With reports coming out of Europe and Asia that a major slowdown in the automotive industry is imminent, somebody should tell Infiniti, which is steaming full speed ahead with its 2011 model lineup.
According to Nissan/Infiniti's director of corporate and product planning, Ian Forsythe, his company is having "a very good year" in Canada, with sales up 18 per cent over all. It's global sales are up some 30 per cent and Infiniti apparently just opened a new dealership in London's trendy Piccadilly district.
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It also launched the newest version of its mammoth QX56 luxury SUV earlier this year, as well as an all-new M-line and, according to Forsythe, they can't keep the QX56 in stock. "Light truck sales in Canada are going through the roof," he says. "We really didn't anticipate the kind of demand we've had for the QX56."
For 2011, it's even more product and more power for Nissan's upscale division, courtesy of a new performance department known as Infiniti Performance Line, or IPL. All new for 2011, Forsythe insists that the idea behind IPL is not to copy the go-fast skunk works of other manufacturers such as BMW, Mercedes, or Audi, but to offer its customers a little more performance at a reasonable cost. "Our retailers said 'give us more performance', but we're not going to extremes with price here, and we intend to keep it affordable," he says. Nor is IPL an offshoot of parent company, Nissan's NISMO (Nissan Motorsport International) group, who will doubtless be contributing in some form or another, but won't be directly involved.
Anyway, the first IPL model out of the gate will be a nicely tweaked G Coupe with 18 more horsepower than its garden-variety counterpart, and various goodies such as tuned suspension with different spring rates, 19-inch alloy wheels, glitzy metal-flake paint and upgraded interior with leather upholstery.
It's 3.7-litre V-6 develops 348 horsepower and can be mated to either a seven-speed automatic with shift paddles or a close-ratio six-speed manual. The IPL G Coupe also has a limited-slip differential and will be offered in two colour choices: graphite silver or a cool Malbec black. It joins the G Coupe, which is available with AWD, 19-inch wheels and tires and a redone interior.
During a quick run through the wine country around Napa, the IPL G Coupe demonstrated superb road-holding ability, a willing and rev-happy powertrain, and one of the sweetest exhaust notes in the business. This is one of those cars that stays flat through high-speed turns no matter what - virtually zero body lean.
Infiniti engineers also seem to spend an awful lot of time refining the exhaust systems of their products, and this one has larger-diameter pipes, and lower back pressure than the regular version. If you're a self-respecting motorhead, the sound coming out the chrome-tipped pipes at the back is a symphony to the ears.
Infiniti hasn't released a pricing structure yet, but the IPL G Coupe will probably be in the $65,000 neighbourhood and on the market early next year. A convertible concept version just made its debut at the Paris Auto Show this month.
Moving along, the newest addition to Infiniti's regular stable is the G25 sedan, which will be an entry-level model, meant to compete directly with Lexus' IS 250. Power is delivered via a 2.5-litre V-6 engine that develops 218 horsepower and is mated to a seven-speed automatic only, with either rear- or all-wheel-drive. Prices haven't been announced yet, but since the IS 250 starts at around $35,000, you know the G25 will be in that neighbourhood.
Initially, three versions will be available; one with rear-drive only, and two with AWD, with various options groups within those three. Interestingly, the latter drivetrain apparently accounts for some 85 per cent of sales with the G25's bigger brother, the G37, and there will be no manual transmission available with the G25 simply because, according to Forsythe, the proportion of buyers in this market who want a stick shift is "minuscule."
Visually almost identical to the G37, the G25 is a nice package, with all the goodies and modcons you'd expect from a car of this ilk. Standard equipment includes leather interior, power-adjustable front seats, climate control system, one-touch-up/down power windows, XM satellite radio and, with the Sport version, magnesium steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles with a downshift rev-matching feature.
One nice little touch here; with the Lexus IS 250, the paddles are attached to the steering wheel, and when it turns, so do they. With the G25, the paddles are mounted on the column and stay put in the same location, readily accessible at all times. That's the way it should be, and it makes for much better driving experience.
That said, the G25 is far from being a hell-raising pavement-scalder to begin with, and, although it acquits itself well through the turns and twisties, is primarily a touring sedan.
2011 Infiniti G25
Type: Luxury four-door sedan
Base Price: $35,000 (estimated)
Engine: 2.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 218 hp/187 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel and all-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 10.3 city/6.8 highway (RWD model); premium gas
Alternatives: Lexus IS250, BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Acura TL, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes C-Class
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