You may not recognise the badge, but Nissan's new luxury brand is serious about beating BMW and Mercedes.
Breaking into one of the most fiercely contested sectors of the market will be far from easy. But our drive of the 2007 model Infiniti FX45 suggests the Japanese company should be well placed to take the fight to its rivals. Promising strong styling, a powerful engine and a well equipped interior, the new FX45 – which goes on sale in October 2008 – will be a force to be reckoned with. The crossover brings many unique features – which is an essential asset in a sector driven as much by image as anything else.
It’s a Nissan, but not as you know it... Priced at £44,000, and with the looks, V8 engine and equipment to back that up, the Infiniti FX45 is a rival to the likes of BMW’s X5.
The all-wheel-drive crossover has been designed by a company Nissan set up in 1989 to tackle Lexus, and is proof that the firm has what it takes to build an upmarket SUV.
The only problem is, British drivers can’t buy one – yet. In October next year, Infiniti plans to launch a three-strong family of cars, led by the all-new FX. And to find out what buyers have to look forward to, we got hold of the keys to this year’s model.
First impressions are promising. The FX45 has a distinctive look and an imposing stance. Large 20-inch alloys fill the arches and the liberal use of chrome leaves you in no doubt that the new car is aiming for buyers who value image and visual impact.
The paintwork is beautifully applied and the panel gaps evenly spaced – you don’t need to look too hard to realise the FX is perfectly built. Keyless entry means there is no rummaging for the Infiniti-branded fob to open the doors, either. Inside, the spacious cabin, with its matt-finish wood and combination of leather and soft lighting, gives the 4x4 a feel that’s just as striking as the exterior.
There’s a great view down the curving bonnet, plus a spacious driver’s seat. The steering wheel is electrically adjustable, while a reversing camera helps make up for poor rear visibility.
Future versions will be fitted with Nissan’s 360-degree set-up, which creates a composite picture of the road all the way round the car. Out on the road, the FX provides sharp throttle response, while the automatic gearbox is extremely smooth. Infiniti has clearly worked hard on refinement; despite the size and power of the V8 engine, it remains extremely quiet.
The steering is heavy, and has that robustly engineered feel common to many Nissans – which should be no surprise as the SUV shares its platform and steering with the 350Z. Even the steering wheel itself is lifted from the two-seater coupe, although this won't be the case in future FX45 models.
In fact, our only criticism is the ride, which isn’t supple enough and feels harsh over broken surfaces. However, Infiniti promises that in 12 months’ time, such problems will be a distant memory. A dedicated chassis development team – based at Nissan’s technical headquarters in Cranfield, Beds – is currently fine-tuning the FX’s suspension for British roads.
Yet even though it has worked so hard to create a car that’s not only new, but relevant to the UK market, Infiniti is playing down its chances of success. Bosses say they will be happy with sales volumes registered in the hundreds, rather than thousands. On the evidence of our first drive, that could be a conservative estimate!