Infiniti Emerg-E

Three years ago, in the June 2009 issue of this magazine, I looked at the promising Infiniti Essence concept, concluded that "too much of a good thing is still... too much," and regretted that the "audaciously simple" styling of the original Q45 had presumably been abandoned because the introduced-too-soon car didn't sell well. I also noted that "the Essence incorporates enough design ideas for two or three concept cars." That was about right, because here's another Infiniti concept that draws -- very successfully -- directly from the Essence. It's still busy but not as much, and the reproportioning involved in moving from a front-engine/rear-wheel-drive layout has enhanced the impression of very high performance, now that we're conditioned to think that mid-engine layouts are necessarily the ultimate.

The evocative door cut is much the same on both cars, but the Emerg-E's door is much farther forward. The front cut still traverses a sharp ridge and a voluptuously bulging side surface, but the ridge itself is far more graceful, descending rearward -- not dead straight as on the Essence. The front fender vent is gone, the indent at the bottom of the door is developed into a much more interesting design feature, and there's now a dramatic scoop, the leading edge of which runs diagonally rearward from just forward of the B-pillar to stop abruptly at the wheel opening. There are also thinner C-pillars framing the backlight without occluding it, as the buttresses of the Essence did.

The most original -- and best, I think -- design feature of the older car was the way the C-pillar had a forward-thrusting profile intruding into the side quarter window. That feature -- nicely moderated -- is repeated here, as it has been on other Infinitis like the JX35 SUV, each time slightly altered from the original iteration. Nissan/Infiniti chief designer Shiro Nakamura is on record as wanting to emphasize a Japanese essence in the company's products, and he has carefully walked a tight line between the more extreme Japanese ideas (Cube, Juke) and universally acceptable "international" shapes (Altima, G37 coupe). The Emerg-E, adequately powered, might well be a credible, lower-priced rival for the McLaren MP4-12C or the Ferrari 458 Italia. Not as fast, likely, nor as fine-tuned and responsive but, like all good Japanese cars, dead reliable and reasonably affordable.

Are we likely to see this concept as a product? Probably not, despite Infiniti trying for performance respectability by linking itself to the Renault-powered Red Bull Formula 1 team. Although it's similar to but better than the 2009 concept, there's still a lot of complicated styling going on, and it needs one more iteration of further refinement before the world will be ready to accept it. Nissan's GT-R and Renault's multiple F1 championships show that the Renault-Nissan alliance has the technical means to build a supercar, but commercially it's probably a nonstarter. Still, minus any such pretensions, wouldn't an affordable, third-generation design be a wonderful competitor to the Alfa Romeo 4C?

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