The importance of timing

Gwendolyn hit 170,000 miles yesterday, and as if somehow Nissan knew, I have received a brochure announcing an “Owner Appreciation Event,” with a full complement of service-department specials. A sample: conventional oil and filter change, $34.95, including up to seven quarts (my car takes five quarts of Mobil Super), the usual inspection, and an actual car wash. This usually runs about ten bucks more. If you have one of the newer models that requires synthetic, the same service runs $74.95.

And oh, “Genuine Ester Engine Oil may be available at additional cost.” This is apparently a souped-up conventional 5W-30 with an overlay of some mystery lubricant, which sells for something like $15 a quart. This stuff is supposed to be really, really good if you have Nissan’s VVEL valve timing system, which I don’t. Posters at Bob Is The Oil Guy don’t seem impressed.

It’s been less than a thousand miles since my last oil change (about 990, actually), so I might not need this right away.

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Borrowed bliss

While my own perhaps-stupidly-expensive car sits in the shop, I’ve been tooling about in a newer perhaps-stupidly-expensive car. And it’s not easy making the adjustment, either.

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Itchy twitchy feeling

The other day, some yahoo on Yahoo! was looking for “a car that could go 100,000 miles without requiring service.” He has a better chance of landing a date with a model. (Or, I suppose, an ex- model.)

I mention this because Gwendolyn, my long-suffering I30, went in today for a spa day or two, and she has just under 170,000 miles. The major issue to be addressed was a small power-steering fluid leak, which motivated the following prayer: “O Lord, I’m okay with having to replace the whole pump, but please, please, please don’t let it be a bad steering rack.”

And lo, my prayer was answered. It was the high-pressure line in the steering system, which is pricey, but not rack-and-pinion pricey. Still, if you add to this the de rigueur oil change, the replacement of a fried headlight, a new serpentine belt — the old one was starting to crack — and a new passenger-side mirror to replace the one that was sheared off by a semi who insisted on outrunning my approach via a left-turn on-ramp, you come up with a hell of a lot of money, at $1350 or so, or almost exactly two-thirds the price of a new steering rack. And I probably could have taken it somewhere else and saved a couple of coins. But Bob Moore has been good to me this century: they serviced my second Mazda and sold me this Infiniti, and I’ve seldom had any reason to grumble. And they sent me off today in a Q50 while they minister to my car.

This is my third experience with the Q50, and I didn’t like it as much as its predecessors: the steering felt somewhat twitchy, which suggested I keep the speed down, not an easy task with a 3.0-liter turbo. (I think this is the first turbo anything I’ve ever driven.) Still, it was comfy, though the ride is a bit stiff; the A/C was properly glacial, the stereo was Bose, and the controls were comprehensible. But that keeping-the-speed-down business irritated some jerk behind me who thought I should be tailgating the guy in front of me as much as he was tailgating me. As I exited, he showed me a finger other than his ring finger. Just as well: I’d hate to imagine that jerk actually wearing someone’s ring.

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An unrecycled sentiment

I admit to not getting this at first:

Infiniti is famous, of course, for inscrutable advertising. Go back a couple of decades:

Then again, Brubeck speaks to us all. I had to get an explanation of that tree thing from Matt Polsky:

Eager to cash in on the warm fuzziness of the seasonal aesthetic, Infiniti has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 35,000 new trees on behalf of drivers, and came up with a corresponding television commercial and digital campaign.

Oh. Okay.

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Bum steering

Last time Gwendolyn had a spa day, the dealership sent me off in a Q50, the first time I’d gotten any seat time in the official G37 replacement. It was, I determined early on, the bottom of the line, and last year’s line at that, so it probably wasn’t affected by this recall:

Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand will recall roughly 60,000 vehicles globally, a spokesman for the brand said on Thursday, as the steering system key to the Q50 sedan’s autonomous driving capabilities could malfunction.

