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Geneva show: New baby Infiniti hatched

Etherea: Infiniti sets its sights on small luxury contenders.

Nissan luxury brand eyes BMW 1 Series with all-new entry-level hatchback concept

15 Feb 2011

INFINITI has revealed the first tangible evidence of its intention to create a direct competitor for compact luxury cars such as BMW’s 1 Series, Audi’s A3 and the upcoming Lexus CT200h hybrid by revealing the small Etherea hatchback concept ahead of its world debut at the Geneva motor show on March 1.

Nissan has confirmed its luxury brand will be launched in Australia by late next year or in early 2013, by which time the Etherea concept should have evolved into a fully fledged production model positioned below Infiniti’s current range-opener, the BMW 3 Series-sized G Line.

It is not clear whether the ‘G’ sedan, coupe and convertible – Infiniti Performance Line (IPL) versions of which became available last year in Europe to rival BMW’s M3 and Mercedes-Benz’s C63 AMG – will arrive here in current or next-generation guise, but Infiniti’s Australian range should also comprise the newer BMW 5 Series-sized M sedan, the EX medium SUV and QX large SUV models.

More details and images – including the first interior pictures – will be revealed at Geneva, but for now the first four exterior images confirm Infiniti’s first compact concept is a suave five-door hatchback with full glass roof, chunky bodyside and bonnet sculpting and crescent-shaped C-pillars similar to that of the 2009 Essence concept.

16 center imageFrom top: Etherea concept, Infinit G-series, Infiniti M-hybrid and Infiniti EX-series.

Unlike the sleek, long-bonnet Essence coupe, however, Infiniti says the Etherea – which was designed under the direction of senior vice-president of design Shiro Nakamura, blends coupe, sedan, hatchback and even crossover bodystyles into “one highly sculptural, near-mono volume form”.

The Japanese luxury brand says the all-new small car, which presents “an evolving Infiniti identity along with a profile distinctly different from anything currently available in the premium compact class”, provides a glimpse of what a future entry-level Infiniti model could look like.

“Etherea is about a new type of luxury for younger buyers,” said corporate vice-president and Global Infiniti Business Unit leader Toru Saito. “It is not just a smaller version of a typically conservative and traditional luxury car.” It is unknown if the Etherea is front-wheel drive like most of its intended rivals or rear-wheel drive like the existing BMW 1 Series and Infiniti’s current passenger car line-up, but the short official press release hints it could become Infiniti’s first new front-drive model.

“At 4.4 metres it is highly compact but at the same time it is space efficient and practical thanks to a new mechanical layout and innovative access arrangements,” said Infiniti, which added that several of its styling cues – including the curvaceous C-pillar design – would be seen on other future Infiniti production models.

Infiniti revealed a silhouetted teaser image of the Etherea concept last week, when it said the vehicle would “take the Japanese performance brand down a new road, to a new future”.

Last September, Infiniti senior vice-president Andy Palmer said: “Infiniti is currently examining concepts for a luxury performance car that will fit below the current G Line. Like every Infiniti, it will be completely different to anything currently offered by our rivals.” While the Etherea interior is said to deliver a new take on traditional Japanese cabin themes, there is no mechanical detail on the concept or the production model it previews, although the UK’s Autocar has reported the new baby Infiniti will be powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine from Mercedes-Benz.

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