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Thursday, 5 June 2014

Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge Is A GT-R Supersaloon

Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge Concept
There was once a time when the GT-R was based on the coupé version of the humble Skyline sports saloon (imagine a Japan-only BMW 3-Series or 4-Series). During that time Nissan never thought to make a 4-door GT-R, save for a limited-run R33 made by specialist tuners Autech with their permission. The mighty RB26DETT engine from Godzilla also found its way into the Stagea family estate car, complete with all-wheel-drive and huge air intakes, to make the Stagea 260RS Autech Version. When the GT-R returned in 2007, it was separated from the contemporary Skyline saloon, also known as the Infiniti G in western markets, and it seemed any such creations were no longer likely. However, the Skyline - now called the Infiniti Q50 outside Japan - is about to get a GT-R engine once more, in the form of the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge. Well, it probably will.

Infiniti is Nissan's premium brand originally invented for the US market, like Lexus to Toyota or Acura to Honda. While Lexus has gifted the world with the glorious LFA supercar (plus the V8-powered IS-F and new Predator-nose RC-F Coupé) and Acura is busying itself with pretending to make a new-age Honda NSX Hybrid, Infiniti don't really have any sporting credentials. Their gorgeous Essence and Emerg-E concepts were never meant as more than design expressions, and aside from pasting their logos all over the Red Bull Racing F1 car, they don't have any real involvement in motorsport either. Their "best" attempt at a sports car so far has been the FX50 Sebastian Vettel Edition, which was a huge, oddly-styled Range Rover Sport SC rival with F1-style trinketry and "handling by Sebastian Vettel," which did nothing to justify its mad price or existence.

So, basically, Infiniti - which is now a global brand - needs a proper poster child to gain it a bit of respect. Infiniti is owned by Nissan. Nissan makes the GT-R. Nissan doesn't necessarily mind if a small engineering company puts the GT-R's engine into something else they make. The cogs. They turn...


Nissan VR38DETT, with Infiniti-branded intake manifold covers
Despite their brand starting in America, Infiniti consider themselves proudly Japanese because of their parent company (much like Lexus), and so big boss Johan de Nysschen wanted this "Super Special" car to have significant input from Japanese engineers. However, to avoid all the corporate red tape and having their vision diluted by focus groups and the like, the show car and prototype(s) for the Q50 Eau Rouge have been physically developed and put together by the RML Group in Wellingborough, England. RML didn't just make the Juke-R, they've also build BTCC cars and endurance racers for Nissan, including the current GT-R GT3, so they're well-versed in this stuff and well-trusted by the company. They also have experience in putting GT-R engines into things that aren't GT-Rs, so once project head Peter Smith (who questions the Germans' dominance in fast fancy saloons) had decided not to go with a V8 or supercharging the 3.7 V6 they already use in the Q50, RML was the obvious choice for a skunkworks team that could help them make this idea a reality. For a while they considered cutting up a Q50 and GT-R and simply splicing the two together, Juke-R style, but it was decided that that's not the proper way to go about building up the reputation of a legitimate performance brand. It has to be legit, with all parts having Nissan and Infiniti OEM part numbers.

So instead, they're doing it the hard way, by trying to squeeze the GT-R's "VR38DETT" twin-turbo V6 and ATTESA-ETS all-wheel-drive system into an executive sports saloon. This isn't without its problems, which include the differing electronics between engine and car not communicating properly, keeping the engine cool enough and then still having the space - and presumably budget - to up-rate the suspension, brakes, differentials (including a rear LSD), driveshaft, suspension and tyres to handle all that extra performance. It was never going to be a straight swap, as the GT-R has its transmission mounted at the back for 50:50 weight distribution, which would've meant cutting huge sections out of the Q50's chassis. No way. Dropping the engine straight in so that the standard crossmembers fit would also have meant extending the nose of the car by 120mm. No way. So a lot of beard-stroking and trying different methods was required. For the gearbox, Infiniti decided to use their "HG" 7-speed automatic for the development car as it can handle the VR38's full 442lb/ft of torque and 560PS (552bhp).

Eventually, with help from Japan, RML got it all to fit properly and work together. Despite the automatic gearbox the 0-60 time should be under 4 seconds, slower than a GT-R (a physics-bending 2.7 seconds) but then this is a bigger, heavier car. The all-wheel-drive is still running the GT-R setup of sending all the power to the rear wheels until it detects wheelspin, at which point it throws the excess power forwards to the front wheels. It's the ultimate AWD setup, giving extra security when you need it and rear-drive agility when you don't. For now the development car is doing without variable dampers or steering, running just one passive damper setup and fixed-ratio steering to keep things simple. This may change in due course. Sebastian Vettel has tested it and says he enjoyed it, but then of course he would say that. Infiniti say they want to balance the input of Vettel and Sebastien Buémi with the expectations of mere mortal drivers, so hopefully the finished car will feel sharp and fun without requiring world-class driving talent to enjoy.

Infiniti haven't actually given the Q50 Eau Rouge the green light for production yet - those pesky folk with their red tape 'um'ing and 'ah'ing - but with this level of development already gone into it to make it a working car, you'd have to assume that low-volume production is going to happen. Testing is ongoing while the show car pictured grabs attention with its F1-inspired styling including carbon fibre trim inside and out, a square rear fog light (think Ferrari F12, or indeed an F1 car's rain light) and an aero package that's being developed by Red Bull Racing. When the finished car appears, it's potentially going to cost $100,000 in the US and only last for two years, so it's somewhat more... "special" than a BMW M3 or M5. Hopefully it will be to drive as well.

More pictures below:
Nissan Stagea 260RS Autech Version (1998)

Nissan Skyline GT-R Autech Version 40th Anniversary (1998)

Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge show car (2013/4)

Mmm, red carbon fibre...

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