Q50 a big jump, but will take In­finiti only so far

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By David Booth

JUDG­ING the suc­cess of In­finiti’s new Q50 de­pends very much on per­spec­tive. Do you, for in­stance, gen­er­ally see the for­est? Or are you, as the adage goes, fix­ated on just the one tree?

It’s an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion be­cause, on the one hand, viewed sim­ply as the suc­ces­sor to the pop­u­lar and ever-com­pe­tent G37, the new Q is a quan­tifi­able leap for­ward. It’s roomier, lib­er­ally fes­tooned with high-tech gad­getry and will also, if you’re will­ing to let all those gad­gets work in uni­son, al­most drive it­self. It rides bet­ter, sips fuel more ef­fi­ciently and even of­fers a hy­brid edi­tion, which, sur­prise of sur­prises, is the best of the en­tire lineup.

It’s also no­tice­ably swoop­ier, the G-car get­ting no­tice­ably long in the tooth stylis­ti­cally. The new Q is still very much rec­og­niz­able as a Ja­panese sedan but it’s def­i­nitely not bor­ing or dated, a syn­drome that plagues some of its com­peti­tors.

It should also prove mon­u­men­tally safe, con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of safety nan­nies on board, de­lib­er­ately de­signed to an­noy us all into bet­ter driv­ing.

Viewed, then, in the nar­row con­fines of the Q50 as a re­place­ment for the G37, the (base $37,500) Q50 is ex­actly the car In­finiti needed.

Pe­rused from a loftier height, how­ever, things get a lit­tle murkier. In­finiti, by even Nis­san’s own mea­sure, is not a suc­cess. The com­pany has gained bold head­lines of late for pre­dict­ing it will climb from its rel­a­tively mi­nus­cule 170,000 cars to a more sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant 500,000 in the next four years. That’s a whop­ping 300-per-cent in­crease.

The com­pany has also an­nounced a com­pletely new nomen­cla­ture for its ve­hi­cle lineup, namely all its sedans and coupes will carry a “Q” badge while any­thing re­motely SUV-like will carry a QX moniker.

And that, for those of us look­ing for the rev­o­lu­tion that will see a three-fold in­crease in sales, has been about it. Oh, there’s been a bunch of noise about In­finiti’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the Red Bull Rac­ing For­mula One team, and they did in­deed hire the rough, tough and hard-to-bluff Jo­han de Nyss­chen from Audi of Amer­ica. But, other than that, there’s been pre­cious lit­tle to in­di­cate that a sea change is about to oc­cur in the lux­ury seg­ment.

It’s from this per­spec­tive that I be­lieve In­finiti needed to push the Q50’s en­ve­lope fur­ther. Much fur­ther. Tripling sales ne­ces­si­tates a bold vi­sion, mondo mar­ket­ing dol­lars and de­signs so cap­ti­vat­ing that the con­sum­ing pub­lic sim­ply can’t ig­nore them. Think Audi R8, Chrysler’s orig­i­nal 300 or BMW’s re­make of the Range Rover.

Mild restyling, no mat­ter how ac­com­plished (and the new Q50 cer­tainly is at­trac­tive), sim­ply doesn’t cut the mus­tard. The even bolder al­ter­na­tive is to in­vent an all-new cat­e­gory, as Chrysler did with its Magic Wag­ons, Subaru started with the Out­back and Mercedes man­aged with the CLS. Ei­ther al­ter­na­tive comes with risks, but as fer­vent cap­i­tal­ists are so fond of telling us, there are no re­wards with­out those bold risks.

And that per­haps is the Q50’s only fault. It takes no risks. It pushes no bound­aries. Hell, it uses the same en­gine as the car it suc­ceeds.

As a di­rect re­place­ment for the G37, it may be, as I have men­tioned, a stand­out evo­lu­tion of the cur­rent brand. But as proof that a rev­o­lu­tion has ar­rived at In­finiti deal­ers? Not so much.

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