Infiniti Emerg-e review

* Infiniti Emerg-e supercar * Mid-engined hybrid powertrain * Production version unlikely...

Infiniti Emerg-e review

The Infiniti Emerg-e is a prototype range-extender hybrid supercar, based on the concept car that appeared at the 2011 Geneva motor show.

Infiniti built the Emerg-e to signal its plan to develop a new flagship model, and to help develop range-extender hybrid technology.

This prototype model has a pair of 201bhp electric motors and a battery pack that can be recharged from both the electricity grid and an on-board 47bhp three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine, providing a total range of 300 miles. A similar drivetrain is fitted to the Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera.

The Emerg-e is unusual for being the first Infiniti designed, engineered and built in the UK. Infiniti and sister brand Nissan have developed the car under the UK governments Technology Strategy Board (TSB) initiative, whose goal is to encourage the development of new, low-emission automotive technologies.

This prototype is based on the Lotus Evora 414E experimental range-extender; Lotus is part of the same TSB project. The result is a car that accelerates to 62mph in 4.0 seconds, tops 130mph - yet puts out only 55g/km of CO2 emissions.

What's the Infiniti Emerg-e like to drive?
This is an extraordinary car to experience, and not just because it's fast, agile and looks beautiful.

It's the soundtrack that does it: the Infiniti moves off with the slightly unsettling silence that characterises every electric car until the moment the petrol engine fires up. The sound isn't good, because the three-cylinder unit grumbles loudly and in a totally unpredictable way, sometimes revving as you're braking to slow the car down.

Thats quite an unsettling sensation the first time it happens, because the car feels as if its accelerator has stuck open. There are good reasons for the strange noises.

First, the Emerg-es petrol engine doesn't drive the wheels at all, acting instead as a generator for the lithium-ion battery pack. Which means that its activities are not controlled by the accelerator but by the needs of the battery, which needs a boost when the car is driven hard and when the Emerg-e's 30 mile battery-only range is depleted.

On top of this, no work has been done to reduce the noise made by the Infinitis powerpack, because this is a prototype in which other issues have taken priority. So the noises are totally unrepresentative of how a production version would sound, and it's to Infiniti's credit that it's prepared to demonstrate this car in semi-raw form.

Once you know that, and realise why you can be stationary with the petrol engine revving as if you're slipping the clutch, it's easy to enjoy the Emerg-es considerable qualities in other directions.

Twin rear motors and 402bhp of electric power give it instant, surging and near-silent acceleration (when the petrol engine's not running), aided by the fact that no gear changes are needed. Being Lotus-based, it attacks bends hard, fast and flat, to provide an exhilarating drive around Millbrook test track's hill route.

What's the Infiniti Emerg-e like inside?
A wide sill, low-set cabin and bucket seats leave you in no doubt that you're sitting in a supercar, and when you consider that this is a working prototype, a pretty well finished one, too.

There's a full set of functioning instruments (not always the case with experimental cars) and even a central display screen revealing the car's current power output. The small set of buttons lurking to the right of the wheel is even illuminated in Infiniti's trademark purple.

Forward visibility is good, but for rear vision you're dependent on the door mirrors, there being so little daylight visible through the rear screen that Infiniti hasn't bothered to fit an interior mirror.

The Emerg-e's single-speed transmission is controlled by a series of small pushbuttons on the centre console. As in the Lotus upon which it is based, the Emerg-e's cabin feels snug, without being confined.

Should I buy one?
Sadly there's no possibility of buying an Emerg-e, because Infiniti has decided that it will remain only as a prototype. The company hasn't ruled out building a mid-engined supercar as a flagship model, and the possibility of the company eventually offering models with range-extended hybrid technology should be quite high.

One of the main objectives of this project discovering new UK-based suppliers and engineering specialists that can develop new technology for Infiniti and Nissan has already been realised, because several of the companies involved in the Emerg-e are now working on new models for both brands.

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