Infiniti Essence (2009) concept car first ride and video

Published:19 May 2009

CAR bagged a short go in the Infiniti Essence concept car – albeit from the passenger seat
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

Click here to watch the Infiniti video

Infiniti showed its epic Essence concept car at the 2009 Geneva motor show, causing one of the few surprises of the day: a large GT hybrid supercar emerged from under a dustsheet, mixing Modenese style with very contemporary Japanese petrol-electric battery technology. It was my personal show-stopper, a perfect celebration to mark Infiniti’s 20th anniversary.

Once the Palexpo show doors shut up shop for the final time, the Essence was smuggled away from the public gaze and hasn’t been seen since. Until now.

CAR Magazine spent a day with the Essence concept car a few weeks ago to shoot our six-page feature in the new July issue. And we managed to persuade the car’s handlers to take us for a spin in this priceless (well, it’s insured for €2 million) one-off. So here are our first riding impressions from the passenger seat of the new Essence.

Infiniti Essence: a Maserati from Japan

We walk into a dark old warehouse location in Germany, where the Infiniti is waiting for me and CAR’s snapper John Wycherley. The Essence looks as good as I remembered it the day it span dizzily on its motor show stand. Bereft of glamorous girls and searing arc lights, the Infiniti coupé looks slinky of stance and pure of purpose. It’s achingly beautiful and I love the unlacquered silver paint, with its technical feel. You’ll want to stroke it, believe me.

Approach the Essence and it’s hard not to see some of the Maserati Granturismo in that long bonnet and shark-nose grille. There are shades of Aston Martin in the side profile – but there is plenty that is original too. The S-shaped C-pillar provides some athletic interest in the window line, and it’s a motif we expect to transfer to Infiniti’s road cars soon.

Look closely, too, at the rump of the Essence concept car. Design director Shiro Nakamura tells us the rear lights, badge and gentle convex bulge are all bound for production cars. Shame there are no plans to build a top-end coupé at this stage, though.

Inside the Infiniti Essence

The doors pop open and I’m allowed to clamber inside. Shoes duly removed and don’t touch the paintwork. That droolworthy bodywork is exposed to fingerpirints and you have to wear white gloves like a Tokyo taximan before you’re allowed to touch the Essence.

I sink into the low-set driver’s seat. The cabin wraps around you and it feels simple, snug, right. Nakamura-san‘s design team has given the Essence an asymmetric cabin, the driver’s side trimmed in grippy charcoal suedes and the centre console swoops into the transmission tunnel, angled heavily towards the pilot with the minimum of buttons to confuse and clutter. The passenger space is lined with a more luxurious burgundy leather.

The switchgear itself deserves special mention. Most buttons are replaced by 16 tiny oval slugs of metalwork, peeping through the leather that swathes the dashboard. A tiny joystick of a gearlever protrudes from the tunnel and just one switch gives the game away that this is a supercar fit for the 21st century: a stop-start button that you won’t find in any current Ferrari or Aston Martin.

Click ‘Next’ to read how the Infiniti Essence drives on the road.

>> See CAR’s exclusive photoshoot of the
new Infiniti Essence in the new July 2009
issue of CAR Magazine, out 20 May


Infiniti Essence: the Aston Martin from Japan, you say?

In spirit, yes. The design and positioning of the Essence is closely allied to the aspirations of sports car makers such as Aston Martin and Modena’s finest. But the technology at play here is vastly different. This is a hybrid supercar for the low carbon zeitgeist: who else can mix 4.0sec 0-62mph times with 190g/km of CO2?

You see, Infiniti’s regular 3.7 V6 petrol lump is married to a full parallel hybrid petrol-electric system that will be seen for the first time in 2010 on the new Infiniti M saloon. The Essence packs lithium ion batteries under the boot floor, the electric motor contributing 158bhp to the petrol engine’s twin-turbocharged 434bhp. Yes, that adds up to a faintly ridiculous 592bhp.

The Essence concept car is purported to debut this hybrid system, but I have to tell you this one-off is in reality powered by a boggo 3.7 sans batteries. Such is the smoke-and-mirrors artifice of the modern show car. (And Infiniti is no different to any other car maker here, it’s worth pointing out). Production versions will be shorn of the bi-turbos.

Those vast twin pipe exhausts are joyfully loud as the driver thumbs the start button and wakes the Essence from its slumber. ‘There are no real silencers to speak of,’ he smiles as he blips the throttle. I’m struck by the huge panoramic sweptback windscreen, wrapping over our heads and streaming the car with daylight as we pull out of the warehouse for a blast around the block.

How does the Infiniti Essence drive?

I’ve been in numerous concept cars and I’m impressed they’re letting us loose around the block in Infiniti’s pride and joy. Ours is a short trip, but it’s long enough to realise that the Essence has a decent turn of speed. The cabin is brilliantly resolved – you sit low and have a great view out the front (over-the-shoulder visibility is badly impeded by those S-shaped C-pillars). It feels odd wearing no seatbelt.

For a 4.7m long concept car, the Essence even has a good turning lock, steering around our old warehouse complex with a remarkable degree of nimbleness for a bespoke showster. An errant office worker who steps out into our path even forces an abrupt stop on one occasion, the Essence braking with a reassuring solidity.

Any drawbacks?

That V6 warbles and bellows with a fruity rasp quite at odds with this car’s hybrid status. The effect would be complete were we whirring silently with an electric whisper. And the noise of combustion is joined by a creaking cocophony from the plexiglass roof, reminding me this is a costly one-off. It’s hot in here, with no air-con to chill our alluring goldfish bowl.

But we’ll forgive these natural foibles familiar from any concept car. The Essence has an impressively smooth driveline and feels stiff and well built on the move. It’s hard not to fall for this top-end Infiniti’s design, inside and out. This car points to a new confidence at Nissan’s upmarket car brand – in style, in technology and in defying the odds to take on the ancien régime at a job they do rather well.

You’ve got to admire their pluck.

>> See CAR’s exclusive photoshoot of the
new Infiniti Essence in the new July 2009
issue of CAR Magazine, out 20 May


Price when new: £1,800,000
On sale in the UK: In our dreams
Engine: 3.7-litre V6 petrol-electric hybrid, 434bhp, 369lb ft (592bhp total combined with electric motor)
Transmission: CVT automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 4.0sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), 35mpg, 190g/km (all est)
Weight / material: Na
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4720/1960/1310


Photo Gallery

  • Very long, very Italian: it's the new Infiniti Essence concept car (2009)
  • The Infiniti Essence's rear end has plenty of plan view – expect to see the effect on production cars
  • Maserati Granturismo, anyone? That sharknose is very cool
  • Infiniti Essence has a full length glass roof. Very airy
  • Essence concept car comes with Louis Vuitton luggage. It's monogrammed with designer Shiro Nakamura's inititals
  • Infiniti Essence's silver paintwork is unlacquered. Don't touch, it could be expensive
  • Shiro Nakamura, unveiling the Infiniti Essence at Geneva 2009
  • From design to reality. The original sketch for the Infiniti Essence
  • Infiniti Essence cabin photo: asymmetric design meets Japanese precision. Note the charcoal shades on driver's side, warmer tans and reds in the passenger zone. Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen would approve
  • Turning it up to 11: the Essence packs a pretty cool instrument panel
  • Essence is first Infiniti with new hybrid powertrain. Strip away the bi-turbos, and this is what you'll see in essence (ahem) on the 2010 M saloon

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet