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Geneva show: Infiniti’s surprise show-stopper

Sweet smell of success: Infiniti's Essence is a not-for-production hybrid sports car.

Nissan luxury brand steals the show with a RWD hybrid sports coupe concept

9 Mar 2009

ONE of the stars of this week’s Geneva Auto Show came from an unexpected source, with the Japanese Infiniti brand wheeling out a sleek two-door sportscar concept called the Essence to celebrate its 20th birthday.

And, like many a blossoming 20-year-old, Infiniti appears to have taken on a bold new style and is planning its first serious foray into Europe later this year.

Under the smoothly styled bodywork is parent company Nissan’s latest hybrid powertrain, consisting of a new disc-shaped electric motor working in combination with a version of the 3.7-litre V6 engine from the conceptually similar Nissan 370Z, but with twin-turbochargers and direct injection.

With 324kW from the twin-turbo petrol V6 – up from 245kW in the 370Z and not far short of the 357kW developed by the twin-turbo 3.8-litre V6 in the GT-R– and a further 118kW from the electric motor between the engine and transmission, the Essence has the promise of supercar performance.

Unfortunately, Nissan’s luxury brand did not reveal performance or weight figures at Geneva, saying only that the combined 442kW of power was designed to be delivered unobtrusively.

Infiniti says the new so-called 3D electric motor is more compact than a conventional motor but produces twice as much torque – without saying exactly how much that is – and is the result of 3D magnetic field analysis to optimise the layout of the electromagnetic coils and permanent magnets.

The car can be driven on lithium-ion battery power alone in the city for zero-emissions operation, but when opened up on the highway it has “performance that few cars could match”.

16 center imageInfiniti is said to be planning hybrid versions of all its models, starting with the M sedan later this year, and is understood to be close to producing a diesel hybrid for the European market.

The company declared the Essence was “not merely an indulgent birthday present from Infiniti to itself”, but it seems the new parallel hybrid technology it showcases has more of a production future than the car itself.

Reports out of Europe suggest the hybrid supercar could be built as early as 2010, but Infiniti’s general manager of advanced product planning, Francois Bancon, said quite clearly in Geneva it was not a teaser for a new model.

Infiniti says the Essence began as a marketing concept for the brand rather than from a design studio.

“Essence is a brand icon,” said Mr Bancon. “It is driven more by a conceptual approach than by any design execution.

“It is not just an object. It isn’t a teaser for a new model. It is solely dedicated to Infiniti brand promotion, to demonstrate and advocate the Infiniti unique values.” Mr Bancon said that he and his team built up a picture of the typical Essence buyer and came up with an uncompromising, risk-taking 42-year-old who is passionate about the best things in life, but equally passionate about not flaunting them.

“An Essence owner is characterised by his or her fearless self-confidence he or she is an intellectual hero rather than just a successful money maker.

“These consumers don’t need to demonstrate to others. They are already at the next step of achievement that leads to rewarding themselves first.

“We wanted a new way of mixing various ingredients to get a car that was reserved but with a big presence, something trendy but also indicating the next trend. We wanted a car that aspired to become a cult.

“It had to be exclusive, smart and mysterious. For the driver, it had to sum up the six-word essence of Essence: ‘Everything I want, nothing I don’t’.” With an overall length of some 4.7 metres, the Japanese-designed Essence features a long bonnet and a flowing wave between the bulbous front and rear wheelarches.

The rounded front corners help disguise the car’s length, and the grille – unusually large for an Infiniti – sports an illuminated badge. There are no other grilles or intakes, not even fog-lights, and no superfluous embellishments to the smooth bodywork.

Design chief Shiro Nakamura said it was designed to Infiniti’s “Dynamic Adeyaka” styling philosophy, with lines and details inspired by the wide brush strokes of Japanese calligraphy.

Among the more fanciful details are tiny rear-vision cameras in the A-pillars in place of mirrors and a full glass roof that tapers down to the stubby boot (which contains a set of made-to-measure Louis Vuitton luggage bearing Nakamura-san’s initials).

However, the Essence also incorporates future safety technology in the form of sensor-based Side Collision Prevention and Back-up Collision Prevention systems that, with existing production lane departure and front crash-prevention systems, combine to provide an anti-collision shield all around the car.

The smart red and black minimalist interior is clearly designed around the driver, with a large curving console separating the cockpit from the passenger area.

Although positioned as a super-luxury coupe rather than a hardcore sportscar, the Essence cabin has a flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddle shifters, racing-style chronometer instruments, an alloy-topped gearshift and a red stop-start button.

Infiniti was launched in the US in November 1989 and was sold in Australia between 1993 and 1997, but was dropped due to poor sales. There are plans to bring the brand back to Australia, despite the fact that right-hand-drive cars will be produced for its UK introduction as part of a European market push from late this year.

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