Infiniti's Project Black S is a key component to the luxury brand's expansion into electric vehicles.

Long a laggard in the luxury market, Infiniti has been making some serious moves to boost credibility over the last few years, notably by fleshing out its line-up with an array of sportier new models like the Q60 coupe.

Its also introduced new technology like the breakthrough VC-Turbo engine and teased the idea of challenging the likes of BMW’s M and Mercedes’ AMG performance lines. So far, prototypes haven’t turned into production models, but there seems to be something a little more serious about the Infiniti Project Black S that’s making its formal debut at this week’s Paris Motor Show.

The concept starts out as an Infiniti Q60, but it has the beating heart of a dual-hybrid powertrain based heavily upon what you’ll find in a Renault Sport Formula One car. It’s the next step in a series of design and engineering exercises pickup up on the concept introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in early 2017. And while Infiniti will only say that it is looking at “what could be deployed in a road car,” the latest effort seems to be moving much closer to reality.

“Through the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, we have been able to draw on the deep technical knowledge and spirit of innovation within the Renault Sport Formula One Team,” said François Bancon, Infiniti’s vice president overseeing motorsports and connected vehicles. “Our eyes have been opened to the potential of rapid design and development, and a shorter gestation period for the creation of bespoke, highly advanced technologies.”

The Project Black S is making its formal debut at the Paris Motor Show this week.

(Project Black S prototype shows Infiniti’s electric future. Click Here for the story.)

Infiniti has a history of using concept vehicles to signal what’s coming to showrooms, often in a short timeframe. But Bancon threw in a cautionary note for those hoping we might finally see a unique performance sub-brand, like M or AMG. “This partnership is as much about exploring efficient new production processes,” he said, “as it is about creating ground-breaking new powertrains.”

With that cautionary note aside, here’s what we’ve learned about the Project Black S powertrain: it starts out with the Red Sport 400 twin-turbo V-6 now in production for the Infiniti Q60. At 400 horsepower, it’s no slouch, but the automaker is looking for ways to bump that up a big notch while also improving its efficiency. Like the Renault Sport F1 engine, they’re experimenting with ways to harvest both waste heat and energy normally lost during braking.

The Infiniti Project Black S fuses high-performance dual-hybrid technology with brand’s award-winning VR30 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo engine.

There are two “harvesting systems” that transform the heat shed during acceleration into electricity. Another kinetic system recaptures brake energy, more like a conventional hybrid powertrain. All that energy is eventually used to boost performance, but could also be used to let the powertrain operate in zero-emissions mode.

Infiniti is being sparse with specific performance details, but it suggests the Red Sport engine, also known as the VR30, could see its output jump from 400 to 563 horsepower. More importantly, that power would come on all but instantaneously, with up to 120 kilowatts of electric current delivered in two different ways:

  • Spooling up the blades of the engine’s twin turbochargers to eliminate turbo lag; and
  • Sending energy to electric motors in the drivetrain itself. On the Project Black S prototype, that power is sent to the rear axle.

Infiniti says the Black S concept can operate in three modes, Road, Quali and Race. Each strikes a different balance between performance and energy efficiency. Dialed in for peak performance the coupe would be able to launch from 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds.

The Q60 Red Sport 400 is the inspiration for the Project Black S prototype.

The prototype is more than just an exercise in powertrain design. The development team has also worked on the aerodynamics of the stock Infiniti Q60 to both reduce drag and boost downforce. Meanwhile, the concept vehicle gets oversized carbon ceramic drilled and ventilated brakes.

(Click Here for details about our first drive in the Q60 Red Sport 400.)

“The artistry we love in the Q60 has become sharper, and blade-like carbon and performance-focused cooling ducts have transformed the Q60 into a beast,” said Infiniti’s design director Alfonso Albaisa.

So, what next? We’ve heard Infiniti talk about performance for some time. Long-time followers might recall the Eau Rouge concept from earlier in the decade, as well as the original Project Black S prototype. There’ve also been two retro-futuristic show cars, dubbed Prototype 9 and 10, the latter model making its debut at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance less than two months ago.

Infiniti's Prototype 10 takes the retro styling of the Prototype 9 to a new level at this year's Pebble Beach Concours.

We have gotten the new Red Sport grade on Infiniti models like the Q60, but those might be thought of as “performance light,” rather than a true performance brand-within-a-brand.

Read deep into a press release from Infiniti, however, and there’s reason to believe something more significant is coming. It describes the Black S concept as a forerunner of a “potential new model grade from Infiniti, offering higher performance, uprated chassis and unique design features.” It goes on to add that, “This higher grade would represent the maximum level of performance, dynamic capability and intelligent energy management offered by Infiniti.”

(To see more about Infiniti’s “electrified” concepts, Click Here.)

We’ll get to see the Black S in the sheet metal at the Infiniti news conference on Tuesday and may have more on what the luxury arm of Nissan really has in the works.

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