Ryan Bubear gets to grips with the Infiniti FX50 S...
Use the scroll arrows to view the images
The Infiniti badge is about as familiar to South Africans as a calorie-restricted diet is to the nation's average Member of Parliament. So, in a nutshell, not at all.
But drive the flagship Infiniti FX50 down the street and you will find yourself accountable for a frighteningly high number of serious neck injuries, such is this performance SUV's head-turning ability. So, there's definitely an active interest (the majority of us appreciate something new and exciting, after all), but not a whole lot of knowledge.
So little knowledge, in fact, that one (admittedly exceedingly geriatric) man peered at the badge and asked me whether it "was the new Tata". I almost slapped him. Later, a co-worker who had studied it in our parking garage enquired whether it was a "Chery Infiniti". We no longer talk.
Study the badge, people
But, in reluctant defence of the non-petrolheads, the Infiniti brand is a virtual unknown as it did only arrive on our shores a short while ago, and the badge does look ever-so-slightly similar to the one "adorning" the cheapie Chinese Chery models. If you squint. In poor light. But, in reality, the two brands couldn't be further apart.
Infiniti, the autonomous luxury performance arm of Nissan, was established in 1989, but only launched in South Africa at the end of June 2012. In simple terms, it is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota.
The local range is made up of sedans, coupes, and SUVs. We had the range-topping FX50 — which is available in S Premium trim only — on test.
It's big, it's bold and it's expensive — all traits clearly not associated with Tata or Chery. Its sleek styling is not easy to define: it features an odd, almost incongruous blend of traditional SUV and classic sports car looks that somehow just seems to "work". The long, sculpted bonnet, oversized trapezoidal grille, and aggressive headlights lend plenty of move-over-and-let-me-pass presence to the front, while LED tail-lamps and twin-exit exhausts (capable of swallowing small children) add a bit of street-cred around back.
Viewing the FX in profile emphasises the length of the bonnet and the sheer size of the 21-inch alloy wheels — which, with help from the lowered suspension, fill the substantial arches with ease. On the whole, the FX looks best from a front three-quarter angle, and is certainly like nothing else on the road. In fact, a number of its competitors look decidedly boxy in comparison. But, as always, aesthetics are largely subjective.
Three flavours on offer
More importantly, what's lurking under that curvaceous bonnet, you ask? Well, the FX is available with a choice of three engines, each mated to a seven-speed automatic gearbox (with manual shift paddles). The FX30d employs a turbocharged V6 diesel engine (175kW and 550Nm), the FX37 boasts a 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine (235kW and 360Nm), and our test model, the FX50, makes use of a stonking 5.0-litre V8 petrol powerplant, pumping out a blinding 287kW at 6500rpm and 500Nm at 4400rpm.
"Quick" is not strong enough a word to describe the FX50. The low-mounted V8 thunders this heavyweight from zero to 100km/h in a face-melting 5.8 seconds (it's "merely" a large SUV, remember), before topping out at an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h. The power is relentless, and the soundtrack simply brilliant. But its fuel economy ("economy" probably isn't the best word to use) will scare the pants off your neighbourhood Prius owner: Infiniti claims an average figure of 13.1 litres per 100km, but we — admittedly with plenty of spirited driving — ended on a wallet-draining 17.8.
The FX's fancy all-wheel drive system constantly adjusts its distribution of torque between the front and rear axles according to traction requirements, from a 100 percent rear bias to a fifty-fifty split. This translates into distinctly unSUV-like handling. Rear Active Steering, which sees the rear wheels turn by one degree, further enhances the FX50's almost unnatural love of twisty roads, and the speed-sensitive steering does a fine job too.
The ride is rather stiff — even uncomfortable over severely rutted surfaces — and underlines the FX50's bias towards sports car handling (this is clearly not a vehicle to take off-road). But an active suspension system continuously alters damping forces according to the road surface, and the driver can manually switch between Auto and Sport suspension settings (we're happy to report that there's a noticeable firming up in Sport mode).
The FX range boasts a lengthy standard equipment list, which includes quilted leather front seats (heated, ventilated, and electrically adjustable), reclining rear seats, auto bi-xenon adaptive cornering headlights, electrically adjustable leather multifunction steering wheel, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, powered tailgate, full-colour display screen, cruise control/speed limiter, smart key, automatic wipers, and a 2GB Music Box (linked to seven-speaker audio system with USB/Aux/Bluetooth). An optional multimedia package is also available, and features an 11-speaker Bose sound system, 30GB navigation system, 10GB Music Box, and a high resolution touchscreen.
FX crammed full of tech
The cabin is a wonderful place to spend your time, with quality finishes and well-crafted controls living up to the brand's "premium" reputation. There's plenty of space too, thanks to the long wheelbase, and the luggage compartment can store a reasonable 410 litres. I did recognise the steering wheel switchgear from the Nissan 370Z though, but it certainly didn't look out of place.
S Premium models, such as our test unit, further benefit from a generous dollop of fascinating tech. The camera-based Lane Departure Prevention system is active above 72km/h and relies on zero steering or indicator input. The audible warnings do get a touch annoying, particularly when navigating narrow roads chock-full of cyclists, but can thankfully be turned off.
The Intelligent Cruise Control uses radar to monitor the vehicle in front of the Infiniti FX, managing speed and following distance. It includes Low Speed Following, which kicks in in slow-moving traffic. This takes a bit of getting used to, but works an absolute treat. Forward Collision Warning uses a laser range-finder to alert you of a possible frontal collision. And when a collision is unavoidable, Intelligent Brake Assist automatically engages the brakes to reduce speed and minimise the accident damage. Happily, that's not something we tried out...
The FX50 S also has a reversing camera with parking sensors. But it is no ordinary system, since it features something called an "Around View Monitor". Thanks to a crew of strategically placed cameras, the driver gets a bird's eye view of the vehicle (which is displayed as a graphic) and its surroundings (which are actual camera images), making parking in even the tightest of spaces a cinch. It may sound a tad gimmicky, but it is truly useful. And should you still somehow get it wrong, you'll be glad to know that the FX comes with self-healing paint. Infiniti says its "Scratch Shield" paintwork will repair fine scratches itself when exposed to heat.
The FX boasts a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating, thanks to its six airbags, ABS with EBD, VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control), tyre-pressure monitoring system, active front head restraints, and the active safety measures mentioned above. It also comes standard with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a five-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.
The Infiniti FX50 S gives you plenty of luxury, even more technology, and even more power still. It looks like nothing else on the road, and combines the performance of a sports car with the practicality of an SUV.
Should the Germans be worried? The answer is a resounding "yes", even if the majority of South Africans have yet to figure out exactly what the Infiniti badge represents.
Follow @Ryan_Bubear on Twitter to see what he's currently driving.
See page 2 for specs and pricing.