| First Drive | Rome, Italy | Infiniti M30d |
It's been a year since Infiniti officially launched in the UK. And a slooooooowwww
year it has seemed, too. The streets are hardly flooded with them, are they? In fact, we challenge you to name Infiniti's entire model range. If you can, we bet you're in a minority. Slowly but surely, though, Infiniti is seeping into British car consciousness. Models like this new diesel M saloon, a rival to the BMW 5 Series and co, will speed up the process.
In the Metal
Infiniti wants us to think of the brand as sporty first, luxurious second, which makes the M a more natural rival to the BMW 5 Series
than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class
. That said, the company has decided to come to market with two clearly defined versions of the M: GT and S.
The former is the comfier, more down to earth model, while S is sportier with a distinct front bumper, standard 20-inch wheels and sports suspension. Both are available in standard and Premium trim, and both with either this diesel engine or a 3.7-litre petrol unit
No matter the version, the tactility of the M is striking immediately. It really does match the class best and, significantly, betters Lexus. Even the very lowest surfaces are swathed in either leather or beautifully padded faux leather. The switchgear is solid, its layout instinctive and the driving position lovely and cocooning. It's a great place to sit.
What you get for your Money
The M30d GT Premium version we drove pitches in at £44,600. That's a pricey executive, you'll agree, especially in the context of a BMW 530d SE Auto at £38,670. Risky.
But Infiniti has made the very Japanese decision to throw all kinds of kit at the car as standard and charge a bit more for it; spec up the BMW like-for-like and it comes in well above the M30d. Even the entry-level car gets a rear view camera, cruise control, parking sensors, 18-inch alloys, climate control, electric seats and Bluetooth. Premium adds too many things to mention, but a Bose stereo including seat-mounted speakers and a 30GB satnav/infotainment system are highlights.
The M's lightness of touch is most immediately apparent when pulling away. Engine noise is distant; the steering is light, the seats comfy and the general air is one of detached serenity. Oh, and it feels absolutely massive.
The driving position is low, the windscreen shallow and the corners of the bonnet seemingly miles away. It quickly shrinks around you, but this is not a nimble sports saloon - rather a very refined executive express whose most compelling quality is its subtle, well-engineered refinement. It has a soft ride reminiscent of the 5 Series' - and the same propensity for full throttle rear-end waggling. Simply put, though, it's not as fun to drive as the German.
Atypically of a diesel, the engine isn't averse to the upper reaches of the rev range. The 235bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit builds momentum in a nice, progressive way, pulling hard all the way to the limiter. Not to overkill the point, but it's reminiscent of BMWs six-cylinder unit in the 530d - though notably poorer on the economy front: 37.7mpg and 199g/km versus 54.3mpg and 160g/km.
The only real dynamic party pooper is lax throttle response. Even though there's a Sport mode that re-maps the gearing and throttle, there's a frustrating pause after kick-down before the seven-speeder re-unites engine and driveshaft. It's exacerbated in Eco mode, which winds back accelerator sensitivity even further.
The cynic might suggest that exclusivity will come to Infiniti naturally, in the same way it comes to, say, Ssangyong: i.e. lacklustre sales. However, Infiniti reckons the reason it launched with only anachronistic petrol models - rather than on-trend diesels - was to cultivate an image based on power and sportiness. It also promises an unrivalled dealer service.
And while accepting it will never be a premium juggernaut, the company will eventually adopt four-cylinder Mercedes-Benz engines, as well as producing a (relatively) high volume hatchback.
In short, the M-line is an excellent executive car without caveats. It's not good 'for a Japanese car'. It's just good. Comfortable, extremely well equipped, powerful, refined and styled convincingly, it really is a proper alternative to the Jaguar XF
, E-Class and 5 Series, and better than the Lexus GS
. We'd still have the 5 Series, truth be told, and the M30d could do with being more economical, but it has no fatal flaws, and is a tactile delight.