If this car could drive itself, I didn’t know about it. Certainly I didn’t try to persuade it to.

The Q50 is Infiniti’s first model that can drive itself on highways under certain conditions thanks to its direct adaptive steering system.

That system could malfunction “in certain rare circumstances, just after starting the vehicle” when a software glitch “can lead to a lack of steering responsiveness and change in turning radius.”

Well, isn’t that special?

Maybe this is just the Spirit of Get Off My Lawn talking: about half my 40 years on the road were spent with steering that not only didn’t have software, it didn’t even have power assist. Then again, that period ended with a steering gear (recirculating-ball type) actually grenading, leaving a car that could go straight or turn in one direction, but not the other. Downloading a software patch would not, alas, be the answer.

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There’s always another Q

Gwendolyn had a spa day today, this being the first day I could fit it into my overwhelming schedule — hey, maybe Twilight and Spike could feed the pigs — and the dealership sent me off in a 2015 Q50 the color of slightly used automatic-transmission fluid. This is the first time I’ve actually gotten seat time in a Q50, and while it was most assuredly the bottom of the line, it was still sufficiently glitzy.

For ’16, Infiniti broomed the VQ engine, but this ’15, with just shy of 2500 miles, still ran with Old Reliable, a genuinely swell V6 which could have gone on forever were it not for its thirst. Someone who’d had it earlier, along with setting the satellite radio to something radically different from the classical stuff I was playing in my car, managed to dial up both Overall Since Ever and Right This Minute fuel-economy gauges, which quadruples the lunacy. (For the record, this Q was 19.9 mpg Since Ever, which sounds about right, and the bar graph spent time at 0, at 60, and everywhere else in between. If you must have these godforsaken things, fercrissake leave them in the center stack where they can be properly ignored.)

With the same old powertrain (VQ37HR, 7-speed automatic), the Q50 drove just like a G37, if the G37 had had its tires flatspotted several times.

On the screen at the top of the stack was a simulated — not an actual — analog clock. It was right, as I expect from Infiniti, but it was also wrong: it’s a 12-hour clock, but it was set to the wrong 12-hour period, so when I got it back to the dealership, it was not quite five in the morning tomorrow.

In other news, a gallon of engine coolant, green engine coolant, none of that Orange Crush crap, is now nineteen dollars. (Yes, it’s been a while since I had to buy any at retail.) And I grumbled something at the service consultant this morning about the driver’s-side door creaking a bit; they (1) determined that the door check needed to be retorqued and (2) didn’t charge me for it. This is within my own capabilities, except that I don’t own a proper torque wrench. Lesson learned.

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You dropped your Q

Infiniti, which has done more to sully the fine art of model naming than any automaker not named Cadillac — it’s probably no coincidence that both Cadillac and Infiniti have had Johan de Nysschen running them, and apparently nobody dares mess with the Johan — has decided that we dumb Americans can’t tell the difference between a front-wheel-drive sedan and a jacked-up AWD pseudo-crossover using exactly the same bodyshell:

Though Infiniti will sell its new Q30 hatchback and QX30 crossover as two distinct models elsewhere in the world, the cars will be sold in the U.S. only with the QX30 badge. The cars are already basically identical, and the new naming strategy will help prevent any confusion between the Q30 and QX30 on our shores.

As a result, there will be three versions of the 2017 Infiniti QX30 in the US: Two front-wheel-drive models, matching the Q30 sold overseas; plus one all-wheel-drive version with a higher ride height that aligns with the global QX30.

I suspect this is being done, not so much to defuzz the brand image, but to justify even higher prices for the fake-SUV version: if they’re all the “same model,” buyers won’t even flinch at a $15k difference between top and bottom of the line.

And I’d still rather have the QX50, the wagon formerly known as EX35, comparatively lacking in upjacking.

