By on May 21, 2012

It’s easy to see the two Japanese luxury brands as Wahlberg brothers. Lexus is Marky Mark, the one which started off by flexing some low-priced knock-off S-Class clones and has gone on to make big bucks, receive critical acclaim. and fantasize in public about stopping 9/11 while respectful pop-culture writers whistle in awed approval. Infiniti is Donnie, who started out very stylishly but quickly became B-List despite popping out the occasional respected performance.

Part of the reason for that prestige gap between Lexus and Infiniti has to be what you see in this photo, which I snapped on the way back from lunch today. We have two vehicles here which are ostensibly from different brands and certainly don’t share any major dimensional commonalities or mechanical components, but I’ll be darned if they don’t look like the same car to most people.

The Sentra and G37 aren’t the only Infiniti/Nissan efforts which are totally different under the skin but very similar in the metal. Think first-gen Murano and FX, for example. Lexus does it the other way ’round, creating visually different vehicles from the Camry platform. Who’s right? It’s hard to say, but it’s easy to see that buyers prefer the approach where you put lipstick on a pig to the one where you dress a BMW like a Sentra.

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36 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny Edition...”


  • avatar
    Flybrian

    The $60k+ QX56 which, up until its most recent iteration, shared a styling conceit that pays homage to a 1980s Pathfinder. That’s another egregious example.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Yeah, b/c the Lexus GX and LX are SOOOO much different from the Toyota Land Cruiser/Prado.

      And let’s not forget the just discontinued HS, which, while sharung more with the European Avensis and JDM Toyota Sai/Corolla Axio looked too much like a USDM Corolla.

      Same went for the early Lexus ES models which were just JDM FWD Camry deriviants brought over from Japan.

      Think JB is going out a bit on a limb here.

      While Toyota has been more successful with Lexus than Nissan has been with Infiniti, the bulk of Lexus sales have been models like the RX and ES which are FWD-Camry platform derived models, where Toyota can offer more interior room for a cheaper price a la Honda with Acura.

      The RWD IS and GS haven’t exactly had stellar sales (Akio Toyoda wanted to kill the GS) and even the LS sells largely due to its discount pricing compared to the Germans.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        You’re ignoring the fact that the LX looking like the Land Cruiser doesn’t cheapen it the same way though simply because the Land Cruiser is itself a very limited run luxury product with a $77995 base MSRP. You buy the Land Cruiser if you think highly of the Land Cruiser nameplate and you buy the LX if you think highly of the Lexus nameplate but they’re both high end luxury SUVs so being so heavily related to the Land Cruiser doesn’t hurt the LX-it actually lends it more of a legacy than it would have otherwise.

        The Prado isn’t overlapped with the GX in the US market at all since it’s simply not sold here (and the US market is the GX’s only real market).

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        So what?

        The LC still has a Toyota badge on it (in certain respects, the Toyota Avalon is nicer than the ES, but for the average person – who isn’t that knowledgable about autos, all they care about is the badge).

        And it’s not like the Nissan Armada is exactly cheap either, with the Armada 4X4 starting at over $45k with the top trim Armada 4X4 starting at over $55k.

        And the aside from the IS, GS and LS, the bulk of the Lexus lineup is still based on Toyota FWD or truck platforms.

  • avatar
    toplessFC3Sman

    G35 coupe & altima coupe… waaaaaay too similar, especially for people who just want the look & realize they can get it for $5k cheaper with practically the same engine too.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      The $5k is more than justified.
      - RWD
      - Much better build quality (esp against the Maxima which is what the G37 should be cross-shopped against)
      - 7sp AT vs CVT
      - Longer factory warranty

      If you’re already paying close to $30k for an Altima…well…

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        I freakin’ LOVE the Maxima, which feels odd to say given how ugly the rest of Nissan’s line-up is.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        Maxima is pretty nice to look at, the rear is a bit bulbous but the grille and face are very classy. I agree the other models don’t fare as well in the looks department.

        On a side note I’m curious Nissan didn’t take a page from the Cadillac playbook and give you the crappy ‘new’ technology in the form of the CVT for Infiniti and leave the ‘old’ for the cheaper brand. Oh maybe they did take note and ensure to not ruin their luxury brand and let the plebs deal with their transmission forays.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        For internet auto site commenters these details and nuances mean the world. To a chick looking for something “cute” the Altima is a hell of a bargain. I just don’t get why internet auto enthusiasts don’t understand that we are not at all representative of the average car buyer. What normal person cares about FWD vs RWD?

