“Oh my god!” “Simply stunning!” “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” You can expect to hear people to say things like that when you tag along with the Essence, Infiniti’s new flagship concept car and 20th birthday present to itself, on a mini-tour of the U.S. This is the first that many Americans will be seeing of this 592-horsepower car since its debut at the Geneva auto show back in March. We caught up with the Essence at the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas TX, where the gleaming machine was parked front and center. We’ll stay away from words like “design language” but it’s easy to see that the styling for this car was lifted directly from the pages of the Sexy GT scriptures: long hood, sensual, sweeping lines and a low, ready-to-pounce stance. A moment of silence, please… The Nissan Design America crew in San Diego got the ball rolling, and their colleagues in Japan, evolved that formula, gracing the Essence with gorgeous liquid platinum paint, complex surfaces and intriguing technological touches like a driver’s panoramic heads-up display fed by six tiny video cameras – all while managing to stay true to a “less is more” theme. The one place “more” was actually deemed to be more was neatly tucked away here in the rear cargo compartment. With the touch of a button, the trunk lid lifts and a powered luggage tray glides out carrying custom Louis Vuitton luggage. (Two briefcases and a modest suitcase.) The Essence’s mission is to show the public what Infiniti’s capable of and where it’s going. From the looks of things, I don’t think most people will care as long as they get to go along for the ride. Mission accomplished. Infiniti says some bit of the “essence” of the Essence will be recognized in the redesigned 2011 M. Once you see it, you’ll understand why so many enthusiasts are demanding to know what it is, when it will be available and how fast it goes. In fact, at least one wealthy admirer offered millions of dollars for the hand-built show car just so he could put it in his living room. How’s that for a coffee table? Though it certainly looks like a car that could be featured in the next James Bond movie, the essential thing to remember about the Essence is that it’s more Bond beauty than track beast. To get respect – and qualify as a weapon “M” would issue to our fave British spy – the Essence would have to be a production machine…not a trailer queen.
:: Jeff Yip
Meanwhile, here’s the official 411 on the Essence:
ROLLE, Switzerland (March 3, 2009) – The essence of the Infiniti brand distilled into one car and then taken to the extremes to satisfy the world’s most demanding car enthusiasts – this is the Infiniti Essence. Presented as a concept at the 79th International Motor Show of Geneva, Essence is a celebration of Infiniti and its 20 years history as a creator of performance cars. But equally it is an inspiring exploration into the brand’s future. The dramatic design, technology and performance statement is a 592-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive gasoline/electric hybrid coupe.
The Essence Concept showcases many of the technologies, including hybrid, and design cues that will distinguish Infiniti production cars of the coming years. And, by steering Infiniti’s guiding principle of “Inspired Performance” into the luxury super-coupe market for the first time, it reaffirms Infiniti’s place among the world’s most exclusive and vibrant car brands.
A front-engined, two-seat, 592-horsepower, rear-wheel drive luxury coupe concept measuring 185 inches long
A preview of Infiniti’s gasoline/electric hybrid drivetrain – capable of high speeds when conditions allow, zero emissions where they don’t
Fresh design language to influence future production models
New safety technology, including Back-up Collision Prevention
Minimalist and intensely driver-focused interior
“New luxury” meets traditional Japanese craftsmanship
Louis Vuitton fitted luggage to maximize trans-continental capability
Essence Exterior Design: “Dynamic Adeyaka”
With breathtaking good looks and perfect proportions, Essence exerts a powerful pull on all those who love cars. It looks like a driver’s car, one that would be right at home on the world’s grandest motoring routes, yet Essence is not an aggressive sports car.
Infiniti’s “Dynamic Adeyaka” attitude ensures Essence is single-minded, but also inviting, sophisticated and born of inspiration from both the human and natural worlds. To further boost its emotional appeal, it features details that bring a very modern take to some very old Japanese traditions. The designers’ aim was to merge all existing Infiniti design cues with fresh design language in a shape that the 20-year-old marque has never before attempted. The result is highly sculptural yet also very delicate. Essence speaks of power but not intimidation.
The hood, as expected of an Infiniti, is long and the rear deck short. Together with a flowing “wave” profile between muscular front and rear wheel arches, Essence at first appears to be in the classic sports car mold – but there is nothing retro about Essence. The side window graphics bring a particularly innovative and distinctive edge to the styling. The window appears to be resting on a ledge, its razor sharp line in contrast to the concave sweep of the upper body just below it. The rear section also features complex surfacing with concave “scoops” that flow down the rear pillars from one of Essence’s most distinctive design cues: a C-shaped kink to the side windows’ trailing edge. Outlined by a wide flourish of stainless steel, it adds instant movement to the car even when it is standing still.
One of the most distinctive details is the trim around the side air vents. The simple yet delicate shape, finely finished in aluminium, is based on the “kanzash,” a hairpin used by women when wearing the kimono. Other lines and details are inspired by the wide brush strokes of Japanese calligraphy. Essence represents a successful merging of iconic cultural cues with automotive aesthetics.
Essence’s front is characterised by Infiniti’s signature double-arch grille, set at an angle that suggests the car is about to leap forward. There is an illuminated Infiniti badge at its heart. Rounded corners effectively hide the front overhang and make this 185-inch-long car (15.4 feet) appear anything but big in the flesh.
