If Infiniti was in any way unsure about the size of the task that awaited it in trying to break into the European prestige car market, a timely reminder was soon forthcoming.
In the same week that Nissan’s luxury brand unveiled the M executive saloon to the world, BMW pulled the wraps off the F10 generation of its 5 Series.
In theory, the M and the 5 are direct rivals but while one car began carving-out a home in the hearts and minds of European executives during the early 1970s, the other has a badge that few on the continent will have more than a vague awareness of. Success in the USA would indicate that Infiniti has got something to offer but the road ahead is a tricky one and the M will need to be quite special if it’s to avoid falling by the wayside.
This is actually the third generation in Infiniti’s M line. Prior to this, however, the cars were only available in Europe in tiny numbers through unofficial channels. Today, Infiniti is in the throws of a concerted effort to break the European market. It’s starting small in the UK but make no mistake that its ambitions are big.
In total, the M is being offered for sale in all of Infiniti’s 34 markets around the world, so it’s an important car. Its rivals will be the same in most of those with the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class cropping along with the Jaguar XF and Lexus GS. In Western Europe, Infiniti must battle the big German brands on their home turf. To do that, it’s putting its faith in technology, customer service and a level of exclusivity that only an Infiniti can offer. Will it be enough?
"Infiniti is committed to making an impact in the European market"
The rear-wheel-drive Infiniti M Line is powered either by a 320PS 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine in M37 guise, or by a 238PS 3.0-litre diesel in the M30d variant which boasts exceptional refinement with 550Nm of torque to rival the class best. You can also talk to your dealer about a clever hybrid version. A 7-speed Adaptive Shift Control gearbox takes care of gear swapping duties and includes further driver assistance in the shape of DRM Downshift Rev Matching which blips the throttle on down changes and a Drive Sport mode which brings the wheel-mounted paddle shifters into the equation.
The M Line is fitted with Infiniti Drive, a system by which drivers can alter the set-up of the car between four modes. There are Standard, Eco, Sport and Snow settings which adjust the throttle sensitivity, the transmission mapping, the level of ESP stability control intervention and the 4WAS 4-Wheel Active Steering system. There’s also a BSI Blind Spot Intervention system which uses radar to detect when there’s a vehicle in the blind sport, warn the driver and intervene if the car is steered in that direction. BSI can actually brake selected wheels to create a yaw effect and move the car back into its lane away from danger.
The need to offer something different from the established German alternatives is not lost on Infiniti and as well as a host of technological features, the M Line showcases the brand’s distinctive styling themes. The curvy lines and sportscar design cues aren’t what we’ve come to expect in the executive car sector. The rear has an element of Jaguar XF about it and elsewhere there are hints of Hyundai Coupe.
Underlying the bodywork is a layout that’s clearly geared towards an involving driving experience. The engine is at the front of the ladder-frame chassis but mounted behind the front axle to optimise weight distribution. The suspension is a double wishbone set-up at the front with a multi-link system at the rear and a pair of anti-roll bars provide additional bracing.
The long wheelbase of the M Line yields better cabin space than its swooping exterior lines would suggest. There’s also a luxurious air about the place with standard leather trim with a mix of aluminium and piano black detailing. There’s an analogue clock at the centre of the dash (an Infiniti trademark) and a large display screen above through which the various ancillary systems are controlled.
With its large petrol engine, this Infiniti is forced to compete at the upper end of the executive saloon market but value for money is still integral to its strategy. There’s a lot of equipment as standard that should help the car stack-up well on paper alongside other big saloons with potent diesels or petrol V6s developing more than 300bhp.
Equipment of course is lavish. There are climate controlled seats, bi-Xenon adaptive headlights and a range of Bose stereo options amongst the available features. The upmarket sound systems have Active Noise Control. It detects unwanted low frequency noise in the cabin and plays sound waves of the opposite phase to cancel them out. There’s also a Forest Air climate control system which gives an extremely high level of control over temperature, humidity and pollution levels.
Safety equipment provision is equally comprehensive. As well as the full complement of crumple zones and airbags, there’s a raft of electronic aids including Intelligent Cruise Control and a Forward Collision Warning system.
Infiniti is committed to making an impact in the European market but it’s going about it in a measured fashion, easing itself in rather than going for the big splash. It means that Infiniti models will remain a comparatively rare sight in the UK market for some time to come and that exclusivity should help protect the crucial residual values of the car. The arrival of the V6 diesel engine will also have a major impact on its viability for fleet customers.
The major players at the top end of the executive car market have a habit of squeezing out newcomers but Infiniti is confident of getting a piece of the action with its M Line model. High technology and a sporting focus make the car an intriguing choice but it’s the element of exclusivity that may appeal most to buyers who’ve grown tired of the usual suspects in this sector.