Infiniti adds to its 2011 model lineup: Performance Line and Reduced-power model bracket the brand

Carneros, Calif. – A new performance level and a reduced-horsepower model now bracket Infiniti’s 2011 offerings.

Infiniti Performance Line is hitting the showrooms for the first time this model year. Now that the second generation of the Infiniti line is completely launched, Nissan is ready to add elevated power handling and exclusivity, and their idea is to do it for a reasonable upgrade in price.

The object is to increase total performance, not just the power and handling, add more luxury features, so the car is considered more exclusive than the other models.

This new model level, IPL, will run across the Infiniti lineup, but starts with the G-Coupe. Since Infiniti also showed a “G-Convertible Concept” at the Paris Auto Show in early October that looks remarkably like the production model, except with the same IPL features that were introduced to us in California at the same time.

One can reasonably assume that this will shortly be the second car with an IPL designation in Infiniti’s lineup. While Infiniti officials won’t confirm future product, we were guessing that once the two-door G-models are out, IPL will follow on the G-Sedan and then on the rest of the models, although perhaps not the huge QX large sports ute.

The idea behind the car is to add a limited production model. In the case of the G-Coupe, the most noticeable feature is the wheels. They’re a dark, almost black performance wheel with very low-profile summer tires.

Initially, only two exterior colors will be available for the IPL-badged G-Coupes, a gray as well as a quite interesting black that seems to show hints of deep maroon in the sunlight.

There are also two interiors, Graphite, with a gray leather cabin, and also a gray cabin with red seats and touches, which is only available for some reason on the black car with an automatic transmission. The trim in the IPL cars will be aluminum, rather than wood.

The IPL model is based on the G-Coupe Journey, but includes all the optional packages. The G-Coupe IPL with 6-speed manual transmission price starts at $47,950. With the 7-speed shiftable automatic, the price begins at $49,850.  Infiniti expects the IPL line to make up five percent of total G-Coupe sales.

Mechanical differences are most noticeably a new exhaust system. It’s a true dual exhaust, with separate pipes funning from each exhaust manifold without combining with the other side. The system uses a wider diameter pipe – 120 mm. The mufflers have been redesigned for less baffling to reduce back pressure as well as create a signature exhaust note for the IPL line.

In addition, it adds 18 hp., bringing the total produced by the 3.7-liter V6 up to 348 hp. The torque also gets a bounce to 276 lbs-ft, an increase of six lbs-ft.  The engine management computer has been revised for more responsiveness, although Infiniti says the EPA ratings will remain the same as the other G-Coupe models.

The engine can be equipped with either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic transmission. I’m delighted that Infiniti continues to offer the manual, even if perhaps five percent of buyers actually opt for it. A sports car means there must be a manual available.

In the suspension, the tuning has been more focused on performance, with spring rates stiffened 20 percent in front and ten percent in the rear for more responsive handling. The standard wheels for the IPL are 19-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone Potenza tires.

As you’d expect, probably 90 percent of buyers of this model will be men, mostly affluent fellows in the late 30s, or at least that’s the expectation. Probably there will be a healthy proportion of older guys (who maybe feel like they’re in their late 30s) who will also purchase the car. It’ll be sold in all Infiniti dealerships.

With a $5500 premium from a loaded G-Coupe Journey, you can expect that price proportion to apply across the line once the other Infiniti models begin to get their own IPL models.

John Weimer, the North American director of product planning, introduced the latest Infiniti model, the G25, but not before bragging a bit about Infiniti sales being up across the model line 25 percent over last year.

With the completion of the entire lineup into their second generation, Weimer says the biggest improvement is that in all the models, the interiors are now up to the standard for luxury cars. Infiniti suffered from the difference, but now, said Weimer, there’s a big improvement.

Two of those models are new this year, with the M being launched in March.

This is their flagship sedan, and they’ve seen their market share double over last year. They admitted that’s to be expected  when replacing an old model with a new – and quite improved – generation of a model line. Horsepower in both the V8 and V6-powered models increased – to 330 hp. in the V6, five more than the previous V8-powered model’s 325 hp. The V8 models now generate 420 hp.

