Infiniti is one of the few manufacturers who still maintain the reputation for producing rear-wheel driven automobiles. Now, the Infiniti Division has just said that they’ll be swaying away from a RWD-only lineup.
The last Infiniti to ever use front-wheel drive was the I35 from 2000, which stopped production in 2004 to make way for the G35. But according to Nissan’s vice president of product planning for Nissan North America, we could expect to see a new wave of front-wheel driven Infinitis, starting with the new JX, which comes in April.
“Customers really don’t care that much about the platform beneath their car,” said Larry Dominque, Nissan North America’s VP of product planning. “They care about the car. There are limitations with rear-wheel drive that we’d like to work around–like packaging. We can create more interior space if we get away from the technical requirements of rear-wheel. We don’t have to have the big rear axle and the big transmission.”
Dominque also added that FWD platforms would help fuel economy.
“There is a performance perception with rear-wheel,” he continued. “But we’re comfortable that we don’t need rear-wheel to deliver the performance we need. And some of our vehicles, like the G and the M cars, will remain rear-wheel.”
Now, what really grinds my gears about this statement is: how can Dominque possibly say “customers really don’t care about the platform beneath their car” when customers do care about the platform in one way or another by caring whether their cars are front-, all-, or rear-wheel driven?
“If you look at where we were several years ago, Infiniti’s design language was a little too similar to Nissan,” said Nissan Motor Company’s global design chief, Shiro Nakamura. “That was bad for a luxury brand, and we needed to move Infiniti far away. We needed rear-wheel drive to help us differentiate between the brands. But I think we’ve been very successful in achieving that,” he added. “Look at all of Infiniti’s vehicles. They look nothing like Nissan’s.”
Considering that Infiniti has more or less been called Japan’s BMW, Infiniti’s offering of rear-wheel driven cars is very important to the brand’s identity because it defines how their cars drive and simply because Infiniti aims directly at BMW as their direct competitor. However, knowing the significant handling differences between front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive, having a flagship sedan, SUV or crossover with front-wheel drive is not at all performance-oriented, which their direct competitors are. How can Infiniti say that they “don’t need to worry about rear-wheel or front-wheel drive now” when they also want to “focus on styling and performance?”
Where the power goes in a car very much has to do with a car’s performance so Nissan’s statements sound very counterintuitive…even to the point where I get the impression that these two buffoons don’t even know what they’re talking about. Not to mention, Nakamura said that Infiniti moved to rear-wheel drive to better differentiate them from Nissan, who primarily made front-wheel driven cars. And they’ve achieved that and insist Infiniti cars remain different from their lesser counterparts…but for Nakamura to say that they want Infiniti to shift towards front-wheel drive, doesn’t that sound like they’re moving backwards?
Because Nissan cars are front-wheel driven, front-wheel driven Infinitis wouldn’t exactly make them much different because as aforementioned, the handling characteristics between front-wheel drive and rear-wheel are significantly different. And part of the ways that Infiniti has established their differences from their parent company is through the way their cars drive. Sure, it may make sense to the company from a financial standpoint to keep up with the times…but how would Infiniti moving to front-wheel drive maintain the brand’s uniqueness and identity for maintaining rear-wheel driven performance-oriented lineups?
Could these words of future plans for the Infiniti brand mean that they could be writing their own death wish? Let’s hope not. Stay with rear-wheel drive Infiniti!
– By: Chris Chin