QUICK TEST: Infiniti EX 3.0d GT
Launching head-first into a corner of the market that's dominated by names like BMW and Audi with a new nameplate is a brave move.
Even braver is when said product has no significant price or value advantage over these German peers.
But that's the way that Infiniti is boldly playing its cards in South Africa with its new range of premium products and, if it's any consolation, this luxury division of Nissan is already well established in overseas markets.
The EX featured here is Infiniti's take on the mid-sized premium softroader segment; it's basically here to offer the novelty of something a little different, to those who'd otherwise have considered a BMW X3 or Audi A5.
At face value, the EX makes a reasonably good case for itself. While it doesn't quite stand out in the same way that its larger FX brother does, the EX is elegantly styled and in GT guise, as per our test car, its striking 19-inch double-spoke alloy wheels give it a purposeful stance.
The interior materials live up to the high-end expectations created by the exterior, as there are plenty of soft surfaces and many tasteful splashes of wood and chrome throughout. It looks the larney part but, in my opinion, the facia design lacks the modern and high-tech look and feel imparted by the equivalent German dashboards.
Never mind, standard specification on the GT model is very generous, but then it does cost more than the German base models.
Compared with the equivalent Audi, the base EX (R595 000) loses the leather seats but gains electric adjustment and for the front occupants' seats. Six of one…
The R635 870 EX GT adds niceties like an 11-speaker Bose premium sound system that forms part of the Connectiviti+ touch-screen interface, which also boasts a 10GB hard drive for music as well as a satnav system and reverse camera. It's all rather user-friendly and easy to figure out, which really matches the driving experience as a whole.
The EX 3.0d carves its way through corners rather neatly and its 175kW/550Nm 3-litre V6 turbodiesel engine pulls you along effortlessly, even rapidly, when you ask it to. But there's nothing really exciting or outstanding about the overall driving experience.
In the realm of softroaders, that's really not a bad thing, because what the EX lacks in emotion it makes up in overall comfort. The ride quality is numbingly compliant and the cabin is whisper-quiet at speed and the smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox has seemingly never heard of the word 'clumsy'.
The EX stacks up well against its rivals in overall refinement. In fact it's just so quiet, comfortable and elegant that it comes across as rather nondescript at times.
It's a great vehicle, yet I feel there's just not quite enough on offer to motivate buyers to stray from the usual choices in the segment. Perhaps Infiniti should sweeten the pricing deal here.
Infiniti EX 3.0d GT (175kW/550Nm) - R635 870
Audi Q5 3.0 TDI Quattro (176kW/500Nm) - R595 000
BMW X3 xDrive30d (190kW/560Nm) - R613 334
Range Rover Evoque SD4 (140kW/420Nm) - R603 400
Volvo XC60 D5 Excel (158kW/440Nm) - R535 700