The other new generation vehicle was the Infiniti QX56. Hitting the showrooms at the end of June, Infiniti is pleased with the record market share of the vehicle, at least for those first three months. Again power’s been increased, from 320 hp. to 400 hp.

The interior of the QX56 shows perhaps most clearly the increase in the level of luxury within the Infiniti brands. It’s now lush, more suited to a luxury sedan than a truck. The vehicle’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control System actually works quite well. It’s a passive system that moves the hydraulic stiffness towards the wheels that have greater suspension motion. It makes a smoother, but not mushy ride. A ride appropriate for an interior that Infiniti designers say they modeled to remind riders of an executive jet.

The EX lineup, Infiniti’s small crossover ute aimed to compete with BMW’s X3 and the rest of this luxury crossover group, hasn’t changed.  This is a car that came to the market just as that market pretty much collapsed. None of the cars in this segment are making their companies happy. It’s a nice enough vehicle.

The interior is extremely attractive, the car drives well, has enough power and storage, including this year the 7-speed automatic transmission and 18-inch standard wheels. My colleague and I drove it to Yountville, the most wine-crazed area of the wine-crazed Napa Valley.

As we perused the upscale wine stores, chock full of unusual and wonderful wine and wine accessories, should we have wanted to, there would’ve been plenty of room for a compliment of wine cases to accompany us home.

We didn’t, since we weren’t there on a weekend, and had airline luggage rules with which to contend on our way home. But the point is, this vehicle fits right into that environment, proudly holding its own in the Yountville parking lots.

The sexy FX model line got more sex appeal with 20-inch standard wheels and more practicality with a power liftgate. More importantly, prices were reduced to line up closer to both competitors and price reality. This is still a great looking and great diving crossover, a delightful successor to what was the creator of the luxury crossover segment.

In addition to the IPL model joining the G-Coupe lineup, there were also some changes to the base model, with a new front fascia ad new 18-inch and 19-inch wheels. Also for 2011, there will be all-wheel drive offered on the Sport model.

The big news for the G-Sedan lineup is that it now includes a model powered by a smaller engine called the G25.

But instead of the standard 3.7-liter V6, the car is equipped with a 2.5-liter V6. The engine generates 218 hp. and 187 lbs-ft of torque. This reduction in power means that the car also earns an EPA fuel rating of 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for the manual transmission and 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the automatic transmission models. This isn’t a new engine to Nissan, as it’s used elsewhere.

Asked why they hadn’t decided on a 4-cylinder powerplant, officials said it isn’t out of the question in future models. The difficulty is that in mid-generation, it would’ve been far more difficult to engineer, so they didn’t really have a 4-cylinder engine they could appropriately use.

The G25 is equipped with the same 7-speed automatic as the other G-models. It comes with 17-inch wheels standard and has the same exterior and interior as the G37. It also offers the same model lineup as the G37 – in fact, officials didn’t rule out an Infiniti Performance Line version of the car.

But it is cheaper. The base model is priced at $30,950, with the Journey starting at $32,350 and the all-wheel drive of the Journal starting at $33,950. This is roughly $4100 less than the G37 over the model line.

The purpose of this car is to improve incremental sales – attracting new buyers to the brand. Infiniti expects this car to attract more women and empty nesters to the brand.  Frankly, driving it around California’s Napa Valley on some nice twisty farm roads, I don’t think you’re giving up very much. Yes, there’s less power. Yes, you have to step harder on the accelerator to pass cars on a two-lane road, but you can still easily do it. You can still easily accelerate into highway traffic. You can still haul everything sedan owners need to haul without any compromise. It does sound different, as it’s a different engine.

But for those who don’t find performance pleasurable, there’s nothing else lost from the standard G-Series. Since I do find performance pleasurable, I’d still go for the G37 Sedan, but not for any rational reason.


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