Infiniti details plans to make a hybrid like no other

Chris Davies - Nov 5, 2019, 12:04 pm CST
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Infiniti details plans to make a hybrid like no other

Infiniti has revealed its big plans for EVs, but the Japanese automaker isn’t going to deliver electrification in the same way we’ve seen other luxury car companies do it. Having previewed its vision for electric crossovers and sedans with a number of “Inspiration” concepts over the past few years, it turns out Infiniti still sees there being a place for internal combustion engines, even if it’s electricity that’s actually driving the wheels.

Infiniti plans both hybrids and all-electric cars

Infiniti isn’t going to make a wholesale switch to BEVs, though fully-electric vehicles are on the roadmap. Instead it will have both BEVs and hybrids, based on its “two powertrains, one platform” strategy. That should allow for different drivetrains on the same underlying architecture, and be more cost-effective as well as flexible.

Infiniti has two drivetrains in mind. Both will offer an e-AWD electric all-wheel drive system, with two electric motors. The BEVs will have a large battery pack in the floorpan between the axles, helping keep the center of gravity low. Infiniti says it expects its BEVs to shift from the automaker’s current aesthetic of long hoods and passenger compartments pushed back, to a higher driving position and shorter overhangs.

Infiniti’s hybrids will be different to other hybrids

“Hybrid” covers a whole range of different approaches to combining internal combustion engines with some sort of electrification, and Infiniti isn’t taking the obvious route. Whereas many hybrids have gas engines that at some point directly drive the wheels, Infiniti’s will keep their ICE component separate.

Instead it’ll be using the gas engine as a generator, providing the ability to recharge the battery while on the move. In some ways it’s a similar system to what we’ve seen BMW use with its i3 range-extender, but Infiniti’s argument is that it has the perfect engine for generator purposes. That’s thanks to its VC-Turbo technology, already featured in production cars.

VC-Turbo basically allows the compression ratio of the turbocharger to be adjusted, depending on whether the priority is frugality or power. In the case of the new MR15DDT, destined for generator use, that means the three-cylinder 1.5-liter gas engine can widely vary its output depending on the energy requirements of the car.

The so-called gas-generated EVs – which Nissan brands as e-POWER – won’t be plug-ins, and there won’t be a way to independently charge their battery packs. The VC-Turbo engine will keep a smaller battery, between 3.5 to 5.1 kWh depending on model, topped up, and that will be used to power an electric motor on both the front and rear axles for all-wheel drive. Infiniti says it could mean anything from 185 to 320 kw (248 to 429 hp), and a potential 0-60 mph time as low as 4.5 seconds.

Infiniti’s hybrid-generator model has some advantages

Why not just have a gas engine directly driving the wheels? Infiniti argues that you get the best of both worlds with its hybrid approach: the convenience of simply filling up a gas tank for fuel; the extra cabin space by virtue of not having a big physical link between the front and rear axles as you would in an ICE-powered AWD car; and the instant torque of an EV. Emissions, too, should be lower according to the company, because the generator can scale down its power output in low-intensity situations like urban driving.

The other potential benefit is engine isolation. Infiniti plans to mount the MR15DDT on an independent system with fluid-filled mounts, cutting down on vibrations being passed through the car’s body. The VC-Turbo itself should quieter and smoother than other three-cylinder engines, cutting down on the sudden, intrusive noise that can prove jarring from a BMW i3’s range extender. There’ll be Active Noise Cancellation in the cabin, too, to help mask It even more.

Infiniti has big plans for electrification

Infiniti may have been slow to jump on the EV bandwagon, but it’s aiming to address that in short order. Electrified cars from the automaker will arrive within the next two years, it says, and “almost every” upcoming model will have some sort of electrification option.

How closely they’ll resemble recent concepts like the Q Inspiration, Qs Inspiration and QX Inspiration remains to be seen. The new QX55 coupe-crossover arriving next year is likely to stick with a gas engine, borrowing that from the QX50, the platform of which it rides on. Beyond that, though, production versions of the three concept cars could give Infiniti’s designers an opportunity to make different use of cabin space, freed up by the changing shape of the underlying drivetrain.


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