By: Denis Droppa

Infiniti, the luxury Japanese brand which splashed down in South Africa earlier this year, has added the M sedan to its range in an effort to win over the hearts and minds of A6, 5 Series and E class enthusiasts.

With such tried-and-tested German brands on offer, it isn’t an easy segment for an unknown newcomer to break into – especially since Infiniti is not offering any price saving over its rivals – but we got behind the wheel of the Infiniti M last week to see whether it had the goods to compete in this league.

On first impressions, yes. Infiniti is the luxury arm of Nissan (as Lexus is to Toyota), but the cars aren’t simply rebadged Nissans. From the moment you enter the M’s sumptuous cabin, you’re enveloped in a luxurious cocoon that feels no less “premium” than a car from the Audi, BMW or Mercedes stables.

It’s not just the large list of hi-tech toys on offer – of which there are plenty – but more to do with the Infiniti’s classy execution and fine detailing.

BEAUTIFULLY FINISHED

Not all leather seats are equal, and the cowhide draping this Japanese car’s cabin is top-notch stuff that is beautifully stitched and finished. It’s not only draped on the seats and steering wheel, but on the dashboard too, which gives the cabin a more upmarket feel.

The Infiniti M’s cabin is styled in a sportier, more hi-tech way that is less conservative than some of its German rivals, which might attract more young-at-heart buyers. This carries over into the exterior design, with its long bonnet and coupé-like rear end.

Ergonomically things work well too, with a large touch screen that makes it simple to manage functions such as audio, navigation and telephone. Oddly, though, the dual-zone climate control doesn’t offer separate fan speeds for left and right – an issue that might cause bickering between driver and passenger.

Heated and ventilated front seats are standard in all versions, as are items such as cruise control and electrically-adjustable seats and steering column.

Fancy extras in the upper models (there are four equipment levels) include navigation; a Bose sound system with speakers built into the seats; “forest air” climate control; and safety features such as Blind Spot Warning and Intervention, Intelligent Cruise Control, and Lane Departure Warning.

ROOMY CABIN

The cabin is roomy and will swallow four tall adults without any unwanted intimacy. The boot is rated at a generous 500 litres for the petrol and 450 for the diesel, although the wheel arches limit the cargo hold’s width.

Two V6 engine derivatives are available – a 175kW/550Nm 3-litre turbodiesel available immediately and a 235kW/360Nm 3.7 petrol, which arrives at the end of the year, both paired with seven-speed auto transmissions.

I drove them both at last week’s media launch in Gauteng and couldn’t pick a favourite. Both the M30d and M37 seemed refined and eager, with effortless acceleration and overtaking ability matched with soft-spoken operation – when high-speed cruising you could hear a fly sneeze in the cabin.

Infiniti quotes a 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds for the diesel and 6.2 for the petrol, but the diesel makes a strong case with its superior fuel economy, quoted as 7.5 litres per 100km on the combined town/freeway cycle versus 10.2 litres for the petrol.

PLUSH RIDE

A drive mode selector offers Normal, Snow, Eco and Sport settings, which change the transmission and engine responses, while in upper models the suspension firmness is also adjusted.

The M’s plush ride (and body stiffness) coped well with scarred and potholed roads. There weren’t many corners on the short driving route to test handling limits but the rear-wheel-drive car, which uses weight-saving aluminium in its construction, seemed suitably agile, as with other Infinitis we’ve driven. For an even sportier experience, S and S Premium models feature 4-Wheel Active Steer.

Only two dealers, one in Joburg, the other in Pretoria, are selling Infinitis, with two more to open in Cape Town and Pinetown before the end of the year.

All Infinitis are sold with a three-year/100 000km warranty, five-year/100 000km maintenance plan with roadside assistance, and a feature unique to the brand: a standard Tracker system with a three-year subscription. -Star Motoring

PRICES:

M37 GT - R649 000

M37 GT Premium - R706 051

M37 S Premium - R730 305

M30d GT - R671 000

M30d GT Premium - R728 051

M30d S Premium - R752 305