Living in the shadow of a parent automotive brand isn’t easy. Lexus once struggled to emerge from Toyota’s shade, Acura still finds itself caught within Honda’s dominant presence, and Infiniti has yet to distinguish itself as much more than Nissan’s extra-leather, rear-wheel drive proprietor.
Though parent-child relationships differ, the inherent qualities of a luxury brand include elevated levels of design, construction, and performance. A premium marque without these characteristics can never hope for healthy separation. In the case of Infiniti, while its value and performance propositions have always been strong, it lacks the premium look and feel necessary to compete with established German and Japanese luxury brands.
But Infiniti’s once-bleak outlook has become rosier as of late. The all-new QX30, for example, couldn’t be a better fit for first-time luxury car buyers. At a time when compact crossovers are the iPhones of the automotive world, Infiniti’s offering is stylish, engaging, and attainable.
Now, following the QX30’s jab is a powerful cross, the all-new Q60 coupe.
Form, Not Formulaic
For Infiniti to build credibility as an elite luxury marque, its designs must be unique and provocative. The Q50 sedan was the world’s first look at inspired styling from the Japanese automaker, and while handsome, it’s difficult to manufacture enthusiasm for a traditional 4-door. Infiniti needed a flagship model.
In the words of Infiniti’s Executive Design Director, the Q60 represents “lean muscularity.” The prominent double-arch grille, signature crescent c-pillar, and “human-eye” headlights are each design cues that will crop up on future models. Unlike the trend of over-designed vehicle exteriors, each curve and edge looks essential to the Q60’s physique.
Contemporary automotive design feels more re-hashed than innovative, yet the Q60’s distinctive beauty is not easily traced to other production models. I’m particularly fond of the car’s flank, which is a far more subtle display of power than the dominant front fascia. Among its current crop of rivals, including the BMW 4 Series, Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, and Lexus RC, the Q60 is by far the most alluring. Its aesthetics simply refuse to fade into a sea of premium coupes.
Too Much Is Never Enough
Unfortunately, the Q60’s external design successes don’t completely carry over to the coupe’s interior treatment. Where the exterior is graceful, the cabin is busy.
A myriad of textures, materials, and styles confuse the eye and hand. Leather-wrapped panels arranged next to soft-touch inserts disrupt the layout almost as much as frenzied seam lines along the door panel. It’s as if the design team couldn’t decide which theme was best, so they simply incorporated all of them.
Apart from an incoherent cockpit, ostentatious silver carbon fiber-esque woven trim, outdated analogue gauges, and a 4-year-old navigation screen are the most obvious weak points. Then there’s the lack of sufficient headroom. As a 6-foot male, I’m slightly above average height, but by no means a giant. Yet with the driver’s seat lowered as much as possible, I have less than an inch of clearance. Those who shop at big and tall stores or with long torsos may find the cabin too restraining.
There are high points to the interior, however. The seats are as elegant as they are comfortable, the anthracite and metal trims (alternatives to the silver pattern) are appealing, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel looks and feels superb.
It’s evident that Infiniti’s designers are clued into the best traits of a luxury cabin, but something’s been lost in translation. I expect this high-end essence will yield tangible refinement before long.
Power and Precision
Despite the Q50’s beautiful exterior, it ultimately fell short of luxury rivals by abandoning the G37’s sporting properties.
Much of the car’s disappointing performance was tied to its Direct Adaptive Steering system (a.k.a. drive-by-wire). Where traditional steering racks are directly connected to the front axle, Infiniti introduced a computer-controlled mediator. Inputs through the wheel would be sent to a standalone CCU, which then communicated movements to the wheels. While a novel idea, the execution was flawed. Infiniti’s jittery, over-responsive system made even the most composed drivers nervous.
The Q60 introduces a new generation of DAS, and Infiniti engineers promise it’s a far more rewarding experience. They’re right. Provided proper adjustments to the 7 (yes seven) steering settings, the inputs are accurate and reasonably engaging. As part of the new DAS system, steering ratios adjust on the fly. Why would you want that? In casual driving situations, the dramatic directional impact of a short-ratio steering system is undesirable, but during demanding maneuvers, larger steering ratios mean more work to pivot the vehicle. An adaptive steering ratio can adjust the required wheel movement intuitively based on driving behavior. In this way, the Q60 is far more adept as a dual-persona chariot than most sport-lux vehicles.
Infiniti’s new DAS system is markedly improved, but the overwhelming number of adjustments will almost certainly compel drivers to leave things in their default settings. Customization is great, but more important is the fact that this drive-by-wire system is both natural and fun.
Now to my favorite part of the all-new Q60: its suspension. Even more impressive than its gorgeous figure, the Q60’s Dynamic Digital Suspension – which is a fancy way of saying adaptive damping – is remarkable. A completely in-house engineering feat, the system intuitively stiffens or softens the ride quality based on performance demands or road surface characteristics. Of course, on smooth California back roads, ride quality is perfect, but only by venturing on a grooved, uneven dirt road do I grasp the system’s potential. Large dips, taken at any sane speed, are no match for Infiniti’s sophisticated dampers. And once back on solid ground, the suspension hunkers down and controls body roll as formidably as GM’s vaunted Magnetic Ride Control.
Yet another highlight is Infiniti’s all-new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6. First of a new VR series of engines, 300hp and 400hp flavors are created depending on tweaks to the boost pressure, turbo speed sensor, and water pump. A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is available for those who are merely after the Q60’s curves, but the Red Sport’s performance is not to be missed. Paired with a 7-speed automatic transmission, the range-topping output is channeled through standard rear-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive setups.
Smooth, efficient power propels the Q60 Red Sport to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds – on par with BMW’s 435i M Sport. Sadly, while previous G-coupes pair acceleration with an exotic exhaust note, the Q60’s twin-turbo acoustics are underwhelming. Muffling road noise within the cabin is one thing, but stifling a performance car’s soul is shameful.
The Q60 is everything a luxury performance coupe should be: attractive, quick, and comfortable. There’s just no comparing this new coupe with its G-badged ancestors. Infiniti’s previous attempts to dignify its brand have yielded some respectable cars for the money, but only now, with the Q60, Q50, and QX30 models, can the marque begin to adequately rival the premium market’s best products.
Pricing for the 2017 Q60 starts at $39,855 for the base 2.0t model, $45,205 for the 300hp twin-turbo V6, and $52,205 for the RWD Red Sport. Independent options like DAS ($1,000), AWD ($2,000), navigation, driver assistance technologies, and adaptive dampers (standard on Silver Sport and Red Sport models) can push the sticker past $60K, but the value proposition is undeniable.
Established luxury brands may have experience, but Infiniti now has momentum.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2017 Infiniti Q60 page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Photo Credit: © 2016 Infiniti / Miles Branman