Producing bold cars like the X6 and 5-Series GT is a brave move for BMW – but it takes even more courage to launch an entire brand. Nissan debuted its Infiniti premium division in the US 10 years ago, and has finally brought it to Europe.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the company has proven popular, cultivating the image of a ‘Japanese BMW’. Will that message get lost in translation?
All Infinitis have edgy styling and claim to offer a sporty driving experience. The push into Europe brings five models, ranging from the BMW 3-Series-rivalling G37 saloon, coupé and cabrio to the FX – a sporty SUV competitor to the X6.
In between sits the EX37. The crossover model shares its platform with the G37, so it’s considerably smaller than the 530d GT. A taller ride height helps it to make an impact, but does it look more dynamic as a result?
Although the jury is out on that, if you want a car which blurs defined class boundaries and makes a statement, the EX is well worth a look.
Just don’t be fooled into thinking it offers SUV levels of practicality. Rear legroom is tight and the 340-litre boot is exactly 100 litres smaller than the cavernous 530d GT load area. Up front, the driving position is equally confined – the seat doesn’t adjust low enough and the range of movement on the wheel is limited.
Still, it’s luxuriously appointed, with generous standard equipment and leather upholstery. The stylists clearly took their inspiration from the Italian school of interior design.
The way the dash curves in front of the passenger, the oval clock and even the shape of the steering wheel all borrow heavily from Alfa Romeo and Maserati. But the detailing inside doesn’t have the character of these brands, and neither does the Infiniti provide the sense of modern luxury you get from behind the wheel of the BMW.
Hi-tech items such as the sat-nav are familiar Nissan components, and the mismatch of styles – combined with a few cheap plastics in more out-of-the-way places – means the car fails to live up to its £36,500 price tag on the inside.
The driving experience is equally confused. In the US market, the EX is seen as a sporty choice, but compared to the dynamic 5-Series GT, it doesn’t deliver the level of driver engagement buyers will expect. Crucially, it isn’t especially comfortable, either. The suspension thuds over rough surfaces, while body control isn’t as taut as in the 530d. There’s also some dive under braking, and the combination of its less-than-perfect composure and ride comfort leaves the Infiniti struggling to match the BMW in a single area.
It does deliver sharp steering, but the brakes have an artificial feel that makes it difficult to scrub off speed progressively. And the EX recorded longer stopping distances than its rival.
In contrast, the BMW is surprisingly agile, with well judged and communicative steering. The only dynamic black mark concerns its firm low-speed ride, but our car’s optional 20-inch alloys contributed to this.
Under the bonnet, there is only one engine option on the Infiniti – the 3.7-litre V6 from Nissan’s 370Z coupé.
It is smooth at low speeds, pleasant around town and delivers great straight-line performance.However, the unit is coarse at full throttle and doesn’t have the same mid-range punch as the BMW’s torquey diesel.
You need the automatic gearbox to kick down to get strong acceleration, and this only serves to accentuate the engine’s lack of refinement and flexibility. So, the EX is a more puzzling proposition than the 5-Series GT. It’s closer in concept to the BMW X1, yet is only £4,310 cheaper than the 530d GT.
It will have exclusivity on its side, though, and Infiniti will also collect and deliver your car come service time. Its dealers claim to offer a unique buying experience, yet there are only two in the UK, with a further seven due to open next year.
The EX37 serves up something genuinely different then, and the firm’s approach to customer care could win people over. But that isn’t enough to prevent the 5-Series GT from taking a comprehensive victory.
WHY: With its clever bootlid and coupé-inspired looks, the 5-Series GT brings something new to the market. Can it beat its rivals here?
BMW 530d GT
* Price: £40,810
* Engine: 3.0-litre 6cyl, 242bhp
* 0-60mph: 7.0 seconds
* AE economy: 32.6mpg
* Official CO2: 173g/km
* Annual road tax: £175
Infiniti EX37 GT
* Price: £36,500
* Engine: 3.7-litre V6, 316bhp
* 0-60mph: 6.5 seconds
* AE economy: 20.8mpg
* Official CO2: 265g/km
* Annual road tax: £405