Sexy Sedans and Brute Utes: Infiniti Design Chief Talks Flagships

2018 Infiniti QX80

Now that the towering Infiniti QX80 SUV finally looks suitable to serve as a flagship of the SUV lineup, we posed some questions to Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s head of design. The brand has gone without a proper flagship sedan since the Q45 departed in 2006, so we asked what plans the company might have to change that situation, while we also sought to learn more about the QX80’s future and whether off-road prowess matters to its buyers.

First, regarding the QX80’s role, Albaisa definitely considers it the flagship of the SUV lineup, but he wouldn’t go there when we asked him if he thought it was the flagship of the entire Infiniti brand. He did say, however, that with the technology, the active suspension, and the open-pore wood that has heretofore been offered on the QX80, “it has a level of luxury that is our flagship [SUV],” but that it needed to look more assertive.

Ever since the first Infiniti FX appeared as a 2003 model, he said, “SUVs have been the cars that resonate very strongly with our customers. I myself felt that we should push this car out in the sense of its visual presence.” Furthermore, the QX80’s customers are particularly emotional about the product, often buying it as a reward, he said. “It’s one of those cars that people come in and they’re not wavering; they want this car.”

2018 Infiniti QX80

Yet the QX80 is the only Infiniti with body-on-frame construction—it shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Patrol, which is sold globally outside of the United States, and it also serves under the Nissan Armada. It’s decidedly old school for an ostensibly performance-driven brand that, unlike Land Rover’s Range Rover, doesn’t have much of an off-road legacy. Would it remain that way? we asked. And, more broadly, are off-road bona fides important to the Infiniti QX80 customer in the first place?

“Naturally, this question comes up because of our competitors, which have this full-size SUV authenticity and aren’t body on frame,” said Albaisa, clearly referring to the Range Rover. “But our engineering has created a body-on-frame feeling—a lot of that is the suspension and the smoothness of motor—that almost feels unibody in that sense.” The technologies that make it so today will stick around for the next generation, he said, saying that Infiniti is just starting to work on it. The main consideration for the next QX80 is reducing mass to give it a a sense of smooth power, stability, and agility. “The cumbersome beast is not welcome,” he said.

Albaisa appeared to dismiss the idea of the QX80 migrating to a more modern, crossover-like unit-body construction, if only to preserve its standing in places where the Patrol is a legend in its own right.

“We’re very strong with this car in the desert regions—in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and all of these places. They have a tendency to take the car off-road, not in the sense of the forest because they don’t have one, but in this sense of ‘King of the Dunes.’ Those regions tend to appreciate very much the car’s capabilities because they use it. They have fun with it. This is a car they go and do stuff with.” In other markets, Albaisa said, it’s an urban vehicle. “This car is valued for smooth delivery. You’re sitting up high, it’s super quiet, you can see everything. It has values that people love for the road. Maybe people don’t want to take their $ 70,000 vehicle and throw it around, but there’s a value to people knowing this car can do stuff.

“And as cars start to drive themselves,” he said, “all of these technologies that make driving easier and more pleasurable and better will apply to the next one. I’m quite excited about the next technologies we have moving forward.”

Speaking of Infiniti’s future, we pressed Albaisa about the big gaping hole at the top of Infiniti’s sedan lineup, and he hinted that Infiniti will present something at the 2018 Detroit auto show in January that may start “an interesting conversation” about a flagship Infiniti sedan.

“In Detroit, we will show something about that subject which is super nice,” he said. Don’t expect a conventional sedan: “The straight sedan is losing a little bit of appeal again,” he said. Rather, we should expect it to fall more in line with the sleek, “sexy sedans” that seem to be gaining traction both in the mass market and in the premium segment, the ones that their makers tend to call four-door coupes.

“Honestly, we have a little bit of a new proportion because of new technologies, and without saying too much, we will have some news in Detroit,” Albaisa said.

Infiniti Q80

Infiniti’s last flagship sedan concept, the Q80 Inspiration from 2014, never actually turned into a production model. However, almost every Infiniti concept vehicle since then actually has previewed a subsequent production model—and relatively accurately, too.

  • Built Like They Used To:  Infiniti QX80 4WD Tested!
  • Infiniti Shows Off 2017 QX80 Signature Edition in Chicago
  • Infiniti QX80: Full Specs, Pricing, Reviews, Photos, and More

If the 2018 Detroit show follows suit, Infiniti may go from having no flagships to two flagships in the near future, one an old-school SUV and one thoroughly modern luxury car.


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