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Gimme back my gears

Nissan is busily bolting continuously-variable transmissions into almost everything it sells, though it should be noted that the only Infiniti that gets a CVT, the QX60, is the only one that’s also sold for a few dollars less as a Nissan (the Pathfinder). That said, the upcoming Q30/QX30 will presumably be fitted with the Mercedes-Benz 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, because people will avoid it in droves if it has the rubber-band box — and because its engine, albeit built by Nissan in the States, is a Mercedes design. There has been no suggestion that any other Infiniti will be saddled with a CVT, which is a good thing, given Dale Franks’ opinion of the CVT inflicted on every Nissan Altima:

Some people, of course, will find the Continuously Variable Transmission perfectly acceptable, but for me, it’s a hump I can’t get over. Which, I must say, biases me against Nissan in general, because the CVT powertrain is their bread and butter, and it appears in nearly all of the cars in their lineup. Nissan, as I’ve mentioned before, is fully invested in the CVT, and they’ve done everything they can to make as good a CVT as possible. Yet, the end result is like a gourmet pastry, baked by Paul Bocuse, and made from the finest flour, the richest chocolate, the purest cane sugar, the freshest heavy cream, and bat guano.

But is it the highest-quality bat guano? Not at the Altima’s price point, I suspect.

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The Nissan Maxima, argues Jack Baruth, is an anti-halo car:

  • Customer comes in to see the Altima
  • Customer sees Maxima with giant SALE banner
  • Customer compares price of discounted Maxima with less-discounted Altima
  • Sees that Maxima is a better deal
  • Doesn’t really like the Maxima
  • But he’ll be damned if he’ll pay just as much for an Altima as he would pay for the Maxima he doesn’t want
  • Customer leaves, buys a Camry, which is what his wife wanted him to do anyway

Conclusion: Nissan doesn’t need this car. But somebody does:

The company that most needs a Maxima is Nissan’s own sub-brand, Infiniti.

“But wait,” you say, “Infiniti’s brand values don’t include some big Fail-Wheel-Drive barge.” I assume you’re kidding, dear reader. Infiniti has no brand values whatsoever. It’s always been a grab-bag of whatever Nissan had sitting around the Japanese showrooms. The original Q45 was a Nissan President — although, to be fair, the idea of the Q45 was certainly on Nissan’s mind when the President was being developed. The Q-cars that followed were rebadged Nissan Cimas with virtually no US-market development. The G35 that took over as the “heart of the brand” was a Skyline. Only the FX-thingys were really meant from the jump to be exclusively Infinitis. The current lineup is a dog’s breakfast of awkward-looking SUVs and the Q50, which is lovely inside but doesn’t really exude much sporting intent.

And if they push it over to the Infiniti side of the business — as they did between 1997 and 2003, so there’s precedent — it has a chance of justifying a $40k price point, something it can’t do as a Nissan. Besides, it would kill off all that “four-door sports car” crap once and for all. I drive a 2000 with an Infiniti badge; it does have four doors, and it’s definitely a car, but it’s sporting only in the sense that it’s not the sort of anti-sporting vehicle for which General Motors was so famous for so long. If you can imagine an Oldsmobile Cutlass Semi-Supreme with better dampers, you have the I30/I35. If they bring it back as a Q40 or something, I’d have to seriously consider buying one.

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Trademark erased

Infiniti’s US branch tweeted this on Tuesday:

I took one look at it, and shot back:

Turns out that there’s a reason for that:

We knew the Q30 had a lot in common with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class but as these images show, this is far more than a common platform. The steering wheel, instrument cluster, switchgear, and shifter are direct from the Mercedes parts bin. From the looks of the images, the Q30 will even have a Mercedes-style key.

Which invites a fairly obvious question: How are they going to sell this as a Benz competitor when for somewhere around the same price you can get an actual Benz?

There better be some serious chassis tuning going on here. (We already know it’s the same engine: the Mercedes M270 turbo four with around 208 ponies, albeit built by Nissan in the States.)

