Infiniti could not have timed it better if they tried - in the same week that Sebastian Vettel put up a spectacular pits-to-podium performance in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with the Infiniti emblem emblazoned on his Red Bull racing car and on his racing suit, the brand launched its exciting new range of M sedans in South Africa.
Infiniti styling certainly sets the brand apart from the rest.
What a perfect setting then for this new-to-South Africa brand to unwrap its stylish range of new luxury performance sedans which will no doubt spark off further interest in the brand following the recent local launch of the FX and EX SUV ranges.
As with the new SUV vehicles the M sedans offer the choice between petrol or diesel engines and four specification levels, all unashamedly aimed at the top end of the luxury market with ambitions of wrestling with the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar, Lexus, Porsche, Volvo and Land Rover.
SA sales healthy start
Although Infiniti is hugely popular in America it is also making inroads into the upper echelons of the market in Europe, Russia, China and even though they have only been in South Africa for a few months, 113 units have already been sold here.
Australia will also get Infiniti soon and with the wide publicity and exposure the brand has been getting with its sponsorship of the Red Bull racing team the suits at Infiniti is confident that the brand is set to start shaking the cages of the brands - particularly the Germans - who dominate the E segment of the luxury sedan market in this country.
Infiniti styling certainly sets the brand apart from the rest. The vehicles are big, bold, moulded, muscular and off the wall enough to stand out and to attract the kind of individual buyer who doesn't want to be part of the herd.
But Infiniti is not only about looks. It waves the flag of "Inspired Performance" and none of the new variants I have piloted lack in the go-and-cling departments and they all brag with stylish living quarters, a vast array of driver aids, fancy kit and safety equipment.
Like many of the mould-breaking new vehicles launched in recent times, the Infiniti is sure to divide opinion, particularly as its key target market is more likely to sport distinguished grey hair-styles than spiky gelled mop-tops.
The entry level M30d GT will show a vast list of niceties and across the range, there is something to satisfy even the most demanding petrol head.
But anybody in the market for a premium set of wheels in sedan guise will be silly not to have a good, hard look at what these Infiniti M cars have to offer.
To describe just one of the new models in detail will be a long and thirsty exercise, so I will condense it as much as possible with a brief overview and focus on just one of the new models I drove during the recent local motoring Media introduction in Gauteng.
Under the bonnet
The newly launched M sedans will initially only be available with a common rail turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 piezo-injection diesel engine. This power plant thunders out 175kW at 3,750rpm and 550Nm at just 1,750rpm which is enough to reach 100km/h in just 6.9 seconds and a governed top speed of 250km/h.
From about January 2013 onwards the diesel options will be joined by a V6 3.7-litre petrol derivative that produces 235kW at 7,000rpm and 360Nm at 5,200rpm, which translate into a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.2 seconds and a governed top speed of 250km/h. Fuel consumption is given 10.2-litres/100km in the combined cycle.
No manual transmissions are on offer and all models are equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) and in the case of S and SP models, steering wheel mounted shift paddles.
A comprehensive list of safety equipment includes six airbags, ISOFIX child seat mounting points. Anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (ABS with EBD) and ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), rain-sensing windscreen wipers, automatic headlights and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
The newly launched M sedans have a governed top speed of 250km/h.
The more expensive models also have a Dynamic Safety Shield (DSS) Package that incorporates Blind Spot Warning and Intervention, Intelligent Cruise Control with Low Speed Following, Distance Control Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention and Intelligent Brake Assist.
A long list of standard kit - even at entry level
Just a glance at the long list of standard kit on the entry level M30d GT will show a vast list of niceties such as 18-inch alloy wheels, auto-levelling bi-xenon headlamps with washers, AFS (a mechanical Adaptive Front-lighting System) and a follow-me-home function, LED tail lamps, front and rear fog lights, front and rear parking sensors coupled to a rear-view camera, a soft-closing powered boot lid, powered driver and front passenger seats with electric lumbar adjustment, premium leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, an electrically-adjustable steering column, a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, keyless I-Key smart access with a memory function for the driver's seat, steering wheel position, audio, side mirror and climate control settings (an expression of Infiniti hospitality), an electric glass sunroof, a full-colour eight-inch touch screen interface and a 2GB Hard Disk Drive Infiniti Music Box linked to a single CD/DVD front-loader (with MP3, WMA and DivX compatibility) and a USB/aux port, with six speakers featuring Active Noise Control to boot.
In a sportier vein, the new Infiniti M30d S Premium sedan I drove at the launch also has four-wheel active steering (4WAS), sports suspension, 20-inch alloy wheels, opposed-calliper brakes, solid magnesium manual gear shift paddles, sports seats, black lacquer trim and aluminium pedals.
But class and safety aside, it's the way that this elegant sedan handles and runs that makes it such a pleasure to drive, thanks largely to the even weight distribution of the classic front-engine, rear-drive set-up, the liberal use of light weight components, chic chassis set-up, double wish-bone suspension and the bonus of a Drive Mode Selector (with Normal, Eco, Sport and Snow settings).
What's nice is that the driver can flick freely between the set-up options on the move and the car responds in a split second, particularly when selecting Sport which instantly sharpens up throttle, gear change and steering set-ups and sparks off happy driver grins.
A barrel of fun
In spite of its size and the diesel flowing through its arteries, this elegant tourer is a barrel of fun, even along rather mundane stretches of neglected, pot-holed tarmac in Gauteng. It handles confidently and the ride is classy and comfortable with the occupants well isolated from engine, road and wind noises.
The cabins are stylish (though some might find it a touch shiningly garish and Nissan-like) and the equipment levels are quite astounding, particularly if you move up into the more expensive echelons of the M offerings where you will come across mind-bogglers such as a Dynamic Safety Shield (DSS) Package that incorporates Blind Spot Intervention (a world-first), ForestAir climate control (much too complicated to describe in detail), a 16-speaker Bose surround sound system, Connectiviti+, an infotainment system which includes a 30GB Hard Disk Drive satellite navigation, a hi-resolution display and 3D graphics.
The way that this elegant sedan handles and runs makes it such a pleasure to drive.
Some new-fangled techno wizardry are not instant crowd-pleasers though, such as the array of bleeps for minor driver "infringements (most of which can be turned off, thank goodness) and EcoPedal which features a "push-back" on the throttle when the driver gets a bit too enthusiastic with the loud pedal - all geared at saving fuel.
But then nagging bleeps, driving nurse maids and an electronic spider web of in-car staying-connected systems are integral components of modern motor cars, like them or not - and Infiniti offers more than most others. As smart, comfortable cruisers go the Infiniti is quite at home rubbing shoulders with the best in its class although its strongest appeal at this stage probably is the manner in which it stands out from the other sophisticated über-sedans with its dare-to-be-bold looks.
There are currently only two Infiniti dealerships in South Africa, one in Pretoria and one in Johannesburg, but plans are underway for dealerships in Durban and Cape Town inn the not too distant future.
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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