We drive SA-bound Infiniti G, M & EXComment on this story
The South African executive car park is an unforgiving place. It's a virtual candy shop where variety is in no shortage but where the default choice is almost always one of three German badges.
It takes a brave car company to enter through this prestigious security boom but Nissan's luxury division Infiniti is about to do exactly that when a wide range of vehicles is launched here next week.
I got a sneak preview of some of these vehicles while on a trip to Europe over the past weekend and although driving four of them back-to-back on a route from Heathrow airport to Milton Keynes and back was not quite enough to deliver a decisive verdict, it did whet the appetite in a positive way.
While four distinct model lines will be made available in South Africa this month, Infiniti SA's senior marketing manager, Vinola Pillay, says it's not going to be an all-out market assault off the bat, but rather a slow but steady brand-building process. There is a lot more to look forward to, Pillay assures us, as the range will eventually be expanded to include C- and D-segment passenger cars.
Back to those that are in the immediate pipeline, my first companion on the UK route was the G37 Coupe.
This low-slung and undeniably sexy two-door is motivated, through the back wheels, by a 235kW 3.7-litre V6 engine, which is linked to a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual mode.
In fact, you can think of this as a Z car in an elegant business suit. It offers a comfortable ride, plush interior and more rear legroom than the Z, yet it remains satisfyingly rapid, nimble, direct and an aural pleasure. Those who crave wind-in-hair motoring can also opt for a convertible version.
Next up, I drove two versions of the M sedan, which is a direct rival to the BMW 5 Series. It will come to South Africa either as a 175kW/550Nm 3-litre diesel or with the aforementioned 3.7 V6 petrol and although I didn't get to sample the latter, I have a very strong suspicion that the oil burner will be the pick of the range.
This 3-litre diesel is punchy off the mark and smooth through the revs; pretty quiet too, and what you do hear is more of a V6 roar than a diesel racket. The seats are cosy, the cabin's insulated like a cocoon and ride is wafty - a very refined car but it's going to have to fend off some very compelling rivals.
The last stretch of the route was undertaken in an Infiniti EX, which will take the fight to the BMW X3's turf. Engine choices will comprise the previously mentioned 3.0 diesel and 3.7 petrol.
The compact crossover is styled more conservatively than its bigger FX brother but it's still very pleasing to the eye. Like my previous two steeds, the EX has no shortage of soft, touchy-feely surfaces in the cabin and a user-friendly colour satnav system. Once again, a smooth and refined ride is to be had here.
The FX, meanwhile, pitches its tent next to the BMW X5 and it'll have Infiniti's widest range of engines, these being the 3.0 diesel, 3.7 petrol and a 287kW/500Nm 5-litre V8 petrol, the latter said to run the zero to 100 sprint in 5.8 seconds.
The FX, which this publication will be trying out on local soil next week, is the one I see as gaining the most nods among South African buyers. It's bold and brave, with no ugly step-sister overtones, and it'll certainly stand out on our parking lots and pavements.
Official pricing has yet to be announced but Infiniti says we can expect FX pricing to be northward of the R700 000 mark, while the G37, M sedans and EX crossover will start around the R600 000 mark. All, of course, will be loaded with features.
The luxury cars will be sold through Infiniti Centres in Johannesburg and Pretoria, with Cape Town and Durban branches opening shop towards the end of this year.