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Now with deBlartification

Ezra Dyer grumbles in Car and Driver (August) that cars have too many dysfunctional functions:

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that carmakers indulge the temptation to cram in every feature that might theoretically have a moment of utility over a car’s life span. For example, I just tried Infiniti’s new InTouch system in the Q50S. Several menus down the infotainment rabbit hole, I had the car giving me movie times for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. A disclaimer at the bottom of the screen read, “Screening times displayed are not always up to date.” I suppose this function would be useful, if something happened to your phone — maybe you ran it over? — and you then had to use your car to find uncertain movie times. But in all likelihood, you would never miss this feature if you never had it, leaving your car and your life just a little bit simpler.

I’d take a different approach. The Q50S is already smart enough to detect when you’re drifting out of your lane and nudge the car back into position. With this much brainpower, surely it’s possible to arrange for the car never to even mention stuff like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

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Gwendolyn went in for a spa day this week, and the dealership sent me off in a Q40, which nobody admits but everybody knows is the old G37 with a new badge. (I said something to this effect while signing out the car, and got a stare worthy of Fluttershy.) At least it’s familiar, always a useful trait in a borrowed car, and there’s a “3.7” emblem in front of the doors, just in case you didn’t catch on.

Then again, this wasn’t the stripper G they usually relegate to loaner duty: this one had the full nav package, which I looked at just long enough to realize that our street grid, or Nissan’s graphic representation of it anyway, appears to have been designed by Piet Mondrian on Quaaludes. Otherwise, it’s the same tried-and-true machine, which is undoubtedly why Infiniti kept it around even after its replacement, the Q50, was introduced: at under $40k, it’s a decent price leader.

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Another M dashed

From several summers ago:

BMW for many years has affixed the letter M to its highest-performance cars, and they probably didn’t pay much attention when Nissan’s Infiniti division begat M35 and M45 sedans: the Bimmers, after all, had labels like M5 and M6, and anyway Infiniti had had an M30 way back when, which no one would have confused with anything Bavarian. It was probably not a good idea, though, for Infiniti to refer to the M35/M45 collectively as the “M.” And then Infiniti came up with the idea of an M6 sport package for the Canadian-market G35, and BMW drew a line in the legal sand.

A Canadian court has now ruled that BMW owns the M mark.

And now all Infinitis are Qs of some sort. I can’t prove that Mercedes-Benz was listening through the door, but the M-Class is no more:

As part of its efforts to re-brand crossovers, the Mercedes-Benz ML is now the “GLE,” the X5 to the GLE Coupe’s X6.

Along with a diesel 4-cylinder and a gasoline V6 (with or without turbos), there is an AMG version, the GLE63 AMG and an “S” version.

The new GLE is essentially the same W166 Benz it’s been, albeit with a facelift to go with the new badge.

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Four-cylinder butterface

Last month, we were treated to a three-quarter-rear look at the upcoming Infiniti QX30 crossover-wagon-thingie. At Geneva this week, they’re letting us see the front:

Infiniti QX30 concept at Geneva Auto Show 2015

I can see why they wanted you to see the back first.

(With thanks to Cameron Aubernon at TTAC.)

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More wee wheels

This is apparently a glance at the future Infiniti QX30:

Teaser for Infiniti QX30

A cousin to the Mercedes-Benz GLA, this little wagonlet is supposed to slot in under the QX50, which used to be the EX35. I expect a turbo four, and maybe a diesel, instead of the V6s farther up the line. And I figure both this and the QX50 will be uncomfortably close to $40k once I start shopping again.

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Defending the American knee

Not so long ago, I posted a shot from a Buick print ad showing a young lady busily tableting away in the back seat of an Encore, incorporating the following observations:

[T]he fact that Miss Tablet can actually cross her legs back there is reassuring, though I’m not sure how close her head is to the ceiling.

This latter point is seldom made by automakers; I can remember only once in recent years when it was blatant, and even then it was only a tweet.

