Infiniti Q50 falls short of BMW in affordable luxury

A new naming convention takes hold with the 2014 Infiniti Q50, replacing the G37 sedan at the bottom of the Nissan luxury subsidiary’s model line, but a revived letter and an attention-grabbing face lift fail to solve its biggest problem: the competition.

The car’s face evokes a cherub eating Japanese salted plum candies; the car is happy to meet you, but is clearly experiencing some discomfort.

Beginning life a decade ago as the G35, the entry-level luxury sedan from Infiniti continues to toil in the shadow of the all-singing, all-dancing BMW 3 Series. Though Johan de Nysschen, president of the Infiniti brand, did not mention that or any other competitor by name in his address on 14 January at the Detroit auto show, the Bavarian sedan loomed large between his teleprompter-served lines.

Infiniti has done Q cars before. Its former flagship sedan bore the letter, and its top-line SUV goes by QX. Though the alphabetical resurrection is notable, the Q50 does not hold up its end of the bargain.

The car’s cheeks – pardon, face – which chief creative officer Shiro Nakamura described as a “double arch grille”, evokes a cherub eating Japanese salted plum candies; the car is happy to meet you, but is clearly experiencing some discomfort. Above the rear wheel, a crescent character line appears lifted from the Nissan Altima, a midsize sedan priced more than $15,000 less than the outgoing G37.

Power comes, at least at its US launch later this summer (China and Europe follow later in the year), from a 3.7-litre V6 producing 328 horsepower and a hybrid powertrain, for which de Nysschen did not announce specifics. Fuel economy and pricing will also be announced closer to its summer sale date. A first for the brand, which de Nysschen said was a first for the industry, was Direct Adaptive Steering, an electric system said to be more precise and responsive than hydraulic systems.

Infiniti omitted mention of the G coupe, the luxurious, stronger-selling equivalent to Nissan’s 370 Z sports car. Asked in an interview following the press conference about the omission, de Nysschen said the G coupe, too, would wear a Q, as the Q60.

“The coupe is an important part of our plan,” he said. “Expect Q60 about two-and-a-half years down the road.”

The BMW 3 Series has met every challenge brought by Audi and Mercedes-Benz, as well as by Japanese and American brands. Like Lexus, Acura and, increasingly, Cadillac, Infiniti can no longer trumpet cash savings over BMW’s 3 Series in its advertising. It must rely on the drive, and above all, the slippery calculus of “premium”, to woo buyers.

To this, Nakamura noted that the brand would rely on “Infinitiness” to distinguish its offering in the marketplace. Whether that is a winning substance remains for drivers to decide.