Car manufacturers generally only build cars if there's a damn good reason for it. There has to be a solid business case, proven customer demand and a rough guarantee the money men will recoup their investment. Occasionally, though, a car maker will build a vehicle just because they can.
That's the approach Infiniti took with its FX Sebastian Vettel Edition -- a car inspired by and built with the input of two-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel. This monster SUV takes its cues from the pinnacle of motorsport, utilising lightweight carbon fibre, a ludicrously powerful V8 engine, and an exhaust designed to upset the neighbours.
The cars will retail for a staggering £100,800 plus the cost of options and only 150 will be built (just 50 are earmarked for Europe) so we took great pleasure in heading over to Monte Carlo to see whether those lucky enough to be able to afford one should take the plunge.
To the uninitiated, the Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Edition looks much like the standard Infiniti FX50 – in other words, a bit like a giant clown shoe on wheels. We say that in the nicest possible way -- it's a distinctive thing that provides welcome respite from the cookie cutter SUVs and crossovers that clog up our roads. It's made all the more interesting thanks to numerous flourishes that set it apart from the standard FX50. It has a more aggressive front end and liberal use of carbon fibre help reinforce its sporting intent.
Carbon fibre is used for the slats on the air intake, the side skirts, the rear spoiler and for the front wing and rear diffuser, which are styled to resemble the front wing and diffuser on Vettel's RB8 Formula 1 car. Other F1-inspired touches include multi-spoke 21-inch BBS alloy wheels that weigh 3.5kg less than the standard car's and an LED fog light that resembles an F1 car's rain light.
The new additions help reduce drag by five per cent while increasing downforce by 30 per cent. A third of this downforce comes courtesy of the aforementioned carbon fibre wing. You'll need to value its aesthetic appeal and its downforce contribution highly to justify buying it, however, as it's a £4,800 option. The car, which is only available in Moonlight Wight, is covered in several chrome-finished Sebastian Vettel Edition badges, which help remind passers-by this is no ordinary FX50.
The FX Sebastian Vettel Edition inherits the FX50's practicality. The cabin is cavernous, offering plenty of interior space for five passengers. There are two cup holders up front, a centrally-mounted storage bin with a section for your loose change and another for larger items, and large door bins.
Infiniti has attempted to spruce up the interior with a smattering of carbon fibre on the centre console, a leather steering wheel and seats with contrasting purple stitching. You also get laser-perforated Alcantara (that's 'suede with tiny holes in it' to normal folk) on the head lining, pillars and seat centres. It all sounds nice on paper, and it looks nice enough, but in reality we expected a lot more from a car with this sort of price tag.
Performance & Handling
The Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Edition uses the same 5-litre V8 engine as the FX50, but it's been fettled extensively at Vettel's request. Here, the engine is mated to a new exhaust system that helps it breathe more easily, which boosts power from 390PS to an impressive 420PS. Torque has improved slightly, too, from 500Nm to 520Nm. This results in brisk performance. 0-60mph is despatched in an impressive 5.6 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. Without the limiter, it's suggested the Inifiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Edition would nudge 190mph before the laws of physics began to put up a fight.
Another welcome byproduct of that new exhaust is the menacing V8 growl that accompanies every press of the accelerator. Its quad pipes burble menacingly at the best of times, but push and hold a special button on the centre console and flaps in the exhausts open by 30 degrees, increasing the volume and aggression of the noise further still. The boost in exhaust volume is only noticed when engine revs surpass 3,000rpm, i.e. when you give it a bootful of gas or when you shift down a gear and the transmission blips the throttle.
The Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Edition acquits itself well when driven enthusiastically. It handles more like a sports car than an SUV and stays remarkably flat through corners thanks partly to a ride height that's been lowered 20mm. The lighter alloy wheels do their bit to increase the car's agility, as does a clever rear active steering system that steers the rear wheels in the opposite direction to those at the front. The brakes, which are effective and feelsome, are unchanged from the standard car.
It's not all perfect. The sheer size of the thing makes it hard to know where it's positioned on the road, and this is apparent whether you're cruising slowly through the city or hurtling along twisty B roads. Threading it through narrow bollards or accurately hitting the apex of a hairpin bend are exercises in futility or just dumb luck. This issue is compounded by the fact the steering is relatively unresponsive. It's actually quite truck-like in a sense – you can saw the wheel left and right with small inputs and the car will stay on the same trajectory as if it's ignoring you.
Economy & Environment
Infiniti rarely mentions the running costs of this car, probably because if you genuinely have to ask then you're probably too poor to afford one. For reference, though, the standard FX50 returns around 21mpg and spits 310g of CO2 per kilometre.
Equipment & Value
The Infiniti FX Vettel Edition is well kitted out with plenty of notable gadgetry. Infiniti's Connectiviti infotainment system comes as standard, as does a Bose sound system, though this doesn't possess the quality of sound or the sheer volume one might expect from such a unit. Music sources incluse AM and FM, and there's a hard drive-based music register onto which it's possible to copy your CDs.
Every Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Edition comes with an carbon-backed iPad with an app that charts the build process of that car. Better still, Infiniti will also throw in a “money can't buy” experience with every purchase. This experience will vary but expect such delights as a chance to meet Vettel himself, or exclusive hospitality packages to Formula 1 races.
Whether the car represents good value at £100,800 plus the cost of an optional rear wing depends on your outlook. Yes, there are cheaper alternatives – the Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne GTS and BMW M5 included, but those vehicles are relatively common and will likely lose their value faster than this uber-exclusive Infiniti. Only time will tell whether it'll become a collector's item, but at the rate Vettel is notching up F1 world championships, its spot in automotive museums is almost certainly assured.
Most buyers will likely wrap this thing in cotton wool and lock it away in storage, but those who are foolhardy enough to rag it around recklessly will be fairly safe. Not only does it cocoon its occupants in a couple of tonnes of steel, it also comes with an array of airbags and the full gamut of electronic safety systems offered in the standard FX50. Nobody's ever been wasteful enough to crash one in the name of science, but the 5-star Euro NCAP rating achieved by the FX50 is reassuring.
The Infiniti FX50 Vettel Edition is a sports SUV in the truest sense of the term. It is an incredibly capable thing that offers outrageous levels of power and handling to match. Rivals such as the Porsche Cayenne GTS and Range Rover Sport offer similar thrills for far less cash, but anyone who values exclusivity or has an affinity for Infiniti, Vettel or the Red Bull F1 team will find reason to cherish it. It's a vehicle that makes no sense to mere mortals, but for a privileged 150 individuals it's a rare treat.
Model tested: Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Edition
Engine: 5.0-litre V8 petrol
Power: 420PS (420hp)
Acceleration: 0-62 in 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Emissions: 31-g/km CO2