First drive: Infiniti Emerg-E concept

23 February, 2013 | by Paul Horrell

Driving a concept car is always a bit of a charade. You have to teeter along, reaching only such a pace that a photo can be taken showing movement (at very long exposure, inevitably). Not this time. It might be electric, but they didn’t mind that I went out in torrential rain – and remember, it’s driven by electricity.

I had my fun, not on some flat and obstacle-free tarmac lake, but on the tricky and aptly-named Alpine Course at the Millbrook test centre. I’d neglected to ask if it had traction control and got my answer by jabbing its 304kW as I came out of a bend and finding I’d got it majorly sideways. Because its steering doesn’t conform to the concept-car norm of being entirely rubbish, I was able to gather it up and proceed with a smile on my face.

It has been driven properly by Sebastian Vettel, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s an engineering prototype, not a concept car. Oh sure, it also does the usual concept-car duties: it made headlines in Geneva for the under-recognised Infinity brand, and it showed us things about the general Infiniti design language.

It’s a looker, no? And it embodies intensive aerodynamic research too. But sadly, Nissan’s not going to put it into production. Nissan is using it to learn about electric tech for its future EVs, hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles.

It emerg-es (sorry) from a collaboration on range-extended electric vehicles between Nissan’s European tech centre in Cranfield and Lotus and Jaguar-Land Rover, using British suppliers: Xtrac transmission, Lola composites, Amberjac batteries and Evo Electric motors, of their unique axial flux type.

Under the skin, it resembles the Lotus Evora 414E one-off. Its aluminium structure has a longer wheelbase, dictated by the stylists. But its carbon-fibre body uses all sorts of careful material selection, so it’s 160kg lighter than the Lotus.

We’ve seen range-extender vehicles before from both Chevy and Fisker, but this package gains by using a special three-cylinder Lotus engine that’s designed for the job. It does all its work at 3,500rpm (or is idling or switched off), so it doesn’t need variable induction or valve gear.

So it’s simple, light, compact and potentially cheap. It makes an odd drone unrelated to your speed, so it’d need active noise in a real sports car. Also the regen brakes feel laggy when you release the pedal, and the motors aren’t smooth at very low speeds. Minor matters.

But the electric performance has advantages over most cars of any propulsion type: urgent, progressive, immediate and uninterrupted by gearshifts. And when the batteries can’t cope, the little petrol donkey chimes in. Because the steering and handling are utterly gorgeous, you’re tempted to use that energy pretty hard.

THE NUMBERS
1200cc, 3cyl, two motors, RWD, 304kW, 1098Nm, 55g/km CO2, 215km/h, 0-100km/h in 4.8secs

     

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