The Infiniti brand is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota; essentially blinged up versions of domestic Japanese models, renamed to charge Americans more money for them.
Whilst Infiniti was launched in the United States back in 1989, it wasn’t until 2008 that the decision to branch out in to Europe was taken. In keeping with the “premium” image comes a premium price tag. The cheapest G-Series saloon starts at just shy of £35k, rising to £58k for the range topping FX 4×4 SUV.
And that’s the one ESM found itself in, powering around the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, desperately trying not to look like a drug dealer. Though, as you can see from the photos below, not looking like your friendly, neighbourhood, crack dispensary is not easy:
This is the FX30d S Premium, looking to cost someone mental enough to pay full price a whopping £53,415. As you can probably guess from the “d” in the name, this is a derv powered machine; a 3.0 litre V6 kicking out 253 bhp and a not unsubstantial 406 lb-ft of torque. A 3.7 litre V6 petrol is also available, along with a suicidally thirsty 5.0 litre V8. Given that the Renault sourced diesel engine was shoehorned in for the European market, the US bias behind this car is obvious.
Regardless, despite weighing the best part of almost 2.2 tonnes, the diesel engine manages to launch the FX30d to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds and on to a 132 mph top speed. Warm-hatch performance for such a huge vehicle is not to be scoffed at, but the payback comes in the form of only 31 mpg average fuel consumption. In reality, 25 mpg is probably more realistic. The 7-speed automatic gearbox does have a Sport mode with flappy-paddle shifters, but even in my short drive the novelty soon wore off. This is a car to be left to do its own thing in D. Performance matches the figures, with the FX feeling quicker than a crude-oil burner of such stature really should. Braking is equally, and reassuringly, impressive.
A few roundabouts provided the only real chance to test out the handling of this 4-wheel drive behemoth, which was grippy and stable. The suspension also happens to have a Sport mode, though this served only to amplify the crashy nature of the ride; something not helped by the big pimpin’ spec 21″ wheels:
The steering is light and not particularly communicative, though accurate which is useful given its 2.13 metre width. With the narrow lanes of some of the “Toon’s” dual-carriageway, the automatic lane departure warning kept making itself known; just one toy from the entire box Nissan has emptied into the FX Premium through its sunroof. Adaptive cruise-control, dual-zone climate-control, heated and cooled leather seats, touchscreen satellite navigation and a media hard-drive are your starters for 10. More interestingly, the FX includes cameras mounted at the front, back and both sides to offer a very handy bird’s eye view when parking. Given the cramped feel to the cabin and restricted vision of the outside world, this feature is more necessity than gimmick in the FX.
Along with feeling cramped, the FX’s interior struggles to live up to its £50k expectations. Plastic abounds in the cockpit, along with a tacky Maserati emulating analogue clock:
Other bits appear stolen from the rest of the Nissan range, and do very little to create a feeling of bespoke craftsmanship. I have no doubt that it will be well put together and ultimately reliable, but in this price range that special ambience behind the wheel is critical.
I also think anyone buying one new is going to suffer depreciation on a truly epic scale. Whilst the £53,000 list price may well undercut rivals such as the BMW X6 (equally pretentious) or the Range Rover Sport, and be better equipped, Infiniti lacks the brand cache. I realise launching a new badge is difficult, and that it took Lexus until the release of the IS200 in 2000 to get a foothold in Europe, but I’m not convinced by the Infiniti project.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Lexus all offer (relatively) affordable entry-level models to welcome new, young, buyers into their marques. With a £35k opening bid, Infiniti is asking substantial sums of money for a unknown entity. However, given the Nissan model range it can hardly offer a gold-badged Micra or Note as competitors to the Audi A1 or BMW 1-Series.
The FX30d S is not a bad car by regular measures of performance or value for money. But in a market segment where choice is based on image and desirability the FX it makes a very poor argument for itself.