Now comes this, to show you the space available in the long-wheelbase Infiniti Q70L, and once again legroom is a factor:

Rear sear of Infiniti Q70L, occupied by dreamy female

Of course, the great tragedy of my life is being unable to attract anyone like that to the front seat.

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El Q

I found this ad on the Fark Politics tab, which I suppose makes sense, inasmuch as pretty much all public policy these days calls for spending money, and many of the recipients — not to mention many of the dispensers of said cash — are decidedly challenged by actual English:

Banner ad for Infiniti Q50 in Spanish

Then again, I have to wonder what I’d been reading to be sent this particular ad in the first place.

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That’s your Q to leave

Johan de Nysschen, last heard explaining why Infiniti needed to replace all its alphanumerics with more inscrutable alphanumerics, is moving on, to an American marque whose badges already make no damn sense:

Johan de Nysschen, the executive largely credited with Audi’s rise to Tier 1 luxury brand status, has left his post at Infiniti after just two years on the job. He will assume the top job at Cadillac, after former President Bob Ferguson was moved to a new post as GM’s head of public policy… de Nysschen, who took the helm as Infiniti moved its headquarters to Hong Kong and re-organized its nomenclature (into the confusing “Q” and “QX” lines), was expected to lead a long, progressive turnaround for the brand, much as he did with the once-struggling Audi.

ATS? CTS? ELR? WTF, Cadillac?

This may not be a matter of mere letters, though:

An Automotive News story suggests that CEO Carlos Ghosn’s extremely ambitious targets may have played a part in de Nysschen’s departure.

And let’s face it, you don’t mess with the Johan.

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Tam’s wheels (eight of them, anyway) are in the shop, and while she’s tooling around Naptown in a perfectly reasonable, if unexciting, rented econobox, she’s telling this tale:

Last oil change rolled around and I pulled up to the Jiffy Lube (yes, I know how to change it myself, but it’s worth it to me to not have to lie down on gravel) and the whole staff of strapping young men had to stand around while they went to find the only person in the store who could operate a manual transmission, a leathery middle-aged country gal. You would be drummed out of the Subtle Fiction Writer’s Guild for including that scene in a book.

Now I’m wondering. Infiniti has had, since 2003 anyway, exactly one model with a stick shift; I’d be surprised if the local dealership sold more than a single truckload in any given year. What are the chances that any of their service personnel can drive a manual? (I’m betting that the one female on staff can, and probably none of the others.)

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Needs an eye-bleach dispenser

Nissan, perhaps due to rubbing up against corporate cousin Renault for all these years, always seems to have a weird mix of genuinely handsome and downright fugly vehicles. I drive a 14-year-old Infiniti sedan which I think is at least acceptable-looking (apart from a really dumb aftermarket spoiler), especially considering the atrocities that have been vended in this size class in recent years in the name of fuel economy/aerodynamics/designer perversity. On the other side of the divide is the Juke utelet, of which Car and Driver said: “There are no logical reasons for it to look the way it does, so clearly drawn without conventional aesthetic considerations in mind.” And they liked it.

The revised Infiniti QX80, née QX56, née Nissan Patrol, may get similarly blistered in the press. At TTAC, Cameron Miquelon made no particular observation about its appearance, other than to note that the hood was “massive.” However, Michael Zak at Autoblog brought out the pejoratives:

[I]t’s hard to call this SUV anything but ugly. It’s bulbous and almost brutish, which aren’t generally words you want to have to use when talking about any kind of luxury vehicle.

Or even Lincolns.

On the basis that you should be able to make this fine judgment call on your own, here’s the new QX80, as seen at the New York auto show:

2015 Infiniti QX80

No amount of ethanol could persuade me that this thing is desirable. (Your mileage, of course, may vary.) Then again, the driver only has to look at the inside of it, except when refueling — which, given the size of this thing, he’ll be doing rather frequently.

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