It's been over 18 months since Infiniti poked its quite considerable presence into the British marketplace. From the outset, Nissan's luxury arm set its sights high, aiming not only to oust Lexus from its default spot as the definition of Japanese engineering excellence, but also to muscle in on the same territory occupied by the best German and British brands.
We caught up with the FX50S, the flagship V8-powered 'crossover' model that headed up the company's portfolio for the UK. With 20 years experience on American shores, it's not surprising to report that the FX50S is a daunting machine, scaled up for broad Californian highways rather than winding country lanes or narrow city streets. At a time when compact and even sub-compact luxury is all the rage amongst big luxury brands, Infiniti's super-sized line-up feels very old school. That said, the car has substantial presence, giving you the kind of big-wheeled entrance previously reserved for Range Rovers and Escalades.
Assuming you intend to stick out, the vicarious vibe is enhanced by the car's styling. The FX50S has a rakish, long-bonneted look that's reminiscent of a grand inter-war touring car, married to a grille of deliberate, almost parodic aggression. The shark-like nose swoops back over that long bonnet, with pronounced wheel arches containing massive, 21-inch wheels. Everything flows cohesively back to the passenger cockpit, lit by a shallow semi-circle of glass set atop the high-flanked bodywork. Those curves conceal a less than commodious but extremely well appointed interior, with forms and function that outdo Lexus's big RX hybrid.
The toys are also top notch, with what could be dismissed as mere gimmickry on a lesser car proving exceptionally handy. Gently nose Infiniti's new FX50S into a suitably sized parking space, and the display screen switches to a birds-eye view of your surroundings, neatly stitched together by four cameras concealed at the car's extremities. It's neat, but also genuinely useful. The ability to browse the Michelin Green Guide or live traffic information from the in-built hard-drive is also welcome.
All this visual bluster and welcoming accommodation would be nothing if the FX50S didn't deliver an interesting drive. Thanks to the powerful V8, the car's turn of speed feels suitably impressive, a world away from the sluggish SUVs of just a decade or so ago. Mash the accelerator too much though and fuel consumption starts to plummet, another reminder that this machine was made for markets where fuel prices aren't at European levels. The car's ability to accelerate - and handle - far more convincingly than a saloon of half the size is nothing less than uncanny; purchasers aren't simply buying into a pose, they're also getting performance to match.
Infiniti clearly believes that the FX is a suitable flag-bearer for the British arm of the business, and has put together a run of just 100 'FX Limited Editions' to highlight the car's design credentials. With elegant white paint and sober trim, the Limited Edition masks the car's sizeable proportions. To European eyes, the FX is really a superior SUV, rather than a Crossover, a tag that implies a rather closer relationship with car-like scale. In the US, that Crossover appellation makes far more sense, especially in the light of its larger sibling, the unflatteringly elephantine QX56. As long as Infiniti holds back such devices from the more design - and scale - conscious European market, they'll continue to be a convincing alternative for the less introverted enthusiast.