Infiniti is a company that has always lacked a real identity.
Since the company was formed in 1989 it has often been billed as the Japanese BMW: a luxury brand like its Acura and Lexus compatriots, but with more sporting pretense. The foil to Lexus’s blandness and Acura’s affordable luxury. But that label was never really accurate; Infiniti didn’t really have a hit in the sports car segment until the G35 landed in 2003.
Infiniti has never kept pace with its Japanese rivals, but sales figures have declined further in recent years. In 2013, Infiniti sold 116,455 cars in the U.S. (about 130,000 worldwide), down nearly 3% from 2012. Lexus more than doubled Infiniti’s worldwide sales in the U.S. alone (273,847, up 12.2%).
To put this into perspective, BMW sold nearly 400,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2013 (over 1.5 million worldwide).
Infiniti needs a serious flagship to change the public’s perception of the brand and sell more vehicles. Now that the company is free from Nissan’s control, it might have a chance. Enter the newest member of the terribly-named Q family: the Q70S.
Well, mostly new.
Sure, the name is new -- the Q70 used to be the Infiniti M, the old flagship sedan -- but it’s still on a Nissan platform, powered by a Nissan engine (the venerable VQ series, found in everything from the Nissan 350Z to the “new” Q50). Infiniti hasn’t completely reinvented themselves just yet. But they’ve bought some nicer clothes and did some crossfit to bring us the Q70S (Sport).
The Q70, like the M before it, sits at the top of the Infiniti range, but competes in the mid-size luxury sedan segment (think Mercedes E Class, BMW 5 Series). But it starts just under $50,000, priced to compete more with Lexus than with the German brands.
The Q70 is handsome, but only if you’re really looking at the details. Raindrop waves and swoops are strewn about the body and cabin; it’s a design that works well with the high beltline of modern cars and it’ll blend into a parking lot filled with other luxury cars. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t stand out enough -- actually, it resembles a late-model Nissan Maxima, especially in such a normal color. Even the sport version isn’t particularly daring, despite its angular, semi-aggressive face.
It’s still a subtle car, despite its “sport” name. It’s got presence, but not because the car is imposing or even particularly memorable. It’s just large. Most people will see the gigantic Infiniti badges and recognize the car’s luxury status, but they won’t notice any of the performance touches on the outside of the Q70S. If you know what to look for though, the clues are there: the Sport gets massive four-piston front and two-piston rear brakes, barely crammed beneath 20 inch wheels. The wheel arches are filled out well in this guise (regular Q70 models look like they skipped leg day) though there’s still a bit too much wheel gap for my taste.
Infiniti’s made a good-looking car, but nothing groundbreaking.
The Q70S comes with a slightly faster steering rack that should be swapped into every slow, numb, wandering normal Q70. It’s a vast improvement over the regular steering system and it does a decent enough job, though it’s still not something to get too fussed over. The chassis and suspension are wallowy and lazy. But there is an unexpected star: the brakes.
If only every car came with brakes this good.
Those massive discs bring the hefty Q70S to a halt better than brakes I’ve tested on lighter sports compacts, with more progressive pedal feel to boot.
Too bad the Q70S gains speed half as dramatically as it sheds it.
The Q70S has a familiar, Nissan-sourced 3.7L naturally aspirated V6 with 330 horsepower and 270lb of torque. It’s enough to move the roughly 3800lb boat to sixty miles per hour in too much time for anyone to still be interested by the end of first gear.
Okay. It takes six seconds.
Sure, the power is enough to move the wheel. That’s okay in the base car, but Infiniti bills this as the performance-oriented version. So what gives, Infiniti? We get improved steering, better tires and fantastic brakes, but no extra power. Where’s the excitement?
Well, if you deactivate the traction and stability control, you can get the Q70S to play ball. It’ll do burnouts and some powerslides if you want, and it’s honestly fun to get a car this soft sideways in second gear. But there’s nothing here you couldn’t do (albeit with a bit more courage involved) in a regular Q70. Even the added summer tires don’t inspire enough confidence to throw this car around a back road -- it changes directions like an out-of-shape former athlete on the field. He can move better than you expect, but every time he switches paths there’s a lot of extra jiggling.
It feels like the engineering team had more planned for the Q70S, but the accountants cut them off. The car needs a new engine (or at least some forced induction) and some better suspension.
Oh, there’s Infiniti’s standard-issue 7-speed automatic too, with some paddle shifters. It’s not bad in manual mode, but it’s jerky and indecisive in full automatic; it could never decide whether it wanted third, fourth, or fifth around town, and randomly kicked into first gear just before stop signs. If the gearbox was a person, it’d be a really annoying partner who constantly switched channels on the TV.
So, despite the Q70S being the top “performance” model that Infiniti sells, it’s not really a performance-oriented car. It’s more of an incremental package; not top-shelf performance like the BMW M5, but more like the middle ground M Sport.
So the Q70 isn’t that satisfying to drive. But it is much better equipped than most of its competition.
The Q70 starts just below $50,000, like the BMW 5 series. Our Q70S retailed for a smidge under $60,000. These prices may seem expensive but a similarly equipped BMW 535i will cost you over $70,000. Plus the Q70 comes standard with things like multiple cameras and heated/cooled seats -- BMW makes you pay extra for these things.
So why is it so much cheaper? Well it’s not because Infiniti skimped on material quality. The Q70 cabin is adorned with beautiful leather selections, from the center consoles to the dashboard and even the door cards. It’s a pleasant, relaxing place to be, even if the center console has far too many buttons and the infotainment system is dated.
Infiniti can’t charge as much money as the top dogs because they’re missing one thing: brand respect. The Infiniti name still doesn’t mean much; part of the reason more respected luxury brands can charge more for their products is because people like to be able to say things like, “I drive a Mercedes.” The names carry weight, and manufacturers know this.
So Infiniti has sought to change this, by homologating their product line’s names. But it hasn’t worked. The name is actually a huge issue - does anyone know what a Q70 is? Not one person I talked to knew what this was -- they’d never even heard of the name. Infiniti was already fighting an uphill battle with brand recognition, but under Johan de Nysschen they named Everything Q or QX. So instead of standing out, the Q70 drowns in alphanumerical car hell. Infiniti needed a new naming convention, but this wasn’t the way to go to help the brand.
The Q70S is a good start for an independent Infiniti, but it’s half-baked. It’s not the showstopper the brand desperately needs. Can we have the Q50 Eau Rouge already?