So I realised that I, at 34 years of age, had never driven an Infiniti. Like hangliding and menage-a-trois this was in danger of becoming another life box destined to be left unticked. No way was I going to let this happen.
The very helpful Infiniti representative was rather proud of their independence from Nissan, though It’s still hard to countenance this as fact. The car I was standing next to actually wears Nissan Fuga badges in Japan, where both cars are built in one factory. A Nissan factory. But who cares? What’s wrong with it being a Nissan? They’ve built some lovely cars over the years. And the Sunny. Truth is the fickle British public, though familiar by now with the 370Z and, of course, GT-R, still finds it hard to place the concept of a “Luxury” Nissan. Historically Nissan has never really bothered with UK imports of big, spangly sedans. The Laurel, 280c and 300c were only ever of minority interest over here, the Maxima never really caught on and the QX sold more on the value-for-money front than on desirability.
I was taken aback, then, when I visited the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007 to find a whole ‘nother world of swanky Nissans. America has known the Infiniti brand since 1991 and so “Nissan’s Lexus” is old news. But jumping into the cockpit of a Fuga in 2007 was a revelation to me when my view of Nissan broadly consisted a spectrum of shades of beige from Micra thru Primera. “This is awesome!” I thought, and “I want one” before necking another can of Pocari Sweat and moving onto the next show stand.
And here I am again with a Fuga, except this time it’s the current model and I have the keys.
It’s a damn good looking car, this, and not just for A Nissan. From the front three quarters the car looks athletic, sculpted and poised. Lots of people have recognised hints of Maserati Quatroporte in the coke-bottle hips and long bonnet. This is positive flattery, by the way, not moaning about another far-eastern knock-off of European styling. It’s only the rear end of the car that lets the side down a little, it either needs a wider track or a shorter rear overhang or something to complete the look. Whatever, I think it looks great and all without having to resort to the lunatic over-grilling of Lexus.
Depreciation-Grey isn’t always the most complimentary colourway, but on the Q70 it sets off the plentiful chrome embellishments a treat. This car is a “Premium” spec, as opposed to the Sport trim which everybody insists on selecting these days. This means that chrome, a sensible ride height and fewer inches of alloy under the arches. Seriously, every time I see an S-Line or M-Sport I feel like pointing at the driver, laughing and shouting “You paid extra to ruin your ride quality!”. They’d love that, and it would make me feel good.
Stepping aboard I found my cartoonish outline easily accommodated by the drivers throne, the adjustment microprocessors easily getting their heads around the strange challenges I present them. Once installed I surveyed my surroundings and rather liked what I saw.
In basic layout everything has clearly evolved along the same route as all Nissan’s upscale offerings over the past decade and beyond. A stepped centre stack supports a range of distracting looking controls, crowned by a large hooded touchscreen. I have to emphasise how pleased I was with the tactility of it all, and the attention to detail in fit and finish. The white ash wood actually is wood, though it’s been lacquered and laminated to within an inch of its life, as well as a silver powder finish being applied to it. It puts me in mind of certain high-order consumer electronic products. It’s a Japanese finish, for sure, but a very fetching one.
The Connectiviti (see what they did there?) system can be variously prodded or twiddled via the plethora of knobs on offer, and offers sound through sixteen speakers and quite the highest concentration of BOSE labels I’ve ever seen. I didn’t get too involved with this, to be honest; the system display didn’t really shout “play with me”, I had a brief go at tuning it in to a radio station but having failed to chance upon any form of frequency selection within 30 seconds my mind wandered and I got to thinking about driving instead.
And I’m rather glad I did. The start-up procedure is as undramatic as they come, only an American-style pedal-operated parking brake stands out from European convention. Press-button start:- nothing. Select drive and toe the accelerator and wahey! I correct myself after an initial lunge; this is a sensitive go-pedal and so I have to recalibrate my right foot by a degree. I gingerly pull out into a gap in the traffic and trundle noiselessly away.
Yes, I’ve not mentioned it yet. This is the Q70 Hybrid, combining the familiar 3.5 litre Nissan (Shhh) V6 with a 67hp lithium-ion fed electric motor for stealthy trolling and performance boosting purposes, and helpfully to allow it to qualify for exemption from London’s congestion charging measures. It probably makes the car more economical, too, so hooray for that.
