The impact of the COVID virus on conventional car sales has been devastating, with many luxury automakers reporting steep sales drop-offs in their car lineups. Luxury-class SUV sales are also down, but not nearly as much as a rapidly shifting environment could alter the car market for quite some time.
Still, several automakers continue to press on with premium car development — the margins remain solid, and these segments have long been the bread and butter of luxury brands. Income margin will be vital as the industry strives to pay for the engineering on their proposed electric vehicles — which may well turn out to be SUV-designed EVs.
Through three-quarters of 2020, Infiniti brand sales were off 33 percent, Cadillac slumped 25 percent, BMW was down 24 percent in the U.S. market, Acura sales were down 16 percent, Lexus sales slid 13 percent, while Mercedes at 9 percent down and Lincoln at 5 percent off appeared to be in better shape.
Infiniti’s Q50 sedan, the third best seller at Nissan’s luxury marquee, is the natural extension of the earlier G-series sedans when Infiniti started here in 1989 — the same time as Lexus. Along with the Q60-coupe, which shares this rear-drive/AWD platform, the Q50 sedan (starting at $37,625) comes in Pure, Luxe, Sensory and new Red Sport trim ($56,775). Power comes from two versions of the same 3.0-liter V-6 engine; the single turbo model makes 300 hp while the twin-turbo version, like our Red Sport, spins out an exhilarating 400 hp.
Rumors suggest that this powertrain will be the stock offering in the next Nissan 400Z sports car, which would be exciting.
Teamed with a seven-speed automatic featuring manual mode and paddle shifters, the twin-turbo V-6 makes aggressive, guttural sounds as you ply the right pedal — much like the first-generation Infiniti G35 and FX35/45 vehicles did. Sample the available thrust and that pitch becomes more animated as the athletic grip afforded by the rear-drive-biased AWD system will certainly tickle the nerve endings at the base of your spine. EPA estimates are 19/26 mpg on suggested premium fuel.
The Infiniti Red Sport definitely separates itself from several rivals — the Lexus ES, Acura TLX and Volvo S60 come to mind, as it has much sportier steering feel, a tauter chassis and much more aggressive acceleration. Despite asserting itself well as the road winds up and tries to spit you off a curve, the Q50 remains a step behind the Germans (Audi, BMW and Mercedes) as well as the latest plum from Genesis, the G70, in overall ride compliance and precise handling.
Features include around view monitoring, front and rear parking sonar system, supportive semi-aniline leather seats (with excellent manual thigh extenders up front), remote start, plus a full array of electronic driving aids. Infiniti’s Dual HD screen setup — separate Nav screen up top (or your Apple/Android display) with entertainment screen underneath — is effective and easy to manipulate due to simple buttons for repetitive tasks. (Honda and Acura, please take note.) Up to seven devices can be linked to the Wi-Fi hotspot, plus the 16-speaker Bose sound system will satisfy every audiophile. Climate selections are also easy to manage without resorting to menus and multiple touchscreens.
There is no silly stop/start system, but also no heated steering wheel or heads-up display, which seem like omissions at this price point. The trunk seems smaller than the usual offering, and the rear seat is snug, but certainly doable for anyone not playing Y-league basketball.
The body lines flow well, giving the Infiniti more visual presence than most of its Asian rivals. With 19-inch wheels, bright red brake calipers and the demonstrative exhaust note, the Q50 Red Sport reminds everyone that it not only looks different, but it also drives different.
Genesis is going to make this segment more competitive, in ways not that different from what Lexus did 30-plus years ago (and what Infiniti tried to do) — great value, impressive styling, solid reliability and performance.
As with the original G35 sedans, this Red Sport is playing in the sporty end of the small premium car segment, where the Germans crush latecomers. Kudos to Infiniti for taking the risk and being willing to pursue buyers who may not desire the driving style exhibited by Audi/BMW/Mercedes.
Next week: Honda Odyssey Elite