QX Inspiration concept shows the future of the electric crossover
What is Infiniti? Nissan’s luxury brand is young—it was 30 years ago that it broke onto the international stage with the Q45 sedan unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But the spirit of performance it aims to deliver dates back to the boutique Prince Motor Company of the ’50s, which built sports cars that chased Porsche 904s around the Japanese Grand Prix (and often won). Nissan bought Prince in 1966, and those cars were the precursor to the Q50 on the road today.
In terms of design, Infiniti was at its best when it created the “bionic cheetah,” the first FX concept at the 2001 NAIAS in Detroit. A second, closer-to-production FX45 concept was shown at the 2002 show, and by January 2003 the FX was on sale. The brand’s recent Inspiration series of concepts—not to mention the Vision GT—have also sparked the imagination. In looking at design on a broader scale, Infiniti’s future vision is dictated by the idea of performance via electrification. The brand has promised to electrify its entire portfolio starting in 2021.
Tying Infiniti past, present, and future together is the QX Inspiration SUV concept that, fittingly, uses the 2019 Detroit auto show to make its world debut.
QX Inspiration is an electric midsize crossover that designers nicknamed “Baby FX.” It draws inspiration from the spirit of Prince, the legacy of FX, the lines of the Prototype 10 speedster concept, and the evolving design direction first shown a year ago in the Q Inspiration sedan concept. Add to all that a big dollop of Japanese DNA.
The QX does not point to a specific vehicle but is the direction for the crossover lineup of the future. “People should look at this car,” Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan Motor’s global design chief, said. “There are many strong hints of what’s coming.”
The future has a wide stance, deep creases on the sides, and a smirking face with no grille and a prominent logo. It has a large, open interior with the cab pushed forward, and a flat floor allowed designers to create a Japanese “living room,” complete with marble tabletops and Orient Express–style gold lamps. Up front is an infotainment screen that spans the width of the car, a futuristic steering wheel, and space age seats. Throughout are a suede floor that looks like Italian tile, deep chocolate woods and leathers, muted gold trim, and a lattice roof.
The exterior styling of QX Inspiration came out of Nissan’s Global Design Center in Atsugi, Japan (as did the Q Inspiration sedan) while the London studio worked on the interior. Together the two concepts show what next-generation Infiniti cars and crossovers will look like—especially considering they will ride on the new EV platform shared among the Nissan–Renault–Mitsubishi alliance.
The scalable EV platform will be ready by 2020 and support 70 percent of Alliance vehicles from many segments by 2022. Plans include a new family of EV motors and lower-cost batteries to be introduced from 2020. The Alliance companies will introduce 12 pure electric vehicles by 2022. They will have a range of at least 373 miles (600 km) and will quick-charge to a 143-mile (230-km) range in 15 minutes. The brands will also use Mitsubishi’s plug-in technology for compact and midsize vehicles.
From FX to QX
The study to take Infiniti electric dates back to April 2017 as part of a soul-searching mission to define the brand.
As the brand celebrates its 30th anniversary, “We want electrification to be part of the DNA and the design language and a reflection of the moment in time after 30 years,” Albaisa said. “It reflects how a fundamental shift in our heart and mind can give you a new language.”
The new look pays homage to the original FX, which left an indelible stamp on Albaisa—who was a newly minted design director for Nissan Design America in 2000, when he received three sets of photographs of the proposed FX to vote on whether it should go into production.
“I am still completely shocked at the memory of the first FX,” Albaisa said, in part because the only true premium crossover on the market at the time was the BMW X5 (he felt the Lexus RX competed with the Nissan Murano). He was blown away by the third set of FX pictures, which looked like “an egg had swallowed an aircraft carrier” with a round derby hat roof atop a long fuselage body. The straight line from the hood corner to the back of the vehicle captivated him. “I fell in love and am still in love,” said the man who went on to own eight FXs. “On my next trip I hunted down the designer. To this day I look at him and I see what a human being can do, in the context of nothing because there was no benchmark, no obvious trend, and he created something so magical and important to the automobile world.”
Fast-forward to today. The job of recapturing that magic for future Infiniti crossovers fell to Karim Habib, the Infiniti brand’s executive design director. The first sketch came out of Japan a year ago. “I tried to do a few unconventional things,” Habib said as he explored what the first Infiniti electric vehicle should look like and how to use the brand’s Japanese roots as a guiding light.
Albaisa thinks the cheeky QX Inspiration has the same bravado and arrogance to be another black sheep like the FX, in an industry hurtling toward electrification and autonomous driving.
