Infiniti sets sights on Hong Kong luxury market

Nissan's upscale sibling dresses up and moves to Hong Kong, writesMark Sharp

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 10:57am

Infiniti is looking to muscle in on the city's crowded luxury sector after becoming the first carmaker to open its global headquarters in Hong Kong. The upscale brand of Japan's Nissan Motor Company, Infiniti relocated its head honchos to the city from Yokohama in May and will open a showroom in Central in December.

Until recently, the design of Infiniti's vehicles had been widely derided as forgettable, and many casual observers may still struggle to identify an Infiniti from a Lexus, Toyota or Honda. But the carmaker is finding its design DNA, taking cues from the Essence sports car concept it unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2009.

The more shapely appearance of Infiniti's latest models - all flowing lines and rounded corners, with barely a flat surface - gives them the best aerodynamics in their class, the company says. Along with a more pronounced grille, Infiniti may be on the path to developing more memorable vehicles.

Cosmetic features aside, where Infiniti scores high marks is its emphasis on cutting-edge technology, as seen in the M37S and FX37 - the two models now available in Hong Kong and road-tested by the South China Morning Post.

In the midsize luxury - or executive - segment, the M37S goes head to head with such formidable rivals as the BMW 535i, Audi A6 and Lexus GS 350 Sport.

The sedan employs sporty rear-wheel drive with four-wheel active steer, like most cars in its class, for greater stability and response at high speed. The thrust comes from a 3.7-litre, V6 engine that produces 320 horsepower and 360Nm of torque, which at least equals its rivals. It feels light on its wheels, despite the body being a bit larger than its competitors. A drive mode selector on the console offers standard, economy and sport mode at the twist of a dial.

The cabin is plush without being overly lavish, with an old-fashioned clock face on the cleanly laid out dashboard that gives a faux vintage look. Welcome hi-tech details in the interior include climate-controlled seats that can blow hot or cold. The "Forest Air" system is a novel touch, attempting to create a natural breeze that circulates around the cabin, rather than blowing hot or cold air in your face. The electronic purifier not only filters out bad odours, it actively destroys them.

For entertainment, there's a 9.3-gigabyte audio system on which you can copy music directly from a CD. A voice-control option allows the driver to choose a name from a mobile phone's address book or a particular song on an album. Sounds are fed through a 16-speaker Bose surround-sound system, including a mini speaker at each shoulder on the front seats.

Where Infiniti really excels though is in its safety features, and that's not just the eight airbags. Among this wizardry is a laser radar system that feeds back to a computer to help deliver forward distance control assistance, intelligent brake assist and lane departure prevention technology. Using the latter, a driver veering over lane markings on the road without indicating will hear a gentle audio warning. Fail to respond and the brakes will be gently applied to straighten you out - as if pushed by an invisible hand. But there's no need to worry about that cyclist you were swerving to avoid - the driver can override the feature and remains in full control. The same happens with the forward distance control; get too close to the vehicle in front and you will feel resistance as the brakes are gently applied.

Infiniti's FX37 - a luxury SUV - shares almost all the same safety features and cabin luxuries as the sedan, give or take five Bose speakers. Unlikely to ever feel mud and rubble under its 20-inch wheels, this is an off-roader in name only. Also powered by a 3.7-litre V6 for a similar dynamic, the Infiniti curves give the FX37 a more elegant look than other, more macho-looking SUVs.

For better or worse, the design is still not as distinguished as that of other marques in the luxury sector. But judging by some of the concepts Infiniti has produced lately, including the Emerge-E unveiled in Geneva this year, the best is yet to come.