ROAD TEST: Infiniti M37 S Premium
It's been just over a year since Infiniti boldly swooped down on our market and the Japanese premium brand has yet to become a household name.
It's not yet rolling off the tongues of the automotive glitterati and you'll still find yourself having to explain to people that the Infiniti brand is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota.
It's still something of an anti-establishment alternative to the BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz hegemony then.
And Infiniti's flagship sedan, the M-series, has anti-establishment written all over its flamboyant sheet metal. Pretty? Well, I wouldn't go that far but it certainly is muscular in a curvaceous kind of way.
That design language continues inside. No straight-laced Germanic lines in here; instead the Infiniti stands apart with seemingly-intoxicated sweeping dashboard lines that flow into the doors.
Realising that it's going up against some heavy-hitters, Infiniti's interior decorators saw fit to bathe the cabin in soft touch surfaces and quality materials like real metal and wood (in the case of the entry-level model) or black lacquer trim in the sportier S.
The seats are covered in semi-aniline leather and they feel comfortable and plush. I'm also thankful that the test coincided with a chilly winter spell as the automatic climate control system proved to be hugely effective. While cheaper climate control systems have this tendency to 'shove' loads of hot, dry air onto its occupants, this one subtly bathes you in comforting warmth.
If there's one ergonomic shortcoming, it's that the instruments are easily obscured if you choose a relatively low driving position and there's no electronic speed readout to compensate for this.
Don't get me wrong, there is a long list of creature comforts on board. Even the base model features a rear-view camera, powered boot lid, electrically-adjustable front seats and steering column (all with memory function), powered glass sunroof and six-speaker touch-screen audio system.
Tick the 'Premium' specification box and you get blind spot detection and Infiniti's air-purifying ForestAir climate control, a 16-speaker 30GB Bose surround sound system and satnav linked to a high-resolution display with 3D graphics.
My test subject had this and the S spec package, which adds sportier aspirations with its 20-inch alloys, sports seats, bolder front bumper, sports suspension and four-wheel active steering.
This, along with its rear-wheel drive configuration and a sound suspension design - double wishbones at the front and a multi-link set-up at the back - ensure that Infiniti M handles well for its size. Well, at 4945mm, it is slightly longer than the 5 Series, E-Class and A6.
Yet it's more plush than sporty in its set-up, which works well in this application. The ride is very supple (although the S is not quite as comfy as a Lexus) and this adds to the plush feeling invoked by the impeccable noise insulation.
The 3.7-litre normally aspirated petrol engine is also pleasant enough in the way it goes about its business.
It's based on the Nissan 370Z's lump and pushes 235kW at 7000rpm and 360Nm at 5200. That should get it to 100 in just over six seconds at the coast, but it does feel a little stymied at Gauteng altitude - especially when compared to its force-fed rivals. Look, performance is still on the very satisfying side of the continuum, but you're not really going to get your kicks here.
As a bravely-styled and undeniably plush alternative to the herd, the Infiniti M37 does make a good case for itself. Yet its price (between R651 154 and R732 426 depending on the spec level) is perhaps a bit too mainstream for a brand that's so new to our shores.
Infiniti M37 S Premium (235kW/360Nm) - R732 426
Audi A6 3.0T quattro (220kW/440Nm) - R724 500
Lexus GS 350 EX (233kW/378Nm) - R584 900
Mercedes-Benz E400 (245kW/480Nm) - R742 669
Jaguar XF 3.0 Supercharged (250kW/450Nm) - R743 200
BMW 535i (225kW/400Nm) - R719 348