Test Drive: GT-R Lite? - The 2017 Infiniti Q60
|Infiniti casts a serious eye on the competition with its new Q60.|
I've been a huge fan of Infiniti's G-series since the third generation first debuted in 2003 and showed that Japanese luxury cars finally had the sauce to challenge BMW's perennial claim to building the best sport sedans and coupes in the world. The G35 as it was known then was Infiniti's first true hit. It won numerous awards and managed to do the unthinkable – beat BMW's seemingly invincible 3-series in magazine comparison tests.
In 2005 I became the proud owner of a black G35 coupe, a car that I loved dearly but gave up to get my R35. With 20/20 hindsight I wish I'd never traded in that car and instead kept it along with the GT-R, especially since it was the rare row-your-own version. Infiniti hit a home-run with that car's styling – it was extremely good-looking and yet distinctive from the European offerings. Power was copious and it was wonderful to drive – after all it was basically a 350Z with an extra two seats for imaginary friends or a pair of hobbits to occupy.
|My old G35 in Texas while moving from Ohio to Arizona over a decade ago. Texas has awesome rest stops by the way.|
Because of my affection for the G35 I've followed Infiniti's progress over the years in developing replacements. The G35 and its successors should particularly interest Skyline fans since the G35 was known as the Skyline 350GT in Japan to continue the name and that's carried on with later models. The G37 was a good-looking and very competent successor but it didn't quite have the skill set to fully challenge the Germans like it's predecessor did. 2012 saw the introduction of Infiniti's current bewildering “Q all the cars” naming scheme and the widely-loved G-series became the Q50 and Q60. Same good car, new stupid name.
Maddening as the new inscrutable naming structure might be, the unveiling of a striking new Q60 concept last year promised a possible return to the glory days of the G35. The concept was very handsome and again was distinctive from the competition but it remained to be seen whether Infiniti could translate it properly to production.
Fast-forward to late 2016 and the new Q60 is finally here. While on a trip to Vegas I figured that was my chance to check it out in person and Park Place Infiniti graciously let me slide behind the wheel of a Q60 Sport. Sadly they didn't have the top-of-the-range Q60 Red Sport 400 yet that I was really interested in but it's less expensive sibling still packed the same brand new twin-turbo VR30DDTT motor, only detuned to “just” 300 horsepower. With both the Red Sport and the regular Sport being available in AWD as well as RWD you'd be forgiven for thinking the 2+2 Q60 is like a cover version of the GT-R. I was hoping that like a good Vegas tribute band you'd get an experience that's not quite as awesome but still pretty good and at a price that's easier on the pocket.
|The new Q60 has a striking look when you first see it in person.|
The new motor's name might sound familiar. Yes, it's a VR V6 just like the one in the R35 GT-R and it shares some of the same design elements. It introduces some interesting new tech though that wasn't present in the VR38DETT. First difference is indicated by the name – instead of DE it's DD because this engine uses direct injection instead of port injection for better fuel economy. The TT part stays the same because of the parallel twin turbos that use integrated exhaust manifolds similar to the GT-R for more compactness. In the VR30 however the turbos will come in two flavors: a “low-boost” 8.7 psi version for the regular Sport Q50 (the four-door sedan brother of the Q60) and Q60 that puts out the aforementioned 300hp, and a more potent Red Sport version that turns up the puff to 14.7 psi to unlock 400 horses of wild Japanese rage. In addition to the added air pressure, the Red Sport turbos are also supposed to be allowed to spool at 30% faster peak RPMs than the lesser version.
The new motor also uses water-to-air intercoolers instead of the more common air-to-air setup like on the R35. Other new turbocharged performance cars like the Cadillac ATS-V are adopting this configuration since it results in a more compact intake tract that helps with turbo lag and engine packaging. Electronic wastegates are also now present on the VR30 instead of the traditional vacuum actuated systems.
For those drivers that want the baller looks on a microbrewed beer budget Infiniti also offers the base Q60 with a Mercedes-sourced 208 horsepower turbo inline-4. As a GT-R owner I was naturally more interested in the beefier versions.
So, the new V6 motor sounds promising with all this fancy new tech but how's the rest of the package?
|The new profile is very handsome, especially in black.|
Well, let's start with the obvious, the exterior. The new Q60 is a looker, plain and simple. The new shape manages to combine sleekness with enough muscularity to look the part as a luxury sports coupe. The proportions are great with a nicely-sloped hood flowing to raised, powerful-looking haunches. The front end has those beatifully-sculpted headlights and the current large Infiniti signature grille that looks better integrated than previous efforts.
