Nissan Infiniti - EX37
If – as many eminent economists would have us believe – success depends largely on timing, then these are desperately unfortunate times in which to launch a new luxury car, let alone an entire luxury brand. However, clearly coveting that which Lexus has achieved for Toyota, that's precisely what Nissan has done, murdering the Moet and Chandon on the bows of the no less than five new models that fanfare the launch of a spanking new brand – Infiniti.
Yet it isn't merely a woeful economic climate that Infiniti must contend with. For all the abject perfectionism attendant to the screwing together of its cars, Lexus' efforts at European conquest remain hampered by the ongoing issue of building brand status when, in the context of the Teutonic triumvirate that is BMW, Audi and Mercedes, it boasts all the long-term pedigree of a mayfly.
Evidently, impressed by bullet-proof mechanicals and a dealer network that licks them senseless at every opportunity, the Americans are less sniffy about such matters and almost instantaneously embraced the 1989 newcomer with open wallets. But, from a UK perspective, Lexus continues to highlight the impossibility of joining a posh private members club without the requisite eons of languishing on the waiting list. And one can only hazard a guess as to how much longer the company must loiter on the sidelines before the sword of brand approbation finally bounces on the broad shoulders of sheer technical achievement.
Lob into the equation the fact that every niche of the premium automotive segment is already glutted with a bewildering choice of machinery, and it would seem that Infiniti has a real tussle on its hands, especially in the SUV market…
Now, for most of the North London beret and brioche set, saving the whales remains very much a five day a week concern. Let's face it; come Friday evening, the only Wales on the collective radar is the one hosting the weekend cottage, the only serious consideration joining the M4's camelhair coat caravanserai in the appropriate degree of style and at sufficient velocity to prevent those goujons of sea horse from thawing before the Aga's up to temperature.
Taking brand prejudice and badge snobbery, a Bad Smell Under The Nose driving position, muddy track dismissal and a price tag offering little or no change from £50,000 as a given, then, these part-time Sandalistas already have a wealth of something- for-the-weekend offerings at their disposal – Range Rover, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes ML, BMW X5, or, for the partially sighted, the X6… Even Lexus' RX 450h struggles for status in this company, so what chance for Infiniti's new SUV, the FX?
Cunningly, however, Infiniti has also produced a somewhat smaller, squashed looking variant dubbed the EX37, which can be had for as little as £36,500, or nearer £40,000 if you lob in essentials such as sat' nav', cruise control and an ear-watering Bose sound system.
Dubbed a ‘coupe crossover' and occupying that increasingly popular niche hinterland somewhere between full-height SUV and respectable estate car, the EX37 is something of an ocular curate's egg. It's reminiscent of the long nose and squat cabin of the smaller, cheaper and startlingly ugly BMW X1, but much better looking all round, especially in profile.
Lexus prides itself on what it calls the ‘hospitality' aspect of their cars. This isn't to say a geisha girl will hand you a steaming bowl of jasmine tea and trim your toenails as you pile aboard but, rather, that the lighting is nicely sequenced to match your approach to, and entry into, the car, and you climb aboard and fire it up without recourse to finding the keys.
Infiniti approaches the subject with almost identical rigour, but asks that you press a little button within the door handle to unlock the beast, rather than the handle working through sensing the key. This isn't actually a bad thing, because it's all too easy to walk away from a Lexus, worry that it isn't locked, go back, try the door handle and, of course, it will open again. My wife has been known to spend a small lifetime re-approaching cars with this system before realising that it is in fact locked…
The Infiniti even goes one better than Lexus in one respect, and that's the automatic illumination of the interior as the key bearer approaches the car. Under door handle puddle lights would be a nice addition to this system, but it seems we cannot yet have both in one machine. On board, and mindful of how studiously Lexus has avoided the use of anything obviously sourced from the Toyota parts bin, the EX37 is, perhaps, a little to Nissan.
The switchgear gives it away. Not that there's anything wrong with Nissan switchgear, by the way, which is far superior to look than Toyota's. But here, that which suffices admirably for the little keyboard of sat' nav' controls at the top of the centre console doesn't work quite so well for the stereo and air-conditioning controls below; something about the way the light falls on the switches making the latter two panels seem a different shade of black. If, indeed, you can have shades of black…
There's a predictable abundance of leather, mine finished in a deep burgundy which gives less cause for complaint than the detailing of the dashboard in front of the passenger, which boasts an array of vertical gashes scored into it, each reminiscent of the nether parts of a plumber you'd rather not notice as he folds himself beneath a leaking kitchen sink.
The only major let down is, regrettably, the primary point of contact – the steering wheel. Though fully swathed in leather, the airbag cover is just a big, bland pad and somewhat lets the side down. The whole interior would be seriously enlivened by a little detailing work to the helm alone; ironically, see elder sibling the FX for details.
The driving position is entirely comfortable though, abetted by surprisingly stout lateral support wings to the front seats. I considered this to be something of an overstatement until I set off, then realised they're actually pretty handy, because the EX37 goes like a stabbed rat.
Power is provided by a 3.7 litre V6 petrol unit, which develops 316bhp and 265lb.ft of torque. 62mph comes up in just 6.4 seconds from a standstill and there's 149mph at your disposal whilst nobody's looking. Pop the seven-speed automatic transmission into ‘sport' mode, and the EX37 surges through the gears with a remarkable alacrity for such a large machine.
With a weekend trip to the West Country enlivened by flurries of snow as the A30 snakes between Dartmoor and Exmoor before thumping up over Bodmin Moor, I really spanked the map in the Infiniti. Its intelligent 4x4 system worked exceptionally well to provide adequate traction and grip through the slush, allowing me to maintain speeds that would be positively wince worthy in anything of a two-wheel drive disposition.
In the dry, the EX37 proves pretty entertaining. It handles remarkably well, with just enough roll to keep you aware of the size of car you're driving. I don't, personally, hold much truck with cars that electronically eradicate roll, it feels almost unnatural to be cornering flat in some the size of a small apartment.
Best of all though, is just how completely the EX37 cossets over the long haul; an attribute you'd expect to take for granted in any luxury brand, but so often cannot. I could very happily live with the Infiniti, especially if I didn't have to peer overlong at the exterior.
Whether it will succeed in doing for Nissan what Lexus has done for Toyota, however, remains to be seen.