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Happy Anniversary, Infiniti!

Ramble On

Nov 14, 2019

Infiniti recently turned 30 years old, having first opened its showroom doors on November 8, 1989, with the debut of the Q45 sedan, a sleek and ultramodern machine that stood out in stark contrast to other luxury cars. The Q45 came with a sporty cockpit bereft of chrome and wood, as well as unusually smooth exterior styling that eschewed the radiator grille altogether. Those characteristics were a little too forward-thinking for most luxury buyers, but Infiniti nevertheless established itself as a unique carmaker willing to take risks.

I spent a lot of my college years in a G35 coupe that belonged to my brother, first as a frequent passenger and later as the sports car's occasional caretaker—Christian lived in Hawaii and didn't want to ship the Infiniti. My brother still has that distinctively styled coupe, which has become one of Infiniti's signature vehicles. Even people who don't really know cars can identify the first G35 as a machine from the company with the Mount Fuji logo.

Photo 2/4   |   The Infiniti FX45 seen here is one of the world's first legitimately sporty crossover SUVs, thanks to its close relation to the Nissan Z and Infiniti G35. Its sporty styling still looks great nearly 20 years later.

And the G35 donated its "FM" architecture to the company's other recognizable-by-laypeople offering, the FX. In a time when most crossovers were based on front-drive platforms, the FX featured rear-wheel drive or a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, and its engine was mounted almost completely aft of the front axle's centerline. This "front-midship" position gave the FX preternatural responses, either in V-6 (FX35) or V-8 (FX45) trims. Unlike the QX4 it replaced, this was a five-door Nissan Z sports car on stilts, beating the BMW X6 to the coupe-SUV game by five model years.

I recently had the pleasure of checking out an absolutely pristine 2004 Infiniti FX45 at the company's 30th anniversary celebration in Scottsdale, Arizona. Here, Infiniti trotted out some of its most historic models, including the Q45, G35, FX45, and a glorious 1963 Prince Skyline Sport coupe, the spiritual ancestor of the entire Infiniti brand. The Scottsdale trip also included a sojourn to Spaceport America, the home of the Virgin Galactic suborbital commercial spacecraft company.

Photo 3/4   |   The modern Infiniti QX50 isn't as overtly athletic as the old FX, but it still has a few unique moves of its own—that variable-compression turbocharged I-4 is a gem. And the SUV will get a coupe-like QX55 variant next year, featuring styling clearly inspired by the FX.

Spaceport became the place where I'd get to sample all of Infiniti's current products, including an off-road course in the capable and comfortable QX80, an enthusiastic autocross in the QX50, and a dirt-and-tarmac circuit in the wildly powerful Q60 Red Sport (the successor to my brother's beloved G35). Out in the New Mexico desert, Infiniti also took the opportunity to discuss its future.

And here, I have to cop to some trepidation. The company foresees a completely electrified lineup for itself, but how Infiniti does it gives me a little pause. I'm all for EVs thanks to their zero tailpipe emissions and instantaneous torque. But Infiniti will do things a bit differently. While it will invest in a few full EVs (a production crossover based on the all-electric QX Inspiration concept is on its way), it will also make vehicles using "gasoline-generated" EV power, which just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Photo 4/4   |   Infiniti's future might look a lot like the QX Inspiration concept, which is a full EV with graceful, decidedly Japanese styling.

Here's how it works: An onboard gasoline engine generates electricity that gets sent to electric motors mounted on the drive axles, and it's different from that of a plug-in hybrid because, well, you can't plug this one in. Your energy comes completely from the gasoline engine, which happens to be completely disconnected from the drive wheels. You refuel it like you do a regular car, so you're still burning fossil fuels, but you also have to deal with the added weight and complexity of a hybrid-like system. Infiniti rightly points out that a gas engine working as a generator is more efficient than one working as a propulsion unit, and it also boasts that it will have all the fun-to-drive torque of a full EV. But I still wonder if there aren't a few too many compromises.

I hope I'm wrong about gas-generated EVs. Even if I'm not, the company has gambled before and lost, and it still finds a way to claw back into the hearts of enthusiasts everywhere. The Infiniti fan in me is still glad to see the company marching to the beat of its own distinctive drummer.

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