At the front, as over the rest of the car, Essence eschews superfluous body embellishments that could interrupt the graceful strength of the whole. The grille is framed by subtle strips of stainless steel but there’s little other trim and no other grilles or intakes, not even fog lights. The door handles are slivers of push buttons flush with the body, while even the rearview mirrors must make way for minuscule cameras teased out of the A-pillars. More familiar Infiniti cues include the lights. At the front, the signature L-shaped modules taper back on to the bulging guards, picked out at their top edge by a row of LEDs. Slender fillets of red light curve around the car at the back, overlapping with the trunk opening and framing the spoiler, which appears to have been pushed out from within the car.
Essence Interior Design: Driver-Focused
A driver’s car demands the perfect driver’s cabin. Essence’s interior is minimalist, ergonomic and totally focused on giving the driver a feeling of absolute control – while the passenger area is dominated by comfort, calm and elegance to offer the kind of hospitality that is so important to Essence. The asymmetrical cabin is divided into two areas separated by a large curving console between the seats that sweeps around to merge with the center of the dashboard. The driver’s side is themed black, the passenger’s “cocoon” an earthy red.
A flat-bottomed steering wheel, chronometer-style dials, bright red engine start button, and short, alloy-topped gear selector announce to the driver this is a serious performance machine. Other interior features include larger gear change paddle shifters behind the wheel and a signature Infiniti analog clock. With the materials used – leather, Alcantara, hand-painted wood inspired by traditional Japanese lacquerware – the cabin exudes a rich and inviting warmth. Essence’s interior promotes a sense of well being which is key to the Infiniti driving experience.
Essence Drivetrain: Power With Responsibility
Essence’s drivetrain is designed to meet the highest expectations of owners by delivering the one thing everyone expects of an Infiniti – sheer driving pleasure. In Essence, that pleasure is taken to new heights, at the same time as previewing an innovative green hybrid engine. Essence is unusual even in the rarefied atmosphere of the world’s fastest road cars by being able to call on a mighty 592 horsepower.
Like the design, the performance is designed to be sophisticated and unobtrusive – performance with a human touch. The hybrid system is a logical extension of Infiniti parent group’s groundbreaking green commitments. It offers power with efficiency, and high performance with zero-emissions running, by combining a gasoline engine with an electric motor. These can work independently or together as a “parallel” hybrid system. In congested urban areas, the electric motor alone is all that is needed for Essence to glide silently between stoplights, with no tailpipe emissions. When the traffic clears, Essence responds with a highway performance that few cars could match. In “power assist” mode the full 592 horsepower is unleashed with both gasoline and electric power working together.
A key difference over some other hybrid systems is that both the V6 and the electric motor feed their power only to the rear wheels. Infiniti’s 3.7-liter DOHC V6 gasoline engine is fitted with twin turbochargers and a new, efficient direct-injection fuel system, boosting power to 434 horsepower.
Essence previews a new type of electric motor, called 3D Motor, that was designed to meet tough requirements on size and power output. The result is a particularly slim, disk-shaped motor that has twice the torque of a conventional unit. Its design was achieved by 3D magnetic field analysis to optimize the layout of the electromagnetic coils and permanent magnets. For use in the Essence, the motor is positioned between the engine and transmission and provides 158 horsepower, drawing power from a compact lithium-ion battery pack in the trunk area. Because the 3D Motor operates in both propulsion and power regeneration modes, the battery pack is kept charged up.
Optimized energy usage across the widest possible range of driving conditions is guaranteed by two separate clutches, which “switch in” the motors as required. It is a system that needs no torque converter, further enhancing responsiveness and driving pleasure.
Essence Safety: A Collision-Free Future
On a global level, Infiniti is committed to building safer vehicles equipped with advanced safety technologies. Essence previews some of the next-generation safety features that will ensure Infiniti cars remain among the safest on the road, adding two new technologies to the Distance Control Assist (DCA) and Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) systems that are available in today’s production Infinitis. Side Collision Prevention (SCP) and Back-up Collision Prevention (BCP) extend the anti-collision shield all the way around the car.
With SCP, when the driver decides to change lanes, side-mounted sensors activate a warning if an approaching vehicle is detected in the driver’s intended lane. A yaw mechanism is then activated through brake control of individual wheels to help prevent a potential collision. Back-up Collision Prevention works in a similar way, sensing a vehicle behind, giving the driver a warning but then, if the warning is not heeded, activating the brakes automatically. The warning system and pre-emptive safety features are designed to help support the driver in an intuitive manner with minimal intervention.
Essence Practicality: A Very Specially Made Solution
The team behind Essence harked back to an early motoring era to find the right solution for carrying luggage. The result is as classy as luggage ever gets, surprisingly practical and dreamily romantic. It also re-establishes the historic ties between a carmaker and one of the best-known names in luxury goods – Louis Vuitton. Vuitton first worked with a coachbuilder – the famous Kellner Company – in 1908, equipping one of their early luxury limousines with a set of bespoke luggage. Other coachbuilders quickly beat a path to Vuitton’s door in Paris. Made-to-measure Vuitton trunks were an integral feature of some of the greatest cars of the first part of the 20th century.
The collaboration between Infiniti and Vuitton revives the idea of a set of the highest quality luggage made to fit exactly a car’s trunk area. In Essence, there are three rigid pieces: a matched pair of slender briefcases atop a large trunk. All are made in the new Damier Graphite canvas and feature sleekly integrated handles and an overall design in harmony with the car itself. In addition, a button on the key fob electrically opens the trunk lid, allowing the trunk floor to slide silently rearwards.