To improve the appeal of its new models in Europe, Infiniti is also setting-up a dedicated design studio adjacent to Nissan’s London site to create a new generation of models to European tastes, all under the skilful eye of experienced British designer Simon Cox.
Meanwhile engineers at Nissan’s Cranfield engineering centre are adding fire to the Infiniti badge by shoehorning the Nissan GT-R’s 500bhp-plus twin-turbo V6 into the new Q50.
For the time being though, the new Q50 saloon, a BMW 3-series competitor, is the most tangible evidence of what Infiniti is capable of and where it is going. And, to be honest, the report is a mixed bag.
Lots of things are good: styling, interior quality, infotainment, build quality and V6 petrol engine. The touchscreen interior, for example, sets new standards in the class for integrated design, while the lane-following cameras and safety sensors bring interesting new technology.
However, I remain puzzled why a hybrid boasting a high level of electrification, including three levels of adjustable steering weighting, has an old-school, foot-pedal operated parking brake.
In terms of engineering basics, the Q50 suffers inconsistent control weightings, particularly a difficult-to-modulate regenerative braking system, an unnecessarily stiff ride, and adaptive steering, which is hard to adapt to.
While that final edge of engineering sophistication is missing, the inexplicable conclusion is that the Q50 ranks lower in the ratings in the incredibly competitive world of £40k sporty saloons, which is disappointing given Infiniti’s new-found global ambitions.
More positively, I suspect that an intensive six-month development programme by British engineers at Cranfield might turn the Q50 into a more convincing challenger.
That chance at least comes later this year when a new 209bhp twin-turbo four-cylinder petrol Q50 (using a version of a Mercedes engine) is launched.
I wouldn’t write-off Infiniti yet, though, if only because much more has yet to come from a determined, skilled and experienced management team pushing the project hard with a new model pipeline that stretches out to 2018-20.
By that time Nissan will have spent close to $10 billion (about £6bn) to snaffle a hoped-for 10 per cent of the global luxury market – equivalent to about 500,000 cars.
But I still wonder if the long-term strategic direction is yet clear enough, particularly given Nissan/Infiniti’s strong-point in electrified powertrains. Given that Infiniti can’t yet better its main European rivals in details like braking refinement, ride quality and steering feel, maybe it should head out in a new direction?
At Frankfurt last September, the big news was the BMW i3 and i8. Not just their electric powertrains, but the construction method and how that dictated their styling.
A late night bar chat with Infiniti staffers meandered around this subject and general feeling was that the ‘i-theme’ was a game-changer for a new breed of electrified luxury and sports models.
What if Infiniti could bottle that same appeal, and mix it with the electrified powertrains that Nissan and Infiniti are already expert in?