Although the Q Inspiration was a long, lithe, and elegant flagship sedan, the QX Inspiration SUV is more compact, foretelling a compact or midsize crossover such as the QX50. The design is scalable to encompass the full QX crossover lineup with the exception of the QX80, the full-size body-on-frame flagship SUV known for its functionality. The QX80 must retain a large presence while the QX Inspiration is designed to appear more nimble and energetic.
MotorTrend was the first outsider to see the “liquid white” concept during a trip to the Global Design Center in Atsugi. Like the sedan, the crossover goes for a simpler yet dramatic artistry.
The front has a shark nose—despite Albaisa being afraid of sharks—and a strip of light that looks like the shark is smirking after a good feed. The back-lit and hollowed-out Infiniti logo is prominent on a face with no grille, a functional element that electric vehicles are making extinct. Cooling for the electric vehicle comes via air intakes on each side.
Although the signature double-arch grille is gone, designers paid some lip service to it with a hood that appears to have a larger arch on top and smaller one below.
The headlights (or eyes) of the vehicle have narrowed. They are linear and deep with piercing projectors of light and decorative Japanese-inspired etched lattice pattern insets.
The crescent-cut C-pillar is also gone, replaced by a two-tone piece of trim under the small rear window. The trim has a strip in muted gold and a second strip in shuiro (Japanese vermilion, which is the spiritual red used in the gates of many shrines). The trim is repeated inside the vehicle. The brake calipers are also painted shuiro.
Essentially, Infiniti is changing its three main iconographies: the grille, eyes, and crescent cut, Albaisa said, in favor of a new-age look of simpler intensity.
The Infiniti name is prominent on the front and back of the vehicle with the tall letters backlit in white. Taillights stretch the width of the SUV with a dot pattern that gets smaller in the center and larger as it extends to the haunches. The rear has a series of horizontal lines creating steplike sections from the spoiler to the nonexistent bumper for the show car.
Being a concept, it rides on 22-inch wheels and has slits for side mirrors and sensors to open doors without handles. A puddle lamp projects the word “Infiniti” on the ground with fan-shaped lines welcoming the driver. Inside, mood lighting and scents depict all four seasons.
Albaisa and Habib wanted to give the concepts more Japanese DNA. Much thought went into how that should manifest itself. Nissan’s eight design studios were asked to submit in words their interpretations of what it means to be Japanese.
The most prominent example is the crease along the side of the SUV inspired by origami, the art of paper folding. The crease is sharp and deep, with the top half actually extending out further, like an overbite, with gold trim covering the width of the gap where the two pieces meet. The line is interesting: It is sharpest between the A- and C-pillars and then splays open as it bursts over the wheel arches.
The look was telegraphed in the Prototype 10 concept, which also played with the idea of bending aluminum like paper and exploring geometric shapes. The team played with about 100 different cuts, helped by the skilled hands of modelers, to find the right proportion for the crease, Taisuke Nakamura, program design director, said.
The car was designed to have a sense of ma, a Japanese term for the mastery of empty space. Elements have more meaning when protected by deliberate space, like a crease separating two large body panels.
Open the suicide doors, and the concept is stunning in its interpretation of electric (and eventually autonomous) vehicles. On the flat floor is a geometric pattern that looks like Italian tile but is made of microsuede with some lines accented in gold—a modern take on the Japanese tatami mat.
Door panels have a mix of rich brown leather and cedar showcasing flaws in the wood—Japanese wabi-sabi embraces imperfection. A gray fabric with dot quilting required some ingenuity to pull the threads in the back for a puckered look. It adorns the doors and dash.
Overhead is a lattice glass roof with slats that gently twist. They are black when viewed from inside, white from the bird’s-eye view.
There is the startling use of marble on the door sill and center console that extends to the back seat like a coffee table, complete with a holder for the gold flower vase. The living room look will play well in the age of autonomous vehicles. Marble will not make it into production, but the idea will be replicated with lighter materials. In the front the marble morphs into a glossy black screen with myriad functions at the touch.
Seats are molded and futuristic, accommodating four passengers. A screen is built into center of the rear seat with comfort controls.
“QX Inspiration has a different gesture, and we’re building on it,” Albaisa said. “It’s a lovely mix of the bravado of the West and the thoughtful consideration of Japan and Asia.”
“And it pays homage to the FX,” Habib said. “That car is Infiniti at its best.”