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Infiniti: It's back from beyond!

2012-06-28 18:17

BEAST IN A MINK COAT: This is the real tough guy in the Infiniti line-up - the five-litre V8 FX crossover 4x4.

LES STEPHENSON

Remember the Infiniti brand of the 1990’s? The rival, at the time, for Lexus that never quite made it and eventually faded in South Africa while blooming in the US?

Well, the Infiniti badge is back with heavy financial backing and the nerve to bring in FIVE models all at once. Cheeky devils – no testing the water with just a large (and very nice) sedan like last time: the range that will shortly appear in showrooms across the nation includes:

• Two big SUV’s – FX and EX.
• A big sedan – the M.
• An Audi TT lookalike G Coupe.
• A rather nice G Cabriolet with a three-piece metal roof.

It’s all vaguely under the Nissan umbrella – in fact one of the engines is based on that in the Nissan Navara - because that’s who makes the cars – rather like Toyota makes Lexus. Each is a “luxury arm” of a “normal” automaker and each is deservedly proud of their upmarket product family.

The whole range was on show at the trendy Le Franschhoek hotel and spa in the French town where nobody speaks French anymore but the only one we drove was the FX 4x4 SUV – actually a sports car masquerading very naughtily as a something more agricultural.

Of which more just now...

If you’re already keen, you’ll need to visit Melrose Arch in northern Jozi or Pretoria East to find a dealer for now but more are scheduled to open pretty much across the country, starting with Durban and Cape Town. Watch out for a glass showroom going up in a shopping centre near you where sales staff, I was told, “want to build relationships before transactions”.

“This is our first time in Africa,” the company says, “but we want to be everywhere. We’re a small but dedicated team with a desire to succeed with passion and emotion.”


WATCH THE INFINITI FX IN ACTION: All-wheel drive in a sports crossover body.

GM George Stegmann reckons the time is ripe. SA’s new-car sales are up 30% on the past year and, he adds, one in every five sales is a luxury car of which Infiniti is undoubtedly a purveyor.

So what’s on the motormotive menu?

Marketing boss Vinola Pillay ran through the list, starting with the G Coupe that’s “not just a sedan with two doors” with “class-leading equipment but a sporty orientation”.

Next is the G Cabriolet that comes with a three-piece folding metal roof, 19” alloy rims and Nissan’s famous “scratchproof” paint.

SPORTS ESTATE

The Infiniti M the petite Ms Pillay describes as a rear-wheel drive, four-door performance sedan made with lots of aluminium and showing a distinctly coupe-like profile though it has a three-litre V6 diesel engine.

Then come the two SUV’s: the Infiniti EX, Ms. P. says, is a coupe and sports estate rolled into one but with high wheel-arches while the Infiniti FX (which we were about to drive) which first appeared in 2009 as the Infiniti Essence concept car but has since developed oversized wheels, become a family car and ironed its cabin to a totally flat floor.

Right, that’s the basic list though each has engine, gearbox and other variables on a price list that looks like a pizza menu, but here are the basic prices (click for picture galleries):

Infiniti EX – R595 000 to R677 000
Infiniti FX – R676 000 to R856 000
G Cabrio – R699 000
G Coupe – R616 000 to R672 000
Infiniti M – R649 000 to R752 000.

All units have a seven-speed auto/manual sequential gearbox and come variously with a V6 3.7 or V8 five-litre petrol engine or a three-litre V6 diesel.

A petrol-powered derivative of the Infiniti M luxury saloon, the M37, will be introduced later in 2012 and the technologically advanced Infiniti M35h performance hybrid is currently under consideration for the South African market.

ON THE ROAD...

For a new-in-town auto company, Infiniti put a lot of trust in the motoring scribes in attendance on the first day of the launch by handing over a dozen of the most expensive models in the range – the FX SUV, some with the mighty five-litre V8 engine.

The FX comes in GT, S, GT Premium and S Premium specification grades with a choice of engines:

• An advanced three-litre turbo V6 diesel capable of 175kW at 3750rpm and 550Nm from 1750rpm, enough for 8.3sec to 100km/h and 212km/h at a claimed average fuel consumption of nine litres/100km.

• A 3.7-litre V6 petrol toting 235kW/360Nm for 6.8sec 100km/h sprinting, 233km/h and (whoopsie) an average of 12.1 litres/100km, and...

• Big Daddy, a five-litre V8 tuned for 287kW at 6500rpm and 500Nm at 4400rpm which translates to 5.8sec to 100km/h and a (limited) top speed of 250km/h, all with a wallet-emptying 13.1 litres/100km average fuel consumption.

The launch’s test-drive route went through Cape Town’s rugged and mountainous back-country and took in some fast open roads and two mountain passes – the main one being that to the back door of Franschhoek and the SUV’s handling and power are so good that one has to wonder what the lower and more sporty other models have to offer.

STANDALONE BRAND

The cars are expensive but masterfully finished and brilliantly equipped. The ride in the FX proved mildly hard, as to be expected from such a car, but exhilarating and safe.

Infiniti was founded as a standalone brand for Nissan in the US in 1989 but (apart from the first time around in SA) growth “has been exponential”. The SA re-introduction follows launches in Indonesia, Panama and Malaysia; Singapore, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Hong Kong and Chile will follow.

Vice-president for Infiniti Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa, Bernard Loire, was positive about the brand’s SA introduction: “We are very pleased that Infiniti is making inroads in Africa as part of our global expansion and foresee very positive acceptance from South African buyers who favour style, luxury and performance.

“In addition to our products, Infiniti’s hospitality will provide South African customers with a new ownership experience.”

Last year, Infiniti announced it will locate its global headquarters in Hong Kong with the aim of lifting total global sales to 500 000 vehicles a year as part of Nissan's six-year mid-term business plan, Nissan Power 88.

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