Infiniti debuts G series replacement in Detroit

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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However you want to refer to it - as the next-generation G series or the entirely new Q50 - most will agree that Infiniti's entry-level sport sedan makes a dramatic entrance.

The Japanese luxury brand made sure of this by making the Q50's Detroit auto show debut part of a Cirque de Soleil acrobatics performance, immediately causing all attendees to take notice while simultaneously associating the premium brand with an activity many Infiniti owners (albeit not necessarily the gaggle of journalists gathered) may be inclined to attend. The spectacular performance, along with Infiniti Motor Company Ltd. President Johan de Nysschen's speech and a few comments from Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Shiro Nakamura, can be seen on Infiniti's Facebook page (scroll down a ways), along with YouTube where the video has already been viewed more than 16,000 times by potential Infiniti customers, many of which have left their strongly opinionated comments. Gone are the days when such new car introductions and their spectacular Broadway-like productions might have merely made the evening news to be forgotten about moments later. Now, everything shown and said is available for anyone to see 24/7, and just as easily as Infiniti may use the technology to promote its new sport sedan and otherwise raise brand awareness, that same technology can be used against it by complainants trying to unravel its progress.

Just how the Q50 and Infiniti's new branding strategy fares will be known in time, but likely Nissan's premium marque will continue to thrive and possibly even grow as strong as the automaker hopes thanks to its many fans who are absolutely enamored with the brand. According to the NewMediaMetrics LEAP (Leveraging Emotional Attachment for Profit) index that measures how much we love our corporate icons, Infiniti is rated highest amongst auto brands and even more impressively slots in right behind the Apple iPhone and iPod for third place overall. No wonder they felt the timing was right to change up model designations. That it coincided with the introduction of the latest version of their most popular car is just a bonus.

Infiniti has sold more than 700,000 G series models to date, making it one of the best selling cars in its segment globally and Infiniti's top selling car overall. No doubt there were arguments in the automaker's North American executive boardrooms about tossing out a nameplate that's now indelibly stamped on the collective consciousness of U.S. and Canadian luxury car buyers. Due to its place in the market, many identify the letter G with premium style, performance and luxury, so to trade it in for a letter that's more of a relic of the past is a risk (the full-size Q45 was Infiniti's first luxury car and never a big seller). Nevertheless, Infiniti is a global brand now with sales divisions in almost 50 countries worldwide, so satiating its North American market isn't its only prerogative.

Yes, things are certainly looking up for Infiniti. It now has its own design and engineering teams, a new global headquarters strategically positioned in Hong Kong, and a new global CEO for its topmost corner office. This last year was certainly something to celebrate, with a 15.2-percent improvement in sales compared to 2011.

"We are building a solid reputation for quality, customer care and cutting-edge technology," said Mr. de Nysschen. "And yet with all this progress, Infiniti proudly remains a challenger brand. We know where we are today, and we know where we want to be tomorrow. Yes, we have a long and challenging journey ahead of us, as we craft our brand and shape our destiny. And the new Infiniti Q50 is a hint of the fascinating products that will punctuate our future and elevate the stature of the brand."

While some might be initially confused by the name change, the Q50 itself should cause Infiniti fans and newcomers alike to sit up and take notice. First off, it moves into the 2014 model year with new design details pulled from the marque's gorgeous Essence concept car, stylistic elements that have already inspired the current midsize M sedan, FX crossover sport utility, new JX seven-passenger utility and full-size QX SUV (which incidentally will be renamed Q70, QX70, QX60 and QX80 respectively in the near future). Other than the outgoing G, only the EX compact crossover has yet to adopt Infiniti's shapely new grille design (it will when it becomes the QX50), along with the crescent shaped rear quarter window trim treatment and other niceties. The new Q-ship will offer an even more sculpted look.

The Q50 is curvaceous from nose to tale, but visually it's more an evolution of the old G than a revolutionary change in design direction. That's probably important, as Infiniti may want to change up their powertrain-related alphanumeric naming strategy to make greater sense as it starts offering alternative drivetrains, but they don't want loyal owners to think they're universally changing the entire approach to brand philosophy. Maintaining a consistent look and feel from G37 to Q50 is a good way to appease concerned buyers. This remains true for what lays under the sheet metal and below the car's plush carpeting too, more or less.

While the plan is for even higher quality luxury appointments and more leading-edge technology inside the Q50, the powertrain setup remains front-engine and standard rear-drive with the option of all-wheel drive. The short-lived entry-level 2.5-litre V6 was killed off for the 2013 model year, which makes way for a future four-cylinder gasoline turbo in our market and clean diesel variants elsewhere, while the 3.7-litre V6 will be the standard powerplant at launch. In a smart move, Infiniti will offer a similar 3.5-litre V6 gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain as in the M35h when the Q50 hits the road, which will improve performance even more while reducing fuel consumption. It will go up against the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 and diesel versions of other rivals (however Lexus' new IS 300h won't be sold in North America). The hybrid powertrain currently makes 360-net-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque in the M35h, but the new Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid with Intelligent Dual Clutch Control reportedly combines a 296-horsepower V6 with a 67-hp electric motor for a total of 354-horsepower, and transfers that power through a seven-speed automatic transmission with optional solid magnesium shifter paddles. Those paddle-shifters and a version of the same seven-speed transmission manage shifting duties for the conventional 3.7-litre V6 too, which puts out 328-horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque.

According to CEO de Nysschen, Infiniti had help perfecting the Q50's performance from drivers of the Formula 1 team that wears its logo. Red Bull Racing's triple consecutive world champion Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2011 and 2012) and ex Scuderia Toro Rosso / current Red Bull Racing reserve driver Sebastien Buemi helped to hone the Q50's industry-first Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), a steer-by-wire system that disconnects the conventional mechanical link between the steering wheel and front wheels and then turns those rims via state-of-the-art electronic wizardry in the form of motors and actuators via computer control, of course. DAS responds to driver input quicker than mechanical steering systems and, says Infiniti, has the ability to limit or completely remove bumps on the road, or at least the impacts felt by them. The driver will be able to select from four steering settings to adjust for road conditions or personal preference.

"Someday, all cars will use this technology, but today, you can only get it on an Infiniti," said de Nysschen.

Taking Active Lane Control to new levels, the popular safety system that uses camera-based lane marker detection to intervene if a driver attempts to change lanes while a car is already occupying that lane will join forces with the electronic steering system to enhance on-centre driving.

Lightweight components like DAS, plus more than 50 millimetres of additional width along with reduced height should give the Q50 greater agility than the already adept G37, and this despite offering passengers class-leading rear roominess.

That cabin will be even more driver-focused than the current G with what Infiniti calls a cockpit-like layout, while the brand's new InTouch communications system will come as part of an infotainment system featuring large dual touchscreen displays.

"We challenged ourselves with this new Infiniti Q50 to take another great leap in terms of proportion, Infiniti-ness and premium quality," said Mr. Nakamura. "It presents a new benchmark of Infiniti's sedan leadership."

The 2014 Infiniti Q50 sedan will go on sale throughout North America this summer, with more details including pricing available closer to launch.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Infiniti, Q50, 2014, $40,000 - $49,999, $50,000 - $74,999, Sport Sedan,

Organizations: Infiniti

Geographic location: Detroit

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