CREATED as a means of competing in the premium segments of the US vehicle market, Infiniti began trading as the luxury division of Nissan in 1989, round the same time that Toyota launched its Lexus nameplate. Unlike the Toyota-based products that sought to gain a foothold in other markets (including South Africa) as early as the ‘90s however, Infiniti’s focus remained on the US for at least another decade.
In the early 2000s, as US demand for the then fairly conservative Infiniti offerings declined, Nissan went back to its drawing board and took the decision to reinvent the Infiniti brand with a range of odels that would be not only unmistakable design-wise, but would also add a touch of flair and dynamic ability to a brand already known for its focus on luxury. The original FX crossover SUV was one of the success stories of this reinvention and it’s this model (recently facelifted and now in its second generation) that has been tasked with leading Infiniti’s charge into right-hand-drive markets, including South Africa.
Infiniti FX30d S Premium – Test Score: 72/100
An element of the FX range (and other Infiniti models) that South Africans will be familiar with is the Renault-Nissan V9X common-rail turbodiesel fitted to the FX30d model. Introduced in the Navara and Pathfinder ranges in 2010, this 3,0-litre V6 turbodiesel is also the first diesel engine to be used by the Infiniti brand. Mated with a seven-speed automatic transmission, there was some debate in the CAR office about the slightly agricultural nature of this engine (particularly at start-up and idle) and its implementation in a premium product. However, in terms of torque output and fuel consumption, a case can be made for its inclusion in the range.
While ultimately this engine/transmission combination didn’t prove as sporty off the line as Infiniti claims it to be (with our best acceleration run of 9,27 seconds nearly a second slower than the claimed 0-100 km/h time), the FX30d nevertheless felt strong and willing in everyday driving conditions, particularly during overtaking manoeuvres.
Our fuel-index figure of 10,8 litres/100 km proved accurate for most of the urban driving that we did with the FX30d, although we were pleasantly surprised to return a fuel-route figure (a combination of distance and town driving) of just 8,9 litres/100 km, indicating that the V9X enjoys stretching its legs on the open road.
Infiniti markets the FX as the perfect blend of sportscar drivability and SUV functionality. You certainly gain a sense of this philosophy from behind the steering wheel. While the driver is afforded a raised SUV vantage point with good all-round visibility, the combination of a relatively low-slung driver’s seat, sporty three-spoke steering wheel (with 370Z-inspired magnesium paddles), chrome pedals and the sight of flared front wheel arches add some raciness to the driving experience.
There was general consensus that the white facia-mounted plastic starter button was a step too far in the pursuit of sportiness but, thankfully, this feature is the only negative in an otherwise classy, solid interior. A large, full-colour touchscreen display is part of a Premium specification (available on both GT and S models) and brings with it satellite navigation, a comprehensive audio system and Bluetooth.
Leather upholstery is standard throughout the FX range, with the front two pews offering full-electric adjustment with heating and cooling functions.
Although none of the features included on the Premium specification list are particularly ground-breaking, the FX is an altogether more complete package for having these fitted. Intelligent cruise control takes some of the effort out of longer journeys, and a collision-detection system adds peace of mind while complementing a wide array of other standard safety features.
Constant reminders that the FX was developed for the US market include a full bouquet of warning beeps and chimes, including prior to, during and after using the electronic tailgate, as well as an incessant chime forming part of a lane-departure system that will also brake the inside wheels to bring the car back to its lane should you not heed the warning. Even with its surround cameras, parking sensors and clever active steering system (which is able to turn the rear wheels by as much as one degree), most of the CAR team noted that concentration was required when manoeuvring the FX at low speeds round town.
Rear-passenger legroom should prove ample for most, though headroom becomes tight for those much taller than 1,8 metres. The rear backrest can be folded flat in a 60:40 split; this feature should come in handy as the FX offers one of the smallest luggage spaces in its class (320 dm3).
On the road, those standard 21-inch wheels (with their 265/45 rubber) complement the sporty character of the FX by offering a firm but well-damped ride (they are noisy, though). It’s worth stating that the FX, built at the Tochigi plant in Japan, uses the same Nissan FM platform as the current 370Z. In fact, in order to gain the full benefits of this base, the FX has been afforded a similar weight distribution front to rear as the two-seater sportscar (which it is built alongside). In achieving this, the FX’s engine is mounted as far back and low down as possible so that, despite what the cars proportions might indicate, the FX30d has its weight near-evenly distributed across both axles. Combined with the wide, relatively low stance, it’s easy to understand why the FX is one of the more surefooted and agile SUVs in its class. Up to 100 per cent of the torque is delivered to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions, with up to half of the 550 N.m able to be transferred via a central clutch to the front wheels should any loss of traction be detected.
The best part about being the flashy new contender in the South African SUV market is that there is arguably a large-enough sector of the buying public looking for something like the FX. Its bold, in-your-face styling is guaranteed to set it apart, while it boasts enough luxury features to surprise even the most brand-conscious German SUV buyer.
While the FX has a lot going for it in terms of novelty and an anti-establishment image, the question remains whether its presence in the market changes the playing field enough to convince a historically brand-loyal buying public to part with its hard-earned money and take the journey into the relatively unknown.
Infiniti FX50 S Premium – Test Score: 71/100
The 5,0-litre V8 FX50 tops the range and is R90 000 more expensive than the identically specced FX30d (and R110 000 over the FX37). While the FX50 loses 50 N.m of torque to the turbodiesel, it does gain 112 kW worth of naturally aspirated power (287 kW at 6 500 r/min). This is sufficient to launch the 2,1-tonne FX50 from standstill to 100 km/h in 6,23 seconds (Infiniti claims 5,8 seconds), three seconds faster than the diesel.
The additional performance does come with an inevitable fuel-consumption penalty round town, although we nevertheless managed a respectable average of 12,6 litres/100 km on our fuel run.
Unlike the V9X turbodiesel engine, the V8 petrol engine has done duty in the FX range for a good few years and is starting to show its age in terms of refinement, particularly when exploring its 6 800 r/min redline. Make use of the Nissan 370Z-sourced paddles and the seven-speed automatic is simply no match in response-speed and smoothness for the transmissions in some of the FX’s newer rivals. Downshifts in particular can prove to be unrefined affairs and are accompanied by some transmission shunt. While it proves more efficient to leave the transmission to its own devices, the laziness of the drivetrain remains. A few members of the team picked the petrol model as their choice were money no object, but the majority sided with the turbodiesel.
There remains old-school appeal in driving such a large SUV with an equally large engine. However, the V8 is bested in this class for refinement and efficiency levels. We look forward to the next-generation of petrol-powered FX models (due in around two years time) that will surely offer more competition for their natural rivals. In the meantime, the FX30d remains our choice.