Infiniti's Q Inspiration concept bows in Detroit

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Japanese luxury brand Infiniti has tried to inspire us with a number of recent concept vehicles and is going a step beyond with the Q Inspiration Concept, which debuted Monday at the Detroit auto show.

Though the brand now uses “Q” to designate all of its passenger car models — and QX for its SUVs and CUVs — the new concept’s name clearly harkens back to the brand’s original Q45 sedan, and suggests it just might be the long-awaited successor.

But the Q Inspiration also boasts some of the latest technologies from Nissan’s luxury brand, including both the semi-autonomous ProPilot system, as well as the VC-Turbo, the world’s first production-ready, variable-compression ratio engine.

Nissan senior VP of Global Design Alfonso Albaisa talks about the Infiniti Q Inspiration concept.

“Our Detroit concept car heralds a new generation of Infiniti,” said Alfonso Albaisa, the longtime Infiniti stylist who recently was named global design director for parent Nissan Motor Co. The Q Inspiration, he added, is meant to demonstrate Infiniti’s approach to “artistry in the new age of autonomy and breakthrough drivetrains.”

Visually, the concept shown at the North American International Auto Show certainly won’t get lost in a crowd. It features an over-sized, double-arch grille with narrow slits and a lighted Infiniti logo near the hood line. Additional scoops bring more wind into the engine and feed the blade-like air curtains used to reduce turbulence around the front wheels. The slit LED headlamps are framed by distinctive LED strip lights.

The Q’s bulging fenders give the sedan a muscular stance, with a strong crease that runs nearly from wheel well to wheel well. A closer look reveals hidden door handles and a lack of mirrors, with the concept opting for side-view cameras.

The roofline has an aggressive, coupe-like curve and stretches, fastback style, into the rear decklid. Narrow taillamps that pick up the LED strip-look wrap across the back of the concept and flare into the rear fenders.

Inside, there’s almost a subtle retro-futuristic look. The four thin wraparound seats are as much works of art as they are functional. And a floating center console extends the length of the interior.

The instrument panel has a horizontal orientation and is divided into two tiers. The upper level features video displays that extend from door to door. Another touchscreen, just above that center console, controls the infotainment and climate control systems. There are additional touchscreens for each passenger, each offering “guided meditation to help occupants leave any stress behind when they start a journey,” says a Nissan release. “The car can also monitor passenger biometrics.”

Of course, the ProPilot system can be activated to largely take over driving duties in stressful, high-traffic conditions.

The focus on cutting-edge tech extends to the Q Inspiration Concept’s drivetrain. It shares the four-cylinder VC-Turbo engine only now coming to market in the Infiniti QX50 crossover.

Conventional internal combustion, or IC, engines use a fixed compression ratio — what happens when the piston descends inside the cylinder — typically, anywhere from about eight-to-one to 11.5-to-one. The specific figure is a compromise meant to balance performance, fuel economy, emissions and the need to prevent destructive engine knock.

The VC-Turbo uses some complex mechanical magic to vary compression on the fly from 8:1 to 14:1. In the process, says the Nissan luxury brand, it becomes “the next major step in optimizing efficiency and emissions of the internal combustion engine, literally transforming between power and efficiency on demand.”

“While we have plans to electrify our product portfolio in the future, drivers all around the world are still reliant on internal combustion engines,” said Francois Brancon, parent Nissan’s vice president of products and programs. So, it is expected to see widespread use in the company’s lineup in the years ahead.

But what about the Q Inspiration itself? Infiniti officials are being coy about their plans, and perhaps for good reason. While they can still put a halo around a brand, demand for flagship sedans — such as the Lexus LS or Mercedes-Benz S-Class — has tumbled sharply in recent years.

Rival Lexus is also showing off a high-line concept in Detroit, but it is a sporty crossover counterpoint to the LS.