That being said, there are a few miscues I think. Unlike its 2003 predecessor that didn't seem to have a wrong line anywhere the new Q60 suffers from the busy-ness that all car designs seem to be afflicted with now. There's an odd dimple on the nose that seems unnecessary, the side vents aren't as cleanly-integrated as they could be, and the bottom corners of the rear bumper have these unsightly plastic pieces that just make that area look messy instead of elegant and clean. Also odd to me is the large Infinti badge on the front that instead of being a three-dimensional sculpted piece like on the Q50, now looks like it's painted onto a piece of plastic. It's a weird choice since the production Q60 they unveiled in Detroit last January appeared to have the much better looking Q50-style logo.
|I don't quite get why the new Q60 uses this incongruous looking plastic piece for the Infiniti logo instead of the nicer version on its sedan sibling in the photo below.|
|Those black plastic pieces on the bottom corners just clutter up the design.|
All of those are details however that are easy to overlook in the grand, good-looking scheme of the Q60's exterior. The ultimate test to me of good car styling is whether it makes you want to keep glancing at it as you leave it behind in a parking lot and the 2017 Q60 passes that test handily.
A nice exterior is one thing but most of your time with this type of car will hopefully be spent inside enjoying the driving experience - so it better have a great inside to match the outside. Thankfully the Q60 has an interior that's a very nice place to spend time in indeed. Beautifully trimmed leather seats in the front hug your body nicely and provide just the right support while the rear seats look good but are strictly useful for making passengers fight to ride shotgun. The leather-wrapped wheel is nicely shaped and all controls fall readily to hand in trademark Japanese fashion. On the center console are two stacked displays that are highly legible and easy to navigate without requiring a PhD in rocket surgery. The dash has lovely sculpted lines that flow nicely into the door panels with eye-catching silver Bose speaker grilles mounted prominently midway up. It all has an upscale look that compares well to its rivals.
|The new interior is inviting and pleasing to the eye.|
|The top screen handles navigation and car status while the bottom shows radio and climate control settings.|
So far so good , the Q60 has distinctively handsome looks inside and out like the G35 but does it drive and handle like it's German-baiting ancestor? Well, the Q60 is good – but it's not quite the G35's second coming.
The new tech in the engine pays off with effortless thrust and little to no hint of turbo lag like in the R35. The ride is suppler than what my old G35 could offer even with the Q set in Sport+ mode. Although I didn't get any real chance to take the one I drove through the twisties the car felt taut enough through the few curves we did encounter. And the brakes proved more than ample when an inattentive driver locked up in front of us while trying to avoid remodeling the rear end of the car ahead of her.
|Trunk space is pretty decent for a luxury sports coupe.|
All good then right? To most buyers probably yes. It's a buttery-smooth, sexy-looking luxury coupe that'll do well taking you to either the country club or the dance club. If you fancy yourself more of a Jack Brabham than a Jack Nicklaus however, the Q60, at least in regular Sport trim, feels like it's missing that last ingredient in the secret sauce.
While the old G35 had a nice rorty exhaust note the Q60 almost never intrudes into the cabin until, as Top Gear would say, you really give it some welly. Combine that with a slightly numb drive-by-wire steering plus only offering an automatic and the car starts to seem anesthetic in terms of driving pleasure. Basically it's lacking that little bit of personality and sense of occasion a car like this - that makes a point of using the word Sport in its name and is endowed with such a sexy body - should have.
If you think of the base and regular Sport Q60 as luxury sport coupes with an emphasis on the luxury part then it's easier to forgive the lack of sportier characteristics. Starting under 40 grand the new Q60 handily undercuts its competition from Germany and Japan while offering similar or better amenities. For most people the Q60 is a serious competitor in the luxury coupe market. The regular Sport is a great car objectively and should prove to be a commercial success for Nissan's luxury brand, it just needs a little bit more of the subjective magic that makes a great driver's car. Even BMW has softened over the years though and buyers have responded by snapping up more, not less, of the Bavarian brand's offerings. The M cars are still there for the more hardcore drivers.
|I have to admire Infiniti's decision to be subtle with the Red Sport. The only real badging difference will be this red S instead of the silver one on the regular Sport.|
In the same vein as the M cars the Red Sport is positioned above its lesser siblings and maybe it'll be the one to deliver on the promise of a GT-R Lite. With another 100 rampant ponies on tap giving a reported 0-60 of 4.5 seconds and a price starting at around $52,000 it'll certainly be a good value performance car for those wanting something a bit more upscale. When I get a chance to drive one then we'll see if maybe my old G35 has finally been reincarnated in a new body.
Many thanks to Park Place Infiniti for letting me have an extended test drive of the Q60 and to Sales Experience Manager Ric “Cowboy” Vanderbur for being a lively and interesting companion during that drive.