DriveTimes five

Things to know about In­finiti

Sunday Star-Times - - DRIVETIMES -

Last week we took a look at Seat. In­finiti is an­other brand that is new to New Zealand, at least in an of­fi­cial sense (used imports are hardly un­com­mon on our roads). This week we an­swer five ques­tions we bet you can’t wait to ask about the Ja­panese lux­ury brand.

Where does it fit?

In­finiti is part of the mas­sive Renault-Nis­san-Mit­subishi Al­liance that in­cludes 10 brands. As well as the three in the name, In­finiti, Renault Sam­sung Mo­tors, Da­cia, Alpine, Dat­sun, Venu­cia (a Chi­nese-mar­ket brand) and Lada are all in the club.

In­finiti leads the lux­ury charge for the Al­liance, with many of its cars hav­ing Nis­san equiv­a­lents in the Ja­panese do­mes­tic mar­ket. How­ever, an in­creas­ing num­ber of mod­els are In­finiti-spe­cific, al­beit based on other plat­forms, such as the 370Z-based Q60 coupe and the Mercedes-Benz A-class-based Q30 hatch and QX30 SUV. While most of its mod­els are built in Ja­pan, the QX60 SUV was the first In­finiti to be pro­duced in a for­eign mar­ket (the US), while some are now also pro­duced in China and the UK.

How old is it?

In­finiti launched in the US in Novem­ber 1989, 11 months af­ter Toy­ota launched its Lexus lux­ury brand there. Honda had launched its Acura brand in the US a few years ear­lier and Mazda fol­lowed with its Efini brand (con­fus­ingly pro­nounced ‘‘In­fini’’) a few years later.

Why the US? Well, it seems that Ja­panese gov­ern­ment had in­tro­duced vol­un­tary ex­port re­straints to the US mar­ket, so ex­port­ing and build­ing lux­ury cars in the US was more prof­itable for the Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers. Plus, if all your friends were jump­ing off cliffs, wouldn’t you do it too?

Does it race?

Yes and no. Be­tween 1996 and 2001 In­finiti sup­plied en­gines to a num­ber of teams in the Indy Rac­ing League (now known as Indy Car). The en­gine was based on the V8 Nis­san VH en­gine used in the In­finiti Q45, but was sig­nif­i­cantly down on power com­pared with other en­gines in the field.

In­finiti al­most en­tered For­mula 1 in 2011, with the Renault en­gines in the Red Bull cars ex­pected to be re­branded, but the deal fell through and the brand merely spon­sored the ex­ist­ing pow­er­plants; al­though In­finiti did be­come the team’s ti­tle spon­sor in 2013. The lack of re­sults and in­creas­ingly poor re­la­tion­ship be­tween Red Bull and Renault saw that fall apart in 2015, with In­finiti now a spon­sor of the Renault F1 Team.

Did you say Mercedes?

In­deed. Mercedes-Benz and the Renault-Nis­san-Mit­subishi Al­liance have a ‘‘tech­nol­ogy part­ner­ship agree­ment’’ that sees them share com­po­nents and tech­nol­ogy, but also saw the de­vel­op­ment of the small In­finiti Q30 hatch and QX30 SUV us­ing the Mercedes-Benz A-class ar­chi­tec­ture and en­gines.

Mercedes and the Al­liance also funded and worked to­gether on the new MFA2 plat­form (that will un­der­pin the next gen­er­a­tion A-class). But Nis­san re­cently an­nounced that In­finiti would not be us­ing the plat­form, as it ‘‘was not per­form­ing well enough to ab­sorb Mercedes’ tech­nol­ogy costs’’.

Isn’t it all con­fus­ing?

Now? Not con­fus­ing at all. Pre­vi­ously? Very con­fus­ing.

Back in 2013 In­finiti ra­tio­nalised its model des­ig­na­tions, with all con­ven­tional cars (sedans and hatches) start­ing with the let­ter ‘‘Q’’ and SUVs start­ing with ‘‘QX’’. The two num­bers de­note its place in the range – the larger the car, the larger the num­ber.

Prior to this re­mark­ably sim­ple nomen­cla­ture, it was chaos. Cars had one let­ter (M,J, Q, what­ever) while SUVs had two (QX or EX). The num­bers rep­re­sented en­gine size, ex­cept for the QX4 SUV – which had a 3.3-litre en­gine, rather than the 400cc one the badge sug­gested.

This led to BMW threat­en­ing to sue In­finiti over its in­ten­tion to use the ‘‘M’’ nomen­cla­ture on all of its per­for­mance mod­els.

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