The silence lasted for longer than I expected, too. My previous experience of hybrids has seen the internal combustion clank into life if I so much as entertained a notion of acceleration; in the Q70 not one drop of dinosaur juice was burnt until beyond 30mph.
When that VQ35 awoke it made all the right noises. Summon thrust and the demand is acknowledged (after a brief but noticeable pause for translation) with some very encouraging baritone notes and a pleasing alto rasp when the speedo begins to read interesting MPH. Oh, it’s fast, this car. Very fast indeed.
Fast is 5.3 seconds to 60, delivered in a seamless movement with that electric booster further slurring the already imperceptible gearchanges from the seven-speed slushbox. To hell with even thinking about the good versus evil argument vis-a-vis automatic transmissions; the electric-on-auto setup here makes performance happen. I don’t care a jot about the witchcraft involved, but 5.3 seconds ago I wasn’t moving at all, and now I very definitely am. And having reached three figures on the big dial with embarrassing ease, I see no reason to question the science behind the appliance.
Want involvement? Buy a mountain bike. Driving one of these you can revel in how rapidly and quietly the scenery changes shape. The dude behind the wheel enjoys one of the easiest of all time easy times. But that’s not to say the Q70 doesn’t do corners. It most certainly does. The platform beneath is an extended (they say enhanced…) variation on Nissan’s FM chassis. Among things, it can be found underneath the Nissan 370Z. And though if you trace things back far enough I’m probably related to Claudius Ceasar, in this case it’s actually tangible.
There’s a feel to the Q70 which I really like. You could call it roughness. It’s an underlying unrefinement which I find rather appealing, as if there’s an actual sports car buried deep within, trying to get out. Even on this non-sporting “Premium” edition, there’s a slight unyeildingness to the suspension at pretty much any speed which you just don’t get in a Lexus, more’s the pity. It’s a bit like what you might experience if you found that the leather-clad executive prop-liner you were aboard turned out to be a C-47 conversion.
I really like driving cars around corners in a spirited fashion, and the Q70 did everything I asked it to with very reasonable prowess. OK, in absolute terms the chassis lacks the ultimate sharpness, polish and finesse that the Germans win so much acclaim for, but if we’re honest it’s probably only motoring journalists who can really (or think they can really) tell the difference. And these comparisons have to be taken with a bag of salt, anyway, as daily driving conditions vary so drastically and the limits of what a car is capable of are virtually impossible to even approach unless the planets align and you roll a six.
What I’m saying is that the buying public will read the reviews which tell you that “A BMW / Audi / Mercedes (delete as appropriate) is better / more fun to drive than an Infiniti” and it will extinguish any idea they might have of buying one. It’s stupid. It’s like me choosing a wife based on whether she can cook a Caviar and Quails Egg Compote. I don’t actually like either of those foodstuffs and as such her possession of such a skill would be totally irrelevant to me anyway.
I had fun driving the Infiniti Q70 because Driving Is Fun. In the Q70 driving is easy and fast and quiet and refined and comfortable. It looks nice and makes a great noise. What else is there? Oh yeah, it’s interesting. More interesting than Another Audi, probably. It’s probably worse, too, but what’s better isn’t necessarily best for you, is it?
Sadly there’s an economic elephant in the room doing his big eared, long-trunked best to piss on Infiniti’s bonfire. The first car finance broker I found reveals that a Q70 Hybrid costs over £150 per month more on a personal lease than a similarly priced Mercedes E300 Hybrid. The second broker agreed, too. This is a difficult issue for me to overlook in my defence, nay, promotion of the Q70 as a worthy steed.
God damn it. Why should I have to choose the same German saloon as all the sheep just because it’s more cost effective and generally better? On a three year lease a Q70 would be a really nice place to sit and watch events unfold beyond that long, Italianate bonnet while 45,000 miles pass. It’s just a shame that harsh economic realities and the opinions of so-called “Journalists” are such that very few people will give one of these chance.
(Full disclosure: Infiniti UK threw me the keys and pointed me in the direction of a track. All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2015)