I used to spend a fair amount of time visiting my family in the US, so the Infiniti brand which is very well known there was no surprise to me when they decided to launch here in SA earlier this year. In a nutshell Infiniti is to Nissan, what Lexus is to Toyota. In the US all the “people’s cars” have luxury nameplates, including Honda, who has Acura. The japs realized the yanks enjoy a luxury car with some faux wood, light as air steering and big V6’s, so, reluctant to miss out on competing with the likes of Cadillac and Buick, brought out the their own ranges of luxury vehicles, cue Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.
Infiniti have launched with quite a comprehensive (albeit old) range of vehicles in SA. The FX I had on review is a 4wheel drive front engine SUV, featuring seating for 5 and a boot for the luggage for 3. A sloping roofline and coupe like design cues means headroom and real utility work is out of the question. This is very much a town cruiser with a mean face. Competing with the likes of the BMW X6, Merc ML 350 Bluetec, Audi Q7 and possibly the Evoque means it’s really hard to box this beauty. Speaking of, the FX looks unlike anything on the road today. The front boasts a gaping wide grille, reminiscent of a whale shark, odd bulbous lighting and “gills” aft the front wheel arches, followed by more flowy bits than the Sports Illustrated Cover model. From any angle, it’s a sight, and believe you me, people stare. One particular gentleman in Centurion wanted to know if this was “one of those new Kias”… smh (shakes my head) at him … no sir, this is a fancy version of that Nissan you’re driving. The look on his face…priceless.
I shall not regale you with my wording on the FX’s unique image, you can make that up yourself, but I’ll rather tell you how it drove. The FX comes in 3 engine derivatives, 3litre V6 diesel, 3.7litre V6 petrol and 5litre V8. I had the punchy diesel, which was in fact very punchy once it got over its obsession with turbo lag. My dad who drives a 320CDI ML said the turbo lag is a lot less than his ML, but I think he might have just been under the influence of “an abundance of leather” smell in the FX. With 175kW and 550NM of torque it competes very well against the likes of the 3.0d from BMW and new 350Bluetec from Mercedes, but the let down to getting the most out of the engine was the gearbox, which I felt didn’t do the drivetrain justice. It even had some seriously sporty flappy paddles, but the gearbox itself was just a little too slow on upshifts, and about a week late on downshifts. I averaged just under 10l/100km which is right on Infiniti’s claims, and I’ve got to be honest that’s damn good considering the size of vehicle and driving style of driver. 0-100km/h is dispatched in 8.3seconds, which is good enough for the hipposaurus.
Get it out on the open road and the FX pulls strongly at highway speeds with heaps of torque in the reserves, it’s the city driving where I was left wanting for a bit more torque below 2500RPM. It’s quiet and comfortable when cruising on some tarmac, only problem is those 21inchers couldn’t keep a straight line if you paid them. Thankfully there’s a heap of technology in the FX, including Lane departure Warning and Prevention which essentially “steers” the car back into the lane thanks to rear wheel steering.
It’ll also keep the right distance from the car in front at highway and traffic speeds, brake for you, warn you if you’re about to rear-end someone as well as beep if you breathe too loudly. It beeps a lot. Beep. It’s an American thing, the yanks love a car to beep at them when they are going to fast or too slow or too closely to another car. Nannying if you ask me.
A big surprise was the handling, thanks in part to the mammoth 21inchers fitted, the FX surprised with its poise through the corners. A double wishbone front set-up meets a multilink rear set up also fitted with optional Continous Damping Control with adjustment for driver. There was eerily little body roll at any point, with the tyres sometimes bouncing over some bumps and road surfaces. It could possibly do with a comfort setting, but Infinity has put the focus squarely on performance and sportiness so I doubt that’ll materialise. ATTESA E-TS (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split …I shit you not) system uses an active torque management system, which controls a central clutch to distribute torque between the front and rear axles, according to traction requirements. Power is constantly adjusted, from a 100% rear bias up to a 50/50 split between the two axles. I found that going into a corner too quickly would activate a split in the power to another axle, the rear steering and the stability control all trying to nanny-in the vehicle resulting in a somewhat strange hiccup type reaction from the vehicle. Definitely not as smooth as the Germans in that respect, but most drivers would not notice this at all.
Speaking of missing the mark in relation to the Germans, the FX interior is obviously designed with the yank market in mind, so there’s a lot of faux wood and leather in every place they could stitch it. To my taste however, there’s too many Nissan bits and bobs all over the cabin. It’s like where Lexus was 3 years ago, not in its own quality of cabin and too much parts sharing. The quality of plastics, especially those used in the rear, around the air vents and certain dials were not up to … scratch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s comfortable and luxurious, but just not close to the likes of BMW or Mercedes. They have however tried to distract with technology and kit. There’s the usual Nissan Multimedia pack, full Around View Monitoring, which gives you a view through the screen of just about ANYWHERE around the FX. Good thing because it can be hard to see over your shoulder or out the rear privacy glass tinted windows. Realistically there’s space for 4 adults comfortably and their luggage at squeeze, but the sloping roof might brush heads with those around 1.8metres. Look, it’s no Tiida inside at all, but I just think there was a little too much dipping in the Nissan part bin for my liking.
Nissan obviously did their research before bringing Infiniti to SA, and I hope to see them succeed. However, as South African’s we are absolute badge snobs and I think Infiniti is going to struggle to build up enough brand credentials and “I want that Infiniti” factor in SA to warrant the price tag of a BMW and Mercedes. There is very little wrong with the FX, including pricing at R768 for the top of the range S-Premium, it competes well on like for like spec against the competitors mentioned above. However value, as we’ve seen with Lexus, value is not enough to sway buyers from the German marquees. Also, nobody likes to explain to their friends what they are driving, let alone if it’s a plush Datsun.
The FX is the best selling of the Infiniti lot, but at just over 23 units leaving the showroom floors for the whole brand in September, one can only but wonder.