As the great Albert Hammond famously lamented in his 1972 hit, “there is rarely precipitation in the lower part of the Golden State”, and that’s as true today as it was then. Rain is indeed hard to come by in Southern California, and when wet weather does show up, it usually doesn’t stick around long.
You can imagine my surprise when a faint morning drizzle turned into an afternoon deluge, which then became evening showers. Normally I’d be delighted to have something other than ash falling from the sky, but this unusual occurrence happened the day I was tasked with driving the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 on some excellent winding roads, so there was no joy to be found in this soil drenching.
It didn’t sour the whole experience either, the cabin of the Q60 is far too pleasant of a place to hang out for that to be the case. Between the seats and the 13 speaker BOSE audio system that’s optimized for digital signals, I was riding in total comfort. The first of the two Q60s I drove sported a semi-aniline leather interior whiter than a bro in Birkenstocks named Luke Bryan playing an acoustic version of Brown Eyed Girl on the quad at Yale.
An Infiniti rep told me that it is the whitest leather available from the supplier, and I can believe it, the stuff makes Larry Bird look tan. If not for the black headliner, the cabin would be so airy you’d feel as though you should be floating around in a spacesuit. It was a great place in which to start the day, really helped wake me up and keep me alert while surrounded by all the dreariness outside. Doesn’t hurt that it also makes the cabin feel larger than it is, always an added bonus in a two door with a sharply raked rear windshield.
Great as Gallery White was, if it was my money, I’d opt for the Monaco Red interior that I spent the afternoon swaddled in. It’s just the right shade of red, not too bright, not too dull, and I have to think that it’d look even better with age, certainly as opposed to the white, which is guaranteed to loose its luster before the lease is up.
Both interior colors paired well with the Iridium Blue paint covering the exterior of the two Q60s I drove. As far as dark blues go, I don’t know how it can get any better than this paint; I only wish I’d gotten to see it in the sun, because I have a feeling it would really pop. Not quite as much as the pupil dilating Dynamic Sunstone Red, which is exclusive to the Red Sport 400, but that gives the car a different presence altogether, and I’m not sure it’s well suited to it.
Infiniti had the chance to do something really special with the Red Sport 400, and I believe they genuinely wanted to, but they didn’t see it through. They let go of the ball before crossing the goal line, and I think they know that; yet they’ve still got to celebrate like they scored in hopes that no one noticed.
Well, I noticed, I’m pretty sure my peers noticed, and I have to imagine consumers will notice too.
Yes, the new 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 (VR30DDTT) is highly enjoyable in this form, tuned to 400-horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, and yes, that power comes in a very pretty package, but ultimately the car is all style masquerading as substance. For instance, you’re offered a choice of 7 different Direct Adaptive Steering modes, but the steering in the non DAS equipped car I drove had better feel than any of those. It’s not magnificent, but it’s on par for what you get in the rest of the segment, generally light, but heavy-ish when it loads up in corner.
Infiniti is also still using a two screen layout in the center stack, one for navigation and one for everything else. This can go. Two screens are not better than one, and that’s made painfully obvious by the dated graphics on the upper screen. It’s a waste of real estate and a blight on an otherwise wonderfully designed cabin.
However the most glaring oversight is the lack of a noticeable exhaust note. A range topping sports coupe should emit a noise that makes you want to go for a drive just for fun, the Red Sport 400 doesn’t. It does have all-new exhaust tips design though, so that’s something to be excited about right?
Furthermore, you can’t completely turn off traction control and do your best Chris Forsberg impression. Trust me, I tried. Even on wet SoCal parking lot, the Red Sport 400 won’t completely break loose, and that’s a shame, because I suspect it’d be really fun if it was allowed to. But it’s not, and that left me wondering what the point of this car really is.
When I first saw the car just over a year ago at Infiniti’s design center just outside of San Diego, I immediately thought of how much potential it had to make Infiniti relevant to a whole new demographic. With huge shifts in the market already in motion, automakers have to define themselves like never before or risk becoming an afterthought at best. There’s no doubt that the Q60 Red Sport 400 will turn heads, but I worry that it won’t hold people’s attention for very long. In a highly competitive segment like this, that’s a big problem.
A sports coupe is supposed to make a clear statement, and a range topping variant is supposed to broadcast that statement at max volume. The Red Sport 400 instead sends mixed signals, and that holds it back from really being on par with the German built competition in terms of overall desirability.
People who already own an Infiniti, or have considered owning an Infiniti will buy this car, but that’s not enough. The Q60 Red Sport 400 needs to be a conquest car, it needs to open minds of longtime Mercedes-Benz and BMW owners, and to do so, it’ll need to be more than just a pretty face in the crowd.