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Squeezing a full-sized SUV into a tight parking space is about as much fun as adjusting a roof-mounted TV aerial during a thunderstorm.
As spacious and luxurious as they are, uber-wagons like the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 can at times feel intimidatingly super-sized (and super-priced), which has opened up a popular market niche for mid-sized SUVs like the X3 and Q5. They fit into what you could term the Goldilocks segment, hitting that just-right middle ground of size, manoeuvrability and comfort, not to mention budget.
A newcomer to that list is the Infiniti EX, a mid-sized SUV from the luxury Japanese stable which was launched in South Africa earlier this year. The EX is reasonably nimble to drive and not as difficult-to-park as a full-sized SUV, but at the same time offers decent cabin space that swallows four adults comfortably, and five at a push.
WHY CHOOSE INFINITI?
The question is, why would anyone choose an Infiniti over one of the tried-and-trusted Germans with their bulletproof reputations? The two answers that spring initially to mind are image and price.
The very fact that Infiniti’s a new and relatively unknown brand might appeal to buyers that are attracted to novelty and are averse to following the herd. In the EX this novelty factor happens to come packaged in a very easy-on-the-eye shape.
In terms of reputation, the manufacturer may be unknown to most South Africans, but overseas Infiniti’s already been sparring against the German premium brands and the likes of Lexus and Jaguar for over 20 years.
Step inside the EX and you’re greeted by a classy cockpit that stacks up well to its rivals. It’s all plush leather-and-wood and neat elegance that will satisfy any fussy executive.
There are tons of toys, but they’re not overly complicated to operate. The user interfaces are mostly intuitive, including a large touchscreen monitor that controls the audio system, telephone and navigation.
GLUT OF GADGETS
EX is offered in three equipment lines and the middle spec EX37 GT model on test here sells for R626 000, which is almost identical to a direct rival like BMW’s X3 35i. The Infiniti scores well in the value-for-money stakes as it comes with an array of standard gizmos that are expensive extra-cost options on the Beemer; items such as navigation, electric sunroof, electric front seats with heating, an 11-speaker Bose premium sound system with 10-gig music storage, keyless access, and adaptive headlights, to name a few.
If you opt to pay around R40 000 more for the range-topping Infiniti EX GT Premium model, the spec sheet comes with additional knicknacks like intelligent radar-guided cruise control, active lane departure and blind-spot warning systems that will guide you back into your lane, forward collision detection and an Around View monitor that gives a bird’s eye view of the vehicle when parking.
The EX’s standard boot space is rather meagre at 340 litres, but it expands to 1 175 litres with the rear seats folded. For larger loads, the EX has a user-friendly trick up its sleeve: each portion of the split-folding rear seats can be remotely lowered or raised simply by pressing a button.
The EX is available with a choice of two V6 engines, a 3-litre diesel and the 3.7-litre petrol on test here. It’s the same normally aspirated six-cylinder that powers Nissan’s 370Z sportscar but tuned to produce slightly reduced outputs of 235kW and 360Nm. That’s good enough to give effortless cruising ability and brisk acceleration that will make a few hot hatch drivers sit up and take notice.
The official figures are a top speed of 240km/h and a claimed sea level 0-100km/h sprint in 6.4 seconds, and it achieved 7.8 seconds in our own Gauteng altitude test.
It’s a refined package and once you shut the Infiniti’s door it’s as if you’ve pressed a mute button on your TV; the EX very effectively masks unruly wind and mechanical noises when cruising at high speed.
The EX37’s a thirsty car however, averaging around 13.5 litres per 100km (against the 12.2 litre factory claim), and the Infiniti EX 175kW/550Nm diesel version would probably be a better power-vs-performance all-rounder.
Transmission duty in every EX is performed by a slick seven-speed automatic transmission with normal and sport modes, and all wheel drive with a variable split between front and rear axles that constantly reacts according to grip levels.
The EX doesn’t pretend to be an offroader. Though it has all-wheel drive, there are no gadgets such as hill descent control or a diff lock, and its measly 165mm ride height won’t exactly clear high middlemannetjies.
The EX is more of a road warrior and here the ride-handling compromise is a very good effort. It’s one of the sharpest-handling SUVs around but maintains an impressively bump-soaking ride quality over rough roads. All Infiniti models include a three-year/100 000km warranty, five-year/100 000km maintenance plan with 24-hour roadside assistance, and a Tracker system with a three-year subscription.
Infiniti has a good product here that’s worthy of comparison against Germany’s best, but it’s destined for niché sales until the brand takes hold. This, as we’ve seen with Lexus, might take some time. -Star Motoring