Infiniti, Nissan’s upscale brand, has long lagged competitors in the luxury market. But it hopes to get a boost when its new performance badge is introduced this spring.
Infiniti’s Red Sport is designed to compete with the Lexus F, BMW M, Mercedes AMG and Audi RS high-performance lines. The Q50 sedan, Infiniti’s best-selling vehicle, will be the first to wear the Red Sport badge. The new 3-liter V6 twin turbo engine makes 400 horsepower, more than the BMW 320i or Lexus IS. The Q50 Red Sport 400 comes fully equipped in the mid-$50,000 range.
Red Sport will help Infiniti assert its brand identity in a crowded marketplace, the company said. “It’s a more spirited, performance-driven sedan,” said Anand Patel, Infiniti’s regional product manager. The brand declined to say which models would be upgraded next but said the new engine will come equipped at two performances levels with either 300 or 400 horsepower.
Infiniti set up an autocross course and a route through San Antonio’s expansive roads for reporters to put the engine to the test. The car handled deftly and powerfully, growling with a pleasing exhaust note. I noticed an especially quick response time when I toggled the drive mode to sport+ on those open Texas roads.
Still, it’s a tough slog for Infiniti, which advanced its turnaround plans under former president Johan de Nysschen, who now leads Cadillac. Under de Nysschen, Infiniti released the Eau Rouge concept, a 560-horsepower, GT-R-powered super sedan that didn’t make it into production. But analysts say that Infiniti still needs a higher horsepower version of the Q50 to be fully competitive with AMG and M cars.
The number of models in the luxury segment overall has increased by 68% over the past decade, according to Edmunds.com. That has made it harder for Infiniti to break into the top tier alongside Lexus and its German counterparts. “Going the performance route will certainly attract more eyeballs as many lust after AMG and M but can’t afford the hefty price tags,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds.
By the numbers, Infiniti’s challenge is clear. Last year, the brand sold 133,498 vehicles, compared with Acura’s 177,165, Audi’s 202,202, Lexus’ 344,601 and BMW’s 346,023 units. Luxury segment leader Mercedes sold 372,977 vehicles.