Infiniti has renamed its flagship model,the FX, to the QX70. Can it take on German luxury SUVs such as the X6, M-Class and Cayenne? Does the QX70 truly have what it takes to convince buyers that it is an attractive alternative to the established Teutonic brands?
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who know who Sebastian Vettel is, and those who do not.
Those who are familiar with this world champion Formula 1 racing driver tend to hail from places such as the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and yes, the southern tip of Africa. Places, in short, where cocky young men who can pilot fast cars through tight bends are hailed as gods.
Those who have never heard of Vettel, however, hail from a strange continent called North America – a place where racing is watched more for its spectacular crashes than the driving prowess of its competitors, and where the ability to make a right turn in a race car is oddly useless.
Of course, North America is also the land of Infiniti. To be sure, Infiniti is a Japanese brand, but it was created by parent company Nissan in the late 1980s as a way of competing at the top-end of the US vehicle market.
So considering that Infiniti is a brand closely associated with the United States, it is surprising to discover that the company recently employed Sebastian Vettel as a brand ambassador. Vettel even helped to design a special edition of the FX that was seen at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July.
Why is this ostensibly “American” brand aligning itself with a German F1 driver? Because Infiniti is going global.
Infiniti entered the Russian market in 2006, and the Chinese one in 2007. In 2008, the brand was launched in Western and Central Europe.
And now, after recent launches in Indonesia, Panama and Malaysia, it has arrived in South Africa.
**** Features and equipment
The vehicle leading Infiniti’s charge into the South African automotive market is the opulent and eye-catching QX70, an SUV that will be forced to compete with plush German barges such as the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X6 (and X5), Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Audi Q7.
Does the QX70 have what it takes to compete with these well-established vehicles?
Yes, it does. The QX70 boasts all the features one would expect to find in a luxury German SUV.
For example, standard features on all QX70 models include speed-sensitive power steering, six airbags, rain and light sensors, follow-me-home lighting, dual-zone climate control, power tailgate, rear-view camera and parking sensors, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and cruise control.
The GT Premium and S Premium models also have impressive added features such as Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention Forward Collision Warning, Intelligent Brake Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control. Interior upgrades include a touch-screen with satellite navigation, a DVD player and 11-speaker Bose sound system.
The QX70 S and S Premium models also boast two innovative added systems. The first is the Rear Active Steering system, which allows the rear wheels to be turned by up to one degree, allowing for improved handling. The second system, Continuous Damping Control, delivers continuously altered damping forces to provide the best possible ride on any given surface.
Overall, the features and specifications provided by the entire QX70 range is on par with what one would expect to find in similar German SUVs. The only feature that is sorely absent is a spare wheel (the vehicle has a tyre repair kit).
The FX’s most important attribute, though, is its novelty. Not only is the QX70 a completely new vehicle on South African roads, which in itself causes other motorists to take notice, but it has an exterior design that is unlike that of any other SUV available. With its long bonnet and shiny grille, it is an attractive vehicle that suggests a high level of sportiness.
Given Infiniti’s origins, one would probably be inclined to view Lexus as the company’s closest competitor, but that would be a mistake, especially when it comes to the QX70. The QX70 is a fun and flashy SUV that has its sights set on vehicles such as the X6 and Cayenne. This is a vehicle for someone who wants a luxurious and sporty SUV that sets him or her apart from the rest – someone, in other words, who wants a whole lot of attention.
Thanks to their iniquitousness, SUVs such as the X5 and M-Class don’t attract a lot of attention. That’s not a problem that the FX will have.
Infiniti South Africa is eager to be seen as a stand-alone luxury brand, and not simply as a division of Nissan. Accomplishing this, however, is difficult when the interior of an Infiniti looks and feels a lot like that of Nissan, albeit a very plush one.
Many of the switches, buttons and knobs inside the QX70 will be instantly recognisable to those familiar with vehicles such as the Pathfinder.
Is this a problem? Not really, since the presence of these items do not lessen the overall feeling of quality. A few knobs have been pilfered from Nissan vehicles, but this is still a very luxurious SUV.
