Can something be too good for its own good?
The Infiniti G35 and G37 seemed to come so close to knocking the 3 Series off its pedestal that anything less than a 3-killer for Infiniti’s latest compact luxury sport sedan, now rebooted as the Q50, would be a disappointment.
However, it’s a strange case of the market dictating, a brand listening and delivering a product that we critics perhaps weren’t looking for. The G35 was a tough act to follow, but more than any other Japanese marque, it was a contender that packaged sporty dynamics to match the best in the segment, with character and value all its own, though perhaps not quite the same polish and poise as the benchmark in this category.
And then along came the new 3 Series, which was bigger and softer and more luxurious, but still a driving machine at heart, though the door was open just a crack. Cadillac’s ATS trumped it for its driving manners, but fell short on practicality, Mercedes-Benz has reclaimed its luxury leader status with the new C-Class, Lexus IS has the reliability card up its sleeve and while Audi’s A4 matches it step for step in most cases, the BMW still dominates the sales charts by virtue of its cachet and familiarity, and a proliferation of body styles and trims for every taste (and lack thereof).
Infiniti came to the table in this generation armed to the teeth with technology and value, but has it lost its charm in the process? Does it even matter? Perhaps it does. We see none of the usual surge in sales usually coupled with new models, an interminable wait for the new coupe based on the same new platform, and only a prototype of a proper sport model to take on the M3s and AMGs of the luxury world.
Sales of the Q50 in North America are well off the high water mark of the G in 2007, even when accounting for the coupe now being sold as the Q60. Infiniti, however, is buoyed by its burgeoning sales in China and other global markets, while in North America SUV and crossover sales have helped make up the difference and help the company achieve some modest gains.
Where Infiniti is proposing a hybrid as its performance model, that’s a path others have gone before and failed to capture anyone’s interest.
In this segment, first impressions matter, and the Q50 somehow makes an interesting design seem bland, perhaps because of the lack of a giant and scary grille. It certainly has the angry headlights that are de rigueur these days, so much so that there is a distinct resemblance to an angry internet cat, but the silky curving character lines seem lost on a car that comes across as soft and somewhat generic. I find the details stunning, but the whole comes off rather bland.
Inside, the design remains even more conservative, a dominant vertical centre console, with a bit of flare in a metallic trim accent line running down the right side of the centre stack and then slashing across the console, separating the shifter and controls from the large cupholders, set in a panel of glossy wood veneer. I don’t like it.