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?
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. The large badge is back, a worthwhile statement of identity -- and pride in that identity -- which is necessary for long-term success.
2. This point at the edge of the grille tends to give a distorted, hourglass aspect to the direct front view and serves as a starting point for the beveled front end in plan view.
3. The base of this heat-extracting outlet is simply a continuation of the windshield profile, very much like a racing car.
4. This line crossing the fender surface seems curious at first glance, but it nicely anticipates the similar leading edge of the rear fender-top scoop.
5. This indented quarter window shape was previewed on the Essence, and we thought it was likely to be repeated on other Infinitis, which has been the case. It's a nice identity mark, unlikely to be copied -- except by Chinese plagiarists.
6. The elegant scoop for the engine compartment arises in the door and ends abruptly at the flat band around the rear wheel opening. Its inner surfaces are part of the design as well.
7. This powerful, hard line is the defining element of the side view, arising from nothing behind the chrome band at the top of the grille and fading away in the rear fender.
8. A slight purple tint to the headlamps is an attractive design element, as is the long point inboard adjacent to the hood cutline.
9. The brake-cooling air inlet, one of four openings on the front end, is more sports-car-like but slightly less aerodynamic than the single-orifice Essence's front end. 10. This single-curved rib, fading out just aft of the brake air duct, is the main design control element of the entire nose.
REAR 3/4 VIEW11. Again much like racing sports cars, there is a sort of base plate that suggests a flat bottom for increased downforce, curling up at the rear center for a diffuser.
12. This is a very subtle development derived from a transverse rib softening at the fender and tail intersection, then becoming a sharp fin toward the bottom. Duct interiors are organically shaped here, too.
13. Taillights sharply point outboard and serve to punctuate the chrome-free rear aspect of the car.
14. This dramatic outlet is surrounded by body and base plate, effectively reducing the visual height of the tall rear body mass.
15. The soft rise of the rear spoiler derives from the fighter-plane-like upper structure...
16. ...which itself is emphasized by the bubble-like backlight glass.
17. Another design element clearly descended from the Essence concept is this hard surface line from the quarter window to the deck lid, where it fades away, as do most of the hard lines on the overall volume.
18. Notice the artful use of chrome, sharp-edged and three-dimensional, around the windows.
19. As with the Essence, the passenger's side of the cockpit is a different color from the driver's office and is softly curved like the exterior.
20. The not-quite-round, not-quite-hexagonal steering wheel evokes the aircraft-like wheels of contemporary Formula 1 cars. Minus the buttons, lights, dials, and gauges, of course.
21. Indented spokes resemble the inside of intake ducts on the exterior.
22. No need to hunt for the gearchange paddles. The point at the bottom does not seem very safe, though.
23. The instrument cluster is not as simple and elegant as that in the Essence, but it is dramatic and provides an excellent sight line