, which remind one of the Lexus RC’s cruise control switch that’s froma Yaris).
The double-screen setup that dominates the fascia is also distinctive, and while many will long for a BMW-style iDrive rotary toggle, it’s simple to see the kind of Silicon Valley dot-com type that’s being targeted here.
Sure, there are copious menus to dig through and some duplications to be found, but if you think of the top screen as the permanent map display and the lower screen as your infotainment/driving mode control hub, it makes sense. You adjust.
Below this sits a circular dial to control the maps, which is certainly not the last word in intuitiveness, and a little switchto control the drive modes. There are six, from Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual, to adjust the parameters of the steering resistance, throttle response, gearbox behaviour and damper force.
The Infiniti Q60 lacks Audi’s teutonic quality andVirtual Cockpit, a BMW’s snugness and a Mercedes-Benz’s Hollywood wow factor, but it has a tech-y and well-built vibe all of its own. A sort of old-school Japanese overkill, with features and menus galore.
Under the bonnet of the Q50-based Q60 coupe’s curvaceous nose is a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine, serving as the successor to Nissan’s famed VQ naturally aspirated units. It makes 298kW at 6400rpm and 475Nm between 1600 and 5200rpm.
Note: Australia will also get a base version with the Mercedes-Benz 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine with 155kW/350Nm, available near the end of 2016.
Matched to the 298kW engine is a seven-speed automatic transmission with torque converter and paddle shifters on the wheel, and a rear-drive configuration. The AWD Q60 won’t come to Australia. The claimed 0-100km/h time is just over five seconds, so it’s no slouch.
The engine is an impressive one, pairing an atmo engine’s relatively instantaneous delivery with a strong mid-range. It’s an urgent and smooth engine that seems to be a worthy successor to award-dominating VQ — long a Nissan staple.
Moreover, put the car in Sport + and plant your foot, and you’ll get the rear Bridgestone tyres on 19-inch wheels chirping readily sans ESC interference. Ya-hoo.
All we’d like is a little more theatre from the exhaust. The note is never more than crisp and a little bland. The odd growl, and some crackles on the overrun, would complement the dramatic look. And as we know, noQ60-based BMW M4/C63 AMGrival is coming yet.
The seven-speed automatic transmission is usually fairly non-intrusive, though you can catch it on the hop and holding the wrong ratio if you do something out of the ordinary, like plant the throttle from a moderate rolling speed. A dual-clutch might suit this car.
Dynamic impressions of the Infiniti Q60 are very much centred on personal taste.
Certainly, the chassis balance feels decent enough, though near the limit it’s not quite as nimble and taut as a 4 Series, and the adjustable ride gave decent suppleness/rounding-off around town and acceptably tied-down body control under duress in the twisty bits. The big (355mm/350mm diameter) brakes also have formidable stopping power.
Of course, we can’t make this call until we drive the Q60 on Australian roads early next year, and play more with all the various drive modes, especially playing with the Dynamic Digital Suspension (electronically adjustable dampers with variable force).
One feature that will certainly polarise is the Direct Adaptive Steering system, a second generation of Infiniti’s steer-by-wire system with various resistance levels. The lack of any primary mechanical coupling (there’s a latent backup system, though) means kickback is negated, and the directness in infinitely programmable.
Despite the promise of more feel and feedback, the system remains anodyne and lacking in any sense of communication between the front wheels and the driver’s hands. On the positive side, the directness takes you aback, thus the inputs required can be extremely low. Prepare to regularly correct until you’ve adjusted (so long as you’re in Sports mode).
Is such a system to my taste? Not particularly. I’d like a more natural feel. However, the Q60’s wheel offers a very ‘video game’ experience that will delight many, and we commend the company for daring to do something different (and hedge for car autonomy).
And that’s a good way to think of the Infiniti Q60 as a whole. More than a styling exercise, this sports coupe made in Japan, designed largely for America and funded from Hong Kong is very much its own beast.
A final verdict will be contingent on pricing, though we’d expect it to undercut the less powerful BMW 440i and company while offering more equipment. A ballpark figure of around $85,000 wouldn’t surprise (expect the 2.0-litre version to be around $60k), given the $80k price ofthe Q50 twin-turbo sedan.
Regardless, the Q60 is a powerful, head-turning and fast coupe brimming with modern technology and internationalist appeal, that just needs a little more driving engagement and theatre to be properly great.
Some will love it, some will not, but nobody interested in the coupe market should ignore it. For a relative premium upstart like Infiniti, praise can’t really come much higher than that.