Infiniti has made some cars in that past that tickled my fancy but today it seems like they can't make a good car if their life depended on it.
Infiniti has always been considered a “luxury” brand, but I would never give it that title. I would put it in a sub-luxury category competing with other sub-lux brands such as Acura, Lincoln, Cadillac and Lexus. Sorry, but it is the truth. Although, that’s not why I think they suck. Some sub-lux cars brands can make amazing cars. Acura makes the NSX for god’s sake. I think Infiniti sucks for a few reasons. First, they are almost always behind their competitors on innovation, second, their design team is lackluster (it looks like they are working on that), third, the tech and UI available in their cars is laughable at best, fourth, the drive on some cars are horrible and the mechanical components need updating, and fifth, I have a feeling they are not sure what kind of brand they are themselves. Let me break down each of these points and elaborate a little further.
The Innovation abomination
“The G35 gave me some hope that a vehicle can look good and compete with the Germans, boosting more power and equal handling prowess, but again they lost their spirit to innovate...”
Infiniti, in my opinion, stalled in its innovating efforts leading to it falling behind its competition. It is also the biggest reason why I feel they fail to gain any traction with any customers. Customers want new and fresh and Infiniti continually fails to deliver that. Infiniti wants to establish itself as a luxury performance brand and I think in one model specifically there was hope. That car was the G35, later becoming the G37. The G35 gave me some hope that a vehicle can look good and compete with the Germans, boosting more power and equal handling prowess, but again they lost their spirit to innovate very soon after those vehicles ended their lifecycle.
Other brands have been able to out innovate Infiniti in almost every aspect. Take for example the Infiniti QX60 (formerly known as the JX35) pictured at the top of this post. That car isn’t as sporty in their drive (in other words, it feels very dull and un-spirited), it is cheap materials galore, everything you touch feels like it could easily belong in a Nissan instead, and the capacity for cargo and 7 humans is not class leading in any way. You could save yourself the cash and embarrassment of driving this car by just driving a Nissan Pathfinder. I promise you won’t be able to tell the difference. In contrast, the Audi Q7 runs rings around the QX60 in every conceivable way. Its better looking inside and out, interior quality is amazing, it drives confidently with its quattro all-wheel drive handling abilities and soon it will be available with standard air suspension making the drive even better.
Let’s switch over to design. I do want to preface that design is subjective and people have different tastes, but having said that I think we can all agree there are things that look inherently ugly and things that look inherently pretty. Example, the Pontiac Aztec was ugly but an Aston Martin DBS is pretty. You get my point. Okay back to Infiniti. The issue with the design isn’t so much the outside as much as it is the inside. Again, don’t get me wrong these are not “ugly” cars but why aren’t the designs being updated and refined to match market tastes.
A great example is Infiniti’s full-size SUV, the QX80. This is big, my lord is it a beastly thing, and not in a good way. Before the light refresh, which thankfully made the car a little easier to look at, it looked like a straight up ogre. Those stubby side mirrors, the corpulent proportions. It was a design fail. The body just looked fat, the curves were everywhere and that nose was bulging too much for its own good. For a team that had made nice cars in the past, this was very upsetting to see. On the inside, my complaint is why is everything so curvy. It looks like the whole cabin was put together in 1999 and then transported to 2019 to sell to people who never left the 90’s.
“The button layouts are mind boggling with the way they are arranged. There are so many of them and it’s hard to understand what all of them do sometimes.”
Let’s talk tech now. This I believe has been the biggest failure on Infiniti’s part. It just seems to be something Infiniti keeps avoiding with every iteration of their cars. Let’s start with the screens, specifically the main display unit. What the hell is going on here? Why are the graphics from 2005? Did they feel there was no need to update this? The screens on all their cars are small compared to the competition and the maps depicted are literally the worst I have seen in a while. The responsiveness is also so slow, I bet I could get a snail to run the mile faster than it can execute a command. Seriously, it’s that bad.
The button layouts are mind boggling with the way they are arranged. There are so many of them and it’s hard to understand what all of them do sometimes. It’s the opposite of being intuitive. The dashboard also carries a screen in-between the two main dials that is so low-res that it reminds me of the days where you could see each pixel on the screen make up some big blocky word or number. These days most luxury car makes are switching to fully digital dials and displays to offer more versatility and options and it looks much better.
Also why is Infiniti doing this new dual stacked display system for its central dashboard (pictured above for reference). The operation makes no sense. The top screen is literally the map from 2005 and the lower screen, that by the way seems to have slightly better resolution but it still lags, controls what you want the map to do on the upper screen, like entering a destination. Who the hell thought that was a good idea! Thank god there are physical controls for the air con or it would be a travesty.
Dynamics and Power
When it comes to way these cars drive, they are lackadaisical at best. The steering on the SUVs seem numb and the power is alright, but I wouldn’t call it an exciting engine at all. This fact remains true for both their sedans and coupes also. Worst part is, I know these guys can do better. I’m not sure if Infiniti doesn’t have the cash or what is lacking, but for some of the new models they are creating, they are borrowing engines from Mercedes instead of developing their own.
While this solves the issue of uninspiring engines and power, I am surprised that Infiniti, with its parent company being Nissan, couldn’t come up with a hybrid power train or plug-in hybrid engine solution for their cars yet. I mean Nissan makes the Leaf, one of the first electric cars from a major brand. Infiniti cars, yes generally, seem to handle well, but I feel like they could easily offer some more robust mechanical features to push the envelope further like adding a 4-corner air suspension or rear wheel steering to aid stability. Like why are these items missing on cars that can cost between $50-$90,000.
The Future of Infiniti
How Infiniti decides to proceed is anyone’s guess, but I feel like they need to start figuring out how to package their cars properly and offer customers a product that is worth the full $50,000-$90,000. They have missed the mark so much that I feel like they will struggle to survive if they don’t act quickly. Adding market mandated features into a luxury vehicle (like radar guided cruise control into a car that looks 10 years old) is not a suitable solution and while some people will bite, others will simply look elsewhere. In my opinion, if you have a car that looks good, is put together using quality parts and materials, drives well and features the latest tech, that will be a recipe for success.
Before that though, Infiniti needs to find themselves and ask what they want to be. Are they a value alternative to the Germans, do they want to be the performance benchmark in the luxury segment, or do they want to be the luxury kings? Looking towards the horizon, I can see Infiniti wants to introduce a change with the company announcing 6 new electric cars in the near future. I saw some concept cars and I can say some of them look absolutely beautiful. For only these upcoming cars, time will tell how they turn out and how they will be executed. For now though, I will watch from the sidelines and see what direction they head in. Who knows, I may buy my first Infiniti in the future.