REGARDLESS OF TALENT, looks or background, life is seldom easy for the new kid in school. There’s always a chance he’ll ruffle feathers and be ‘persuaded’ to part with his lunch a couple of times before hopefully finding his feet. Especially when thrown into a class loaded with popular over-achievers. Such is the scenario facing the Infiniti EX whose new classmates include Audi’s Q5, BMW’s X3, Volvo’s XC60 and the smaller but no less pivotal Range Rover Evoque. In a class register that formidable, is the EX equipped to compete?
The theory is pretty sound: if you’re after an athletic-looking SUV why not start with the excellent FM (Front Mid-ship) platform that underpins Nissan’s superb 370Z? Then take that car’s classic sports car cues – short overhangs, long bonnet, tapering roofline, rear-biased cabin – and render them as a near two-tonne, jacked-up, black-skirted crossover with a coupe-like glasshouse. That should make it look muscular, right? In reality, the EX is more of a gangly track athlete than pumped-up football jock. Take note, I said gangly not ugly.
While the FM platform imbues the Zed with quintessential laid-back sports coupe/roadster proportions, here they’re just a tad awkward. Plus the surfacing is too soft, lacking in definition and muscle. It’s not helped by an utterly generic grille shape and massive L-shaped headlamps that cut far back into the fenders, similar to that other genre-busting coupe of sorts, the original Mercedes-Benz CLS. However, with aesthetics being largely subjective, I’m pretty sure EX will find a prom date … eventually.
There’s more mixed-blessing sportiness inside where Infiniti’s designers have opted for a scalloped, padded facia that, along with a high and wide centre console, cocoons the front occupants in a cosy but space-robbing compromise. Second-rowers will find legroom tight despite the 4.65-metre long EX having a 2.8-metre wheelbase. Everyday item storage in the cabin is reasonable, and console space is freed-up by there being a foot-operated parking brake. Just don’t expect to store a bottle or two in the postal-slot door pockets. The boot’s quite shallow and therefore not particularly capacious either.
If you’re a fan of stained maple then the cabin ambience rates as suitably upscale while everyone will admire the excellent build quality. Equipment levels on this top line GT Premium test unit are mega, including such desirables as heated seats, 30GB HDD-based sat-nav, four park assist cameras and adaptive cruise control as well as the oddity of a motorised folding of the rear seat backrests. Target American buyers much?
Eleven-speaker Bose audio, Infiniti’s Connectiviti+ (see what they did there?) multi-media system with ten gigs of music storage, and an eight-inch hi-res touch screen make for a particularly comprehensive infotainment package. USB, MP3 CD/DVD, Bluetooth and Aux inputs mean access to media is excellent, but getting the best out of it requires a practiced combination of touch screen and controller button pressing. You’ll also need to get familiar with the bevy of driver aids – called Safety (why not Safeti?) Shield in Infiniti-speak – if you want to avoid getting bleeped incessantly by the blind spot monitor and forward-collision and lane departure warning systems.
Unusually, Lane Departure incorporates a physical prevention aspect activated by a dedicated switch on the steering wheel. Ignoring the beeps when drifting across lanes without first indicating awakens the vehicle’s stability control system, which then that uses the brakes to gently ease you back into the lane again. All quite useful on occasion I’m sure. However, in the frantic cut and thrust of our heavily trafficked freeways and parking lots, the array of audible alarms is, frankly, alarming. And I do find it odd that you have to cancel the camera button to get the beeping to stop even after you’ve put the transmission into park (P) mode. Naturally, all the warning systems can be switched off if you’d prefer to drive it old school.
On the playground
Broad success in track and field requires an array of specialised equipment. After all, the front-runners in the class have brilliant diesel-powered derivatives to supplement powerful petrols. So when Infiniti plotted its entry into the mid-size premium SUV event, it knew diesel models would be imperative. Rather than outsourcing an oil burner, Infiniti looked in-house and settled on a heavily fettled version of the Renault Nissan Alliance’s V9X 3.0-litre unit that currently powers the top-line Navara. Unlike much of the opposition, the common-rail turbodiesel V6 sounds a little gruff at low revs, but spins cleanly and comes across all big and boomy when stretched, like it’s a V8. It definitely adds credence to Infiniti’s claim of having tuned the exhaust note to sound like a big-bore petrol.
Pound the throttle and it positively roars, responding well enough from idle before really launching from around 2500rpm. Official figures place maximum power of 175kW at 3750rpm with a peak torque of 550Nm from 1750rpm. Interestingly, the throttle is fully bi-polar, offering two types of launch: grandpa or gangster getaway. Most days I prefer grandpa, but the EX does either equally well courtesy of a seven-speed torque converting auto that is as appreciatively discreet in D as it is appropriately energetic in DS (Drive Sport) mode. There are no gear-change paddles on the steering wheel, but with the top two gears locked out in DS you’re hardly ever tempted to tip-shift manually.
On test, the EX returned a claim-matching fuel consumption figure of 8.6L/100km, offered great brake feel and averaged 8.4 seconds from zero to 100kph. There are quicker, cleaner and quieter diesel SUVs out there, but the EX30d’s impressive drivetrain is by no means overawed.
On the sports field
You can buy an Infiniti EX in Japan except there it’s badged as a Nissan Skyline Crossover and we all know the Skyline spawned the mighty GT-R. Well the EX is no GT-R, but there are similarities. They both feature aluminium-heavy double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension set-ups and both use a version of Nissan’s acronymanic ATTESA E-TS rear-biased electronically-controlled all-wheel drive system that never sends less than 50% of the available torque to the rear wheels. Push hard into a corner and, provided grip levels remain high, the system will continue to send full twist to the rear wheels, promoting gentle oversteer. Sporty enough for you? Well yes, except when stacked up to the segment’s dynamic dynamos in the form of the X3 and the Evoque.
Around the track and in general road use, the EX displays body control vastly superior to big-brother FX, which under braking and acceleration dives and squats like an mixed discipline Olympian. Although both use the same aforementioned FM platform, the EX clearly has sportier damper settings and spring rates. Positively, these have little effect on the car’s ride comfort, which is exemplary. As for the speed-sensitive steering, it is pleasingly hefty, offers excellent feel and is quick and responsive, just nigglingly artificial around centre at slower speeds.
After two weeks of road testing, the EX established itself as the most sporting of the Infinitis we’ve driven. Apart from poor space utilisation, it has no obvious weakness and does not suffer from a copy-cat styling approach. It’s clearly aimed at those individuals with a penchant for the alternative and who are into quality, favour fashion over practicality and don’t fear being classified as early adopters. Infiniti’s local expectations are not overly high. With that in mind, the EX should graduate without much fuss. Won’t get Victor Ludorum laurels, though.