First Drive: 2017 Infiniti Q60 Coupe

 

Historically, Infiniti’s performance-oriented cars came with a gun sight on their hoods, aimed squarely at BMW. Granted, in this case “history” does not go back too far, but one always got the sense Infiniti was pretty serious about its performance credentials. The G35 and G37 (in both sedan and coupe) fought the good fight with rear-drive-based chasses, robust naturally aspirated V6 engines, available manual gearboxes, well-sorted hydraulic steering and cohesive body control.

“The machine is not cold; the machine has a story. We want you to feel the handprint of the artist. The body must be muscular and tense, but the muscles are not over-exerted.”

Infiniti’s first sports coupe, the G35 Coupe, launched as a 2002 model. Fifteen years on, we’re in San Diego to drive the automaker’s third-generation four-place two-door, the 2017 Q60.

Designed under the watchful eye of Infiniti’s Executive Design Director, Alfonso Albaisa, the 2017 Q60 is unquestionably a damn fine-looking car. It is lower and wider than the outgoing G37 Coupe (recently renamed Q60… confused?), and comes at us with a scaled-up double-arch grille flanked by “human eye” headlights. The flanks are heavily sculpted and the arches filled with nineteen-inch rolling stock. Loud and proud is Infiniti’s brand stamp – the chrome crescent C-pillar.

In Albaisa’s words, “The machine is not cold; the machine has a story. We want you to feel the handprint of the artist. The body must be muscular and tense, but the muscles are not over-exerted.”

Arriving in Canadian showrooms now, the 2017 Q60 comes in three flavours. The base car gets a 208 hp, 258 lb-ft turbocharged 2.0L four (courtesy of Mercedes-Benz) while the two upper trims run with Nissan’s new VR30 twin-turbo 3.0L V6 that replaces the long-serving 3.5L and 3.7L naturally aspirated VQ V6s. Following the current trend of downsizing and turbocharging, the VR30 is lighter, produces more torque and sips less fuel.

It is offered in two states of tune – 300 hp and 295 lb-ft, or 400 hp and 350 lb-ft in the 400 Red Sport version. In both cases, maximum torque is on board from 1,600 to 5,200 rpm. Techy highlights include an exhaust manifold/turbo combo integrated into the heads which reduces weight, noise, vibration and allows for faster turbo spool up. The VR30 also sports water-cooled intercoolers, plus a lightweight resin intake manifold and oil pan.

This time around there are no manual transmissions. A seven-speed auto with paddle shifters does duty with both four- and six-cylinder engines. Regardless of engine or trim level, all Canadian 2017 Q60s get all-wheel drive and roll on 19-inch alloys.

Infiniti predicts the entry-level Q60 2.0t AWD that starts at $45,990 will account for only five percent of sales. Base equipment includes moonroof, LED headlights, eight-way bolstered sport seats trimmed in faux leather, rearview monitor, contrast-stitched dash and door panels and Bluetooth. Moving up to $49,990 Premium nets leather, navigation and an excellent 13-speaker Bose audio system. Add another $2,000 for the camera/radar-based Driver Assistance Package (surround-view monitor, adaptive cruise, forward and back-up collision intervention, active blind-spot and lane-departure intervention).

Six-cylinder models in 300 hp trim will garner the bulk of sales, predicted at sixty percent. These open with the 300 hp Q60 3.0t AWD Premium at $52,990, which can be loaded up with adaptive damping, Infiniti’s ta-da drive-by-wire steering (DAS), plus all the tech and safety goodies.

At this global media launch the assembled journalists are driving only the top-dog 3.0t Red Sport 400 AWD Technology that checks in at $64,190. It bristles with all the kit – Driver Assistance Package, DAS (Direct Active Steering) and new-for-2017 DDS (Dynamic Digital Suspension). 

This is the version Infiniti hopes will land a few hurtin’ blows on its techy blue-chip German rivals: the Audi S5, BMW 435i and Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Coupe. None of these six-cylinder turbo Teutons make 400 horsepower, so the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport at the very least claims bragging rights here.

Let’s head for the rolling hills and see what Infiniti has up its sleeve.

The new “spinal support” seats certainly live up to their billing. I feel firmly coddled in this interior that shows as much design artistry as the car’s metal skin. The beautiful white leather and unique silver fibre trim brings a lightness to the proceedings that dismisses the dour default Germanic coal-bin black with a wave. Build quality is exquisite. The centre stack is dominated by two touchscreens – an eight-inch upper and seven-inch lower that works as a control panel. Thankfully, Infiniti also includes a suite of nicely integrated physical buttons (remember those?), giving hard points for HVAC and audio control. Strangely, there’s no support here for Apple CarPlay or Andriod Auto, but Infiniti’s InTouch will integrate with your smartphone.

In front of me are two large analogue gauges under the binnacle. The driving position is spot on and forward visibility fine thanks to the low cowl.

First and foremost, the Q60 Red Sport 400 AWD Technology comes across as a comfortable luxury conveyance. The adaptive suspension smooths the ride and the cabin is serene thanks to standard active noise cancellation and targeted sound insulation. My driving partner, Massimo, is from Milan. His English is severely limited. My Italian? Fuggedaboutit. Nonetheless, his smiles and hand gestures indicate he is equally impressed with the Q60’s composure. Power delivery from the twin-turbo V6 is silken with nary a hint of turbo lag, and the seven-speed auto blends the shifts into seamless progress.

The Drive Mode toggle switch beckons. There are six settings – Snow, Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Personal. In fact, Infiniti tells us there are 336 possible dynamic combinations here when factoring in the adaptive damping and the drive-by-wire (DAS) steering’s seven settings. Yikes.

I flick to Sport and feel the underpinnings firm, throttle response quicken and the drive-by-wire steering (standard on the 400) quicken and gain some heft. Over these undulating and smooth inland roads, the Q60 cuts a clean path through the arid landscape, and yes, that 400 hp twin-turbo V6 gives this car a mighty turn of speed. The most aggressive Sport+ setting quickens the steering further and loosens the reigns on the stability control.

And yet, the Q60 400 never loses its civility, never gets truly playful. There are no antisocial snaps, crackles or pops from the polite exhaust, and this second-generation drive-by-wire steering, which is vastly improved, still doesn’t provide a whole lot of feedback. Infiniti has smoothed all the dynamic edges.

Nothing here pokes at your inner idiot. There’s no brainy electronic rear differential or torque vectoring on board, and even in its firmest setting the adaptive damping is far from trying to rearrange your internal organs. The shift paddles respond with just enough laziness to render them mostly ornamental.

For those who want more engagement in this segment, the upcoming 2018 Audi S5 snaps to attention when Dynamic drive mode is selected, going on an unholy, unflappable tear underscored by a beautifully rapturous exhaust.

So we’ll say Infiniti’s new beauty stresses aesthetics over athletics, and this is no bad thing. The golfing crowd will appreciate the additional 75 litres of trunk space, and those who have to fold themselves into the back seats will find them nicely contoured even though headroom and legroom is, well… coupe-like.

By all indications Infiniti has tailored the Q60 to a more mature demographic that values style, comfort and technology over ultimate apex-strafing abilities. Smart move. These folks got the money, don’cha know. The premium coupe market may be just a tiny slice, but global data shows it is growing (up to five percent), and the 2017 Infiniti Q60, be it four- or six-cylinder, will surely seduce on looks alone.

Infiniti’s third-generation coupe ramps up the speed, beauty and civility