Comfortable leather seats, plenty of soft-touch surfaces and high-quality finishes all conspire to create a sense of opulence.
There is also no shortage of comfort and entertainment features. Standard features include climate control, Bluetooth connectivity for phones and audio streaming, steering-mounted controls, USB and iPod connectivity, electric glass sunroof, seven-speaker audio system and MP3 CD player.
The GT Premium model that we tested , however, had a DVD player and 11-speaker Bose sound system (standard on GT Premium and S Premium models), which provided predictably impressive performance.
The QX70 provides a comfortable ride, regardless of where you are seated in the vehicle – the rear is spacious and the front passenger seat is electrically adjustable in eight directions – but it is driver who will enjoy the experience the most.
Piloting the QX70 is fun. It has a high, commanding driving position, but still manages to feel sporty. The long, arching bonnet is reminiscent of that of a sports car. The chunky steering wheel feels good to grasp. The aluminium foot pedals encourage you to put your foot down.
Yes, the QX70 certainly feels sporty, but does it deliver the goods?
A brash vehicle such as the FX seems to demand a roaring V8 engine. And indeed, a five-litre V8 petrol powerplant that offers 287 kW of power and 500 Nm of torque is available for the QX70.
But that is not the model that most potential buyers will be looking at. South African buyers will be far more interested in the frugal three-litre diesel model.
This three-litre V6 is the first oilburner to ever see the inside of an Infiniti engine bay, and is the same V9X engine that is used in the Nissan Navara and Pathfinder. It produces 175 kW of power and 550 Nm of torque.
Unfortunately, the engine can’t quite live up to the looks of the QX70. The vehicle is so dramatic and eye-catching, that the rather ordinary diesel engine inevitably disappoints. The engine isn’t terrible by any means, but it is a bit unremarkable.
The QX70, after all, is a luxurious and sporty high-end SUV, and the V9X engine can seem a bit unrefined and agricultural for a vehicle in this class. The rumble of the oilburner is just a bit too noticeable.
That said, the engine performs respectably enough if you ignore the sportiness of the QX70’s other attributes. It accelerates nicely and never struggles to scoot the bulky QX70 along. Its seven-speed automatic transmission also works well with the engine, swopping cogs effectively.
The only noticeable niggle is a slight reluctance to accelerate when the accelerator is pressed. The lag isn’t terrible, but it is noticeable. The throttle isn’t as instantly responsive as one would want a sporty vehicle’s to be.
The QX70 30d’s fuel consumption was very impressive, though, managing an average of 9,9 l/100km during our test. A combined cycle of 9 l/100km should be achievable with a bit of careful driving.
The QX70 handles impeccably, managing the difficult trick of being both sporty and comfortable. It flattens out bumps and lumps on ugly tracks, but is also capable of zipping effectively through corners.
Yes, it is still a hi-riding SUV, but it is a tremendously fun one to drive, especially on gravel roads. It doesn’t mind being chucked into corners, allowing you to have a bit of fun without punishing you harshly when your skill runs out. Its movements always feel composed and predictable. This is also true of ugly dirt roads. Very few SUVs that we have taken on our regular test route have inspired so much confidence and remained so surefooted on bad sections. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels also remained low throughout the test, despite the FX’s large 20-inch wheels.
It is worth noting that the GT Premium model that we tested was not equipped with Infiniti’s Rear Active Steering and Continuous Damping Control systems, making its performance even more impressive.
The QX70 30d is an excellent vehicle. It is luxurious, provides a superb driving experience and offers a very respectable collection of standard features. It is also competitively priced, especially if you consider the amount of standard features provided.
The question remains, however: Does the QX70 offer enough to coax drivers out of their German SUVs? It is doubtful, largely because local buyers have a weakness for German vehicles. Yes, the QX70 is on par with SUVs from companies such as Audi and BMW, but when the local market is this obsessed with German vehicles, simply being on par is not enough.
That said, the QX70 boasts striking looks that should help it to establish itself as a funky and flashy alternative to the established makes. It won’t sell in massive numbers, but should generate a devoted following.