Newcomer shows it's the real deal
INCOMING premium brand Infiniti is literally bending over backward to introduce itself to Australia.
The luxury offshoot from Nissan has started introducing itself to Down Under's affluent as a major supporting sponsor of the latest Cirque du Soleil production.
It's the first glimpse of Infiniti in Australia for many, after more than 20 years of strong sales in the United States and Canada.
But there are grand global plans for the prestige marque and Australia is forecast to play a role in its worldwide growth strategy.
Launched to the motoring media fraternity this week at Maleny, two vehicles spearhead Infiniti's Aussie arrival (the M sedan and FX sports utility vehicle) - followed closely by a G coupe and convertible during December.
But Infiniti is not hitting the market with all guns blazing. The car maker wants to set solid foundations and has a long-term plan.
Infinity Australia general manager Kevin Snell said 10 models were forecast to be available by 2016-17, but the initial focus was "doing fewer things better".
"This is a crowded market, there are 60-something brands out there. But there is still a desire for something different - particularly in the luxury space," he said.
Extensive customer research over the past 18 months has focused on how, and where, Infiniti can gain a slice of the premium pie.
Mr Snell said the analysis found some buyers were not completely satisfied with the current offerings.
"They want something more individual, something more personal, something more unique," he said.
"The luxury space is dominated by a few very strong and successful brands.
"They either have an engaging brand, or an exciting product or they take care of you well. But no brand from the research identifies all three."
Three dealers will open before the end of the year, one each in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Adelaide and Perth will be next, and by 2014-15 Infiniti hopes to revisit Sydney and Melbourne for additional opportunities, along with major centres such as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Newcastle and Geelong.
Plush big seats and a refined cabin ensure there is no doubting Infiniti is a premium player.
Both the sedan and SUV boast impressive finishes and styling which feels individualised, not a carbon copy - almost Jaguar-esque.
Soft-touch materials have been used throughout and there is no hint of hard plastics.
All the vital operations are straight-forward with crisp labelling and easy-to-read gauges, and there was no need to search for extra guidance from the manual during our brief introduction.
With predominantly black internal colour schemes, the dash is broken up by the use of chrome highlights and a classy analogue clock in the centre.
Four adults can be accommodated easily in both offerings, although three across the back seat would be a squeeze.
On the road
First sampling the M sedan hybrid, it's a surprisingly punchy and strong performer.
Ironing out the potholes with ease the luxurious four-door easily accounted for the hillside terrain and also held its own during some challenging twisties.
There was some minor vagueness in the steering, while mid-corner kickback from ruts and holes was the only blemish on the journey.
Some road noise was evident at speed, not bad, but the ambience doesn't match the ultra quiet standards of Lexus.
The FX is expected to be the volume seller, and Infiniti is justifiably confident.
For a sizeable SUV, it's remarkably adept when called to change direction quickly and is also spritely off the mark with all drivetrain configurations.
What do you get?
There is little need for buyers to head for an extensive options list.
Infiniti has aimed to deliver cars which are well equipped for the luxury buyer.
Base models have a long list of standards, including leather trim, electric front seats with 10-way power adjustment, dual zone air con, power steering wheel adjustment, touch-screen display, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, rear view camera and cruise control.
Depending on trim level, there is some impressive technology available, including blind spot and lane departure intervention/warning system, 16-speaker Bose sound system, radar cruise control and cameras which show all around the car.
The FX is the obvious choice for those seeking space and flexibility.
While rear space is impeded by the steeply raked rear end, the back seats fold quickly at the pull of a lever.
Boot space is reasonable in the M sedan, yet the hybrid version loses much of its allocation due to the battery arrangement.
The whole range looks to be relatively good in fuel consumption terms, although the M37 V6 petrol (10.2 litres/100km combined average), FX37 (12.1) and the FX50S (13.1) are relatively thirsty.
The warranty includes a four-year 100,000km warranty and all-year 24-hour roadside assist.
While the Infiniti M sedan boasts refined styling and some nice lines that have a wide appeal, it's the FX which is the show-stopper.
The SUV boasts distinctive style and the bulging wheel arches look brilliant from behind the wheel.
Recognition is the greatest challenge facing the new kid on the premium block.
Despite being common in North America, Infiniti is relatively unknown to most Australians who nowadays have a choice of more than 60 brands - while luxury sales volumes are remaining relatively stagnant.
If the first two offerings are any indication, the Japanese marque has what it takes to gain a foothold Down Under.
Impressive specification and strong performance underpins Infiniti's ethos within attractive and distinctive skins.
Model: Infiniti M
Details: Four-door rear-wheel drive luxury sedan
Engines: M37 (3.7-litre petrol V6 generating 235kW @7000 rpm and 362Nm of torque @ 5200rpm), the M30d (3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 producing 175kW @ 3750 rpm and 550Nm @ 1750rpm) and M35h (3.5-litre hybrid, V6 producing 225kW @ 6800rpm and 350Nm @ 5000rpm with electric motor (and lithium-ion battery pack) that produces 50kW @ 1700 rpm and 270Nm @ 1770rpm)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Consumption: M37 10.2 litres/100km (combined average); M30d 7.5L/100km; M35h 6.9 L/100km
Bottom line: M37 GT $85,900, M30d GT $87,900, M35h $99,900
Model: Infiniti FX
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive luxury sports utility vehicle
Engines: FX30d (3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 producing 175kW @ 3750 and 550Nm @ 1750rpm); FX37 (3.7-litre petrol V6 generating 235kW @ 7000rpm and 360Nm @5200rpm); FX50 (5.0-litre petrol V8 287kW @ 6500rpm and 500Nm @ 4400rpm)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Consumption: FX30d 9.0 litres/100km (combined average); FX37 12.1L/100km, FX50S 13.1L/100km
Bottom line: FX37 GT $83,900, FX30d $95,470, FX50 $125,920