30 Nov 2012

Driven - Infiniti M30d GT

Speedmonkey test drives the Infiniti M30d GT.

Infiniti have been in the UK for 3 years now and have built up a network of 6 dealers, the first of which was in Reading.  The company have a fairly low key presence in the UK at present and don't exactly sell many cars.

It's in the US that Infiniti are pretty big.  Big enough, in fact, to become title sponsors of the Infiniti Red Bull F1 team for the next 4 years.  You need a decent turnover and profit margin to afford that kind of deal and Infiniti's owner, Renault (via Nissan) don't have much in the way of spare change at the moment.

Infiniti will have to pay it's own way.  They intend to rival at least Lexus, if not Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.  The M saloon is Infiniti's GS, XF, 5 series, A6 and E class rival and is the first of the new generation Infiniti with updated internals and drivetrains.

The car I drove had a 3 litre V6 diesel engine under the bonnet.  Given a choice I would have walked away at this point.  I have to declare an interest - I detest diesels.  Having owned a few oil burners and driven plenty more I've grown to loathe the stink, the noise and the sudden drop off in revs at 4000rpm.  But the diesel was the only M available.

On first impressions the M is a conventional, good looking saloon car.  The rear end is particularly handsome but I don't really enjoy Infiniti's signature bonnet swoops.  The test car was white, and would have suited a darker colour.

Inside the car you are greeted by swathes of leather, wood panelling (the Infiniti PR didn't know if it was real or plastic), some small areas of cheap plastic (that affect other Infinitis) and some lovely, classy touches.  The twisted door handles in particular are a brushed aluminium delight.

The various buttons, knobs and switches are easy to find and easy to use.  An aluminium knurled knob sits just behind the automatic gearstick but it doesn't really do much other than change gearbox modes between Eco, Sport and Normal.  Infiniti doesn't really do iDrive.  There is some semblance of it on the touchscreen but you don't need, and wouldn't want, to use it.  Every function is effectively controlled by the buttons on the dash, steering wheel and around the drivers console.

Whilst the interior looks almost as good as a Mercedes it doesn't feel it.  The switches aren't weighted like they are in a German car.  Clicky, clicky rather than smoothly does it is the order of the day.  And some of the materials are a little on the thin side.  At least the dash is covered in leather rather than the elephant hide plastic that resides in other Infinitis.

When you first climb in the car the drivers seat is set as far back as it will go.  A key isn't required, other than to be in proximity to the car.  Push the brake pedal, hit the start button and the seat glides forwards to the last position it was left in - or to a preset position.  This is fine in principle but someone of a shorter stature than I may struggle to reach the brake pedal with the seat reclined.  The resultant stretch to the pedal would be pretty demeaning to a short man who had just spent £40k on his Infiniti.

The engine is quiet until pushed, when it radiates that awful diesel clatter - although it is a very quiet clatter.  The automatic gearbox and engine work well.  The 3 litre V6 has plenty of poke and the gears change smoothly and quickly.  It's not quite at S-Class levels but nevertheless the M30d is a seriously refined drive.

The automatic gearbox is unobtrusive and does it's job well, except for in one important area.  It takes an age to get going when pulling away from a standstill.  From pushing the accelerator into the carpet to the car actually moving takes about 2 seconds, which is far, far too long in my book.  However, once it is moving the M30d is a quick car.

Aside from the slow getaway, the driving experience is pretty faultless.  Everything just does what it should with no fuss or problem.  It even hustles round corners well, although if you push it too far (i.e. any kind of oversteer) the car thinks you might be about to crash and tightens the seatbelt in an instant.  This sudden strangulation is pretty alarming the first time it happens but by the second (when I was testing the fabulous brakes) is pretty tiresome.

The M30d's Intelligent Cruise Control is a marvel of simplicity and user friendliness.  Set the desired speed.  Set the desired distance to the car ahead.  And waft.  All you need do is steer and it keeps a constant distance to the car in front.  It reacts quickly if a car pulls in front of you and pulls back up to speed when a car moves out of your way.

I tested the system by using it, rather than the accelerator and brake, all the way from the fast lane (OK, lane 1) of the motorway to a roundabout at the end of the slip road.  It worked faultlessly, even down to a standstill behind other cars as we approached the roundabout, and is an easier system to use than found in the E class.

The Infiniti M is a superb car in terms of comfort, refinement and space.  The back seats are plush and offer plenty of leg and head room.  The driver and passengers are cosseted and conveyed in luxury.  At one point I pressed a button sited to the left and under the steering wheel not knowing what it would do.  5 seconds later my fingers were being warmed by the heated steering wheel.

It seems Infiniti have the car to bring the competition to it's rivals, but do they have the image, the clout and the market presence to do so?  Not at the moment they don't.  The brand is still regarded as a newcomer and some opinions of it are almost hostile.

It's no wonder, therefore, that Infiniti are spending millions of dollars on Formula 1 sponsorship.  But they still need to do more.  They have a few more hurdles to leap before they are finally accepted as a true competitor to Lexus and the German competition.  Their recent VIP-only area at Top Gear Live was a backwards step in terms of brand awareness.  Infiniti need to show their wares to the general public because the more people get to experience the M, the more will realise it is a great car.


Model tested - Infiniti M30d GT
Engine - 3 litre V6 diesel
Gearbox - 7 speed semi-automatic, rear wheel drive
Power - 238bhp
Torque - 550Nm
Acceleration - 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds
Top speed - 155mph
Economy - 37.7mpg combined
Price - £40,540 OTR