INFINITI, Nissan's luxury brand, is to its parent company what Lexus is to Toyota and Acura is to Honda - the latter of which is available in the US, Canada, China and Mexico only.
A few weeks ago, the Infiniti range was launched in SA to challenge the big three Germans and its compatriot, Lexus. A range of models including the EX crossover, M sedan, G coupe and convertible, and the subject of this road test, the FX SUV, have been introduced. The latter, which is available in three engine derivatives - the 3.7l V6 petrol, 3.0l turbo diesel, and the flagship 5.0l V8 on test here - takes aim at the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne to name a few.
It's design is unusual, from its rearward cab, bulbous front end and gaping grille, to the huge 21-inch wheels, and narrow glasshouse. It is a unique proposition and arguably a breath of fresh air to the segment.
The interior features electric front leather seats with Infiniti embroidery and padded squabs, which are fairly comfortable. Having driven the model in Portugal in 2008, albeit in pre-facelift guise, I was particularly impressed with the appointments, and the way the vehicle performed. In fact I recall thinking that the model is a worthy competitor to the luxury SUV landscape at the time.
Four years later and the model is finally here and, from the onset, I must mention that the interior feels somewhat dated, mainly due to the fact that most of the cabin architecture is similar to that in the Nissan 370Z, particularly the centre console, transmission paddles behind the steering wheel, and even the starter button. The centre display screen with its 30GB hard disc based navigation system and requisite buttons is reminiscent of the Murano SUV.
Okay, so you catch my drift that a lot of the components are also to be found in other Nissan derivatives, which in the context of economies of scale makes a great deal of sense, but those seeking a bespoke premium feel might be a tad disappointed. Lexus, alas, has suffered a similar fate in recent years, but thankfully the company has turned the corner with the new GS model range.
Other than these anomalies, the interior is solidly hewn with very little in the way of rattles and squeaks. The rear quarters are a little on the cramped side though, even with the back seats reclined. Boot space at 410l (can be expanded to 1305l ) is fair at best and will accommodate a few luggage bags with ease.
Under the bonnet is the company's 5.0l V8 powerplant that pushes out 287kW and 500Nm via an all-wheel drive system and a seven-speed automatic transmission. It is a smooth operator with plenty of low down torque to potter about town, and is equally adept on the open road. However, I did find that initial get up and go is a little on the slouchy side of the performance scale, no doubt stunted by the vehicle's over 2-ton kerb weight.
The transmission is smooth and unobtrusive and aids relatively low fuel consumption figures with 13l /100km possible. While manual mode does remedy the vehicle's performance shortcomings, I found that the gearbox was more at home in sport mode.
While there is an adaptive switch - for automatic and sport - for the damping, I found the suspension on the harsh side, as you can feel every imperfection on the road through the seat of your pants. Of course, the trade-off is that the FX has commendable dynamic characteristics and even when hurled at relatively tight corners it manages to mask its bulk and track the chosen line. So, then, the manufacturer has given the model a more sporty setup.
When all is said and done, it does not seem to offer that air of luxury so typical of its German rivals. This is an area I feel its designers ought to develop in order to further set the model apart from its siblings. As it stands, the range has its work cut out for it to take on the Germans and convince the market that it is a good alternative, but only time will tell.
INFINITI FX50 S
WE LIKE: Daring looks, pricing, engine refinement, features
WE DISLIKE: Ride quality, some dated interior appointments
VERDICT: A welcome addition to the market, but has its work cut out for it
Type: V8 petrol
Power: 287kW at 6500r/min
Torque: 500Nm at 4400r/min
Type: Seven-speed automatic
Type: All-wheel drive
Type: Ventilated discs
Traction Aids: ABS, EBD, BAS and VSA (vehicle stability assist).
0-100km/h in 5,8 seconds
Top Speed: 250km/h
Fuel Consumption: 13,1l /100km
Multifunction steering wheel, 21-inch alloy wheels, heated and cooled front seats, 11 speaker Bose sound system with HDD navigation, MP3/WMA/DIVX, USB connectivity, climate control, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, cruise control, electric windows, electric tailgate, park assist with front, side and rear view cameras, auto bi-xenon headlights, rain sensing windscreen wipers, headlamp washers, dual front, side and curtain airbags, central locking and alarm.
COST OF OWNERSHIP
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100000km
Lease*: R18831 per month
^at 11,5% interest over 60 months, no deposit