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        People care about winter and steep hills, sportyaccordy. FWD is very popular in Western PA, only RWD stuff around here goes in the garage during the cold months.

      • 0 avatar

        He didn’t say it wasn’t justified. He just said people who care about looks only would thing the G isn’t worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Regarding FWD vs. RWD, I think many people have a sense that a real luxury car has proportions more like a BMW or Mercedes even if they don’t know why the more prestigious BMW has less nose overhang and more body panel between the tire and the door than the less prestigious Acura TL. Audi does an amazing job of making the FWD A5 look plausibly RWD.

      The original Infiniti G35 sedan gets position of the front wheels right, but shape of the car from the rear looks too tall and narrow like a Toyota Corolla. I agree that Nissan propagates too many Infiniti styling cues to lesser Nissans. On the other hand, the Infiniti G coupe has the hooning potential of a RWD pony car, but with a veneer of luxury car respectability, especially if it’s wearing suitably conservative colors.

  • avatar
    espressoBMW

    I’ve had both, Lexus and an Infinity, in my garage, albeit of two different segments. I would have to say that it just comes down to different design schools of the respective parent marks. Lexus seems to be a bit less edgy and so appeals to the masses. Infinity design is not radical by any means but seems to approach design from a different angle and I don’t think this grabs a lot of people in a good way.
    BTW…I did an extensive detail on my wife’s G37S over the weekend and really enjoyed the smooth-flowing lines of this car (we’ve only had it about a month). Combine the design, performance (nearly) of an M3, and convenience/tech features and it is a surprising package. I think this car has been carelessly overlooked. But I don’t care much for any of the other models in the lineup.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Sentra Spec V is an ADO16 MG rendition 45 years on.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Maybe Nissan has only one design team for both Nissan and Infiniti, and they decided to go for subtlety over all-new designs? Is it a contrarian approach to badge engineering? Too bad this wasn’t brought up earlier – Bertel might have asked Carlos Ghosn about it while they were both in Japan. Ghosn might not have given a definitive answer, but it would have been so expressive!

  • avatar
    Maxseven

    Oh but didn’t you hear? All cars look the same to ‘some’ people. If these foggy-eyed individuals need blatant differences in body styles to discerne what is luxury/premium and what is not, then they must be ones driving a Cadillac (icky). I knew there had to be a reason Cadillac was selling some cars.

    Clearly, the details and subtle differences in geometry are all that matter.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Oh, I hate those people, especially old farts that utters things like “You used to be a able to tell the difference between a Ford and a Chevy”. Oh did you really? The styling difference between a mid 80′s ford Crown Vic and a Caprice of the same vintage was huge, wasn’t it?
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/LTD_Crown_Victroia_S.jpg
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Caprice1986.jpg
      clearly two unique ideas of style.

  • avatar
    stars9texashockey

    Oh yes, I see it now. Both the Sentra and the Infiniti have 2 headlights and a grill.

    @espressoBMW: I-N-F-I-N-I-T-I.

    @toplessFC3S man: RWD vs FWD. I agree with you that the typical Altima buyer has no clue what happens when they press the gas pedal.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Back when we were having the “Who is the new Pontiac?” debate many moons ago I came to this conclusion.

    Nissan = Pontiac
    Infiniti = Oldsmobile

  • avatar
    carguy

    Jack, the real difference between the two brands is that Toyota loves its luxury division and Nissan does not. That’s why Nissan’s best products such as the 370Z and GT-R are not branded Infiniti – because deep down the Nissan management cares more about its own brand’s heritage than its North American Infiniti experiment which only recently (and reluctantly) has gone semi-global. When a brand is reduced to selling mainly variants of the Nissan Skyline then there are limits to its potential success.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    I don’t see Jack.
    The new 2013 Altima and Infiniti M37/56? Look alike.
    Infiniti JX and Nissan Pathfinder ARE the same.

    The Sentra & Infiniti G? I don’t see it.
    Altima / G37 Coupes? Look the same to lot’s of people.

    People still think the Murano is the FX clone. Tell then the Murano is roomier and is FWD based. They never seem convinced.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Better to dress nice and keep silent than to dress down and quote Milli Vanilli.
    P.S.- whoever wrote this headline must be very smart. I didn’t understand a single word.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      http://2000clicks.com/graeme/langwisdomsayingontogenyrecapitulatesphylogeny.htm

      “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” is a catchy phrase coined by Ernst Haeckel, a 19th century German biologist and philosopher to mean that the development of an organism (ontogeny) expresses all the intermediate forms of its ancestors throughout evolution (phylogeny). His theory was later proved wrong, but the catch phrase remains.

      • 0 avatar
        SLLTTAC

        That phrase brings me back a half-century to my college days when we studied under the Great Books program and reminds me why I enjoy The Truth About Cars. And now I learn that I was never a fish.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Honestly I don’t see it. I think the Sentra is much closer to the previous generation G35 with its more squarish front end and upright headlights. The G37 has a lot of curves which just aren’t present on the Sentra.

    Now the Maxima and Infiniti M, those cars look EXACTLY THE SAME from the front. Honestly, you guys should photoshop an Infiniti badge over the Maxima, and show a picture of the JDM Fuga, and see how many people you can fool.

    http://img2.netcarshow.com/Nissan-Maxima_2012_1024x768_wallpaper_01.jpg
    http://img2.netcarshow.com/Infiniti-M_2011_1024x768_wallpaper_04.jpg

  • avatar

    I think Jack’s on to something here. I don’t have the design training to make the case with any specificity, but I feel his critique.

    Because I believe consumers do tend to focus on looks (when they aren’t forced into being, or posturing as, Informed Consumers), any cross-brand design similarities amplify each other. But does the luxury brand suffer from weak design differentiation (as it clearly does at Ford), or does the mass-market brand benefit? I don’t think the answer is so clear in Nissan’s case.

    Business implications aside, I think this could be the basis for a fascinating Vellum Venom series.

  • avatar
    Slab

    After the first paragraph, I thought this was going in a completely different direction. Based on recent photos of Marky Mark, I assumed you were going to talk about how bloated and oversized Lexus has become.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Part of Infiniti’s problem has been its inability to maintain a full range of products. Lexus built its early reputation on positioning the first-gen LS as a “halo” product and has always done a very good job of keeping that car sacrosanct as their flagship model.

    Infiniti sort of botched things with the first Q45. It was a great car in most respects, but it got off to an uneasy start sales-wise and just never recovered. Still, a proper luxury brand needs a proper full-size flagship, and the Q45 at least filled that crucial image building role. Infiniti hasn’t had that since 2006.

    Actually, with the M an the G, they really only have TWO car lines. Compare that to Lexus, with SEVEN cars, and even Cadillac with three now, and you see that Infiniti simply isn’t covering much of the market. They’re aiming for the bottom and midrange of the luxury sedan market, and really nothing else.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    It’s in the eye of the beholder. I mix up Avalons, Camrys and ES’s all the time. And some other car blogs put Lexus in ‘attack of the biege cars’. Some younger car fans compare the new face of Lexus to ‘cockroaches’. Or worse, ‘Japanese Oldsmobile sucking a lemon’.

    The German luxuary makes are fighting back hard knocking Lexus from #1. 1989 was ages ago when they ‘shook up’ the luxury market. They got to do more than ‘nice showrooms’.

    Also, someone else made a good point:
    “the bulk of Lexus sales have been models like the RX and ES which are FWD-Camry platform derived models,” YEP! The common RX is today’s ‘soccer ma car’.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      That’s why Nissan is getting into the game with the 3-row CUV, the JX.

      The RWD-based FX had “luxury car” credentials but it (being a “sporty CUV with limited room) is a niche product and in order to gain sales, Nissan needed an Infiniti model geared to all the “soccer moms.”

  • avatar
    dtremit

    “We have two vehicles here which are ostensibly from different brands…”

    …in the US. Why should anyone be surprised that a car designed as a Nissan, and sold as a Nissan in its largest market, looks like a Nissan?

    Then again, Nissan has never been good at branding — let’s not forget that at the time they introduced the Infiniti brand (with ads that didn’t show cars), the Datsun brand still had better name recognition in the US than did Nissan.


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