Infiniti has revealed a pre-production version of its new luxury mid-size QX50 SUV at the Detroit motor show and confirmed it will be the first to use the company's radical, variable-compression engine.
The QX50 is potentially an important entrant in the Australian market for the premium car-maker but, for now, Infiniti Cars Australia is taking a cautious approach.
This is Infiniti's third-generation mid-size SUV after the US, China and Middle East variously sold the EX (2007-2013) and the QX50 (2013-present) but is the first to be prepared for global markets, including Australia.
Infiniti Cars Australia general manager of corporate communications Peter Fadeyev said the brand would "certainly like a car in that segment."
"It's a very popular part of Australia's new-car market and we'd certainly love to have a competitor for Infiniti in that sector," he said.
A luxury mid-size Infiniti SUV would compete with the Lexus RX from its home country, and European rivals in the mid-size class including the Audi Q5, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLC and BMW X3.
Last year, the segment in which the QX50 would campaign was one of the fastest-growing in the Australian market, rocketing 45.2 per cent compared with 2015.
Infiniti, the luxury arm of Nissan, still regards itself as a newcomer on the Australian market. It recorded 807 sales in 2016 – a record for Infiniti and a rise of 40.6 per cent on the 574 units sold in 2015 – but well down on the Europeans and short of fellow countryman Lexus' 9027 sales.
The QX50 concept shown this week in Detroit is based on the QX Sports Inspiration Concept first displayed at the Beijing motor show last year.
Infiniti has a history of closely following the design of concept cars through to production, as seen with the Q30, QX30 and Q60. The production QX50 is likely to follow the trend and closely resemble its concept.
The latest reveal shows more production-ready body panels and the car is now devoid of the previously incorporated show-stopping vents on the wheel arches and ultra-thin mirrors.
Some things have not changed, indicating the closeness to production. For example, the QX50 Concept's nose is practically identical to the 2015 show car and now wears the family double-arch grille surround, narrow headlights and sculpted front bumper and valance.
In profile, it has a prominent crease line from the bonnet, through the doors, along the rear flank and ending at the wrap-around tail-lights.
Other changes include a new diffuser, rear reflectors set within the bumper, and a more squared-off boot line.
Inside, it has dual touchscreens in the console and a large colour instrument screen behind the steering wheel.
Infiniti has fitted the concept with three different leathers – genuine, semi-aniline and synthetic nubuck – including quilted leather for the door trims. The dashboard is finished in open-pore ash wood.
Infiniti said that the QX50 Concept "seeks to explore a more emotional execution of crossover design, bringing a degree of elegance and artistry to a segment typified by an uninspiring, clinical aesthetic."
Infiniti has also stated that the QX50 will be the first production vehicle to use the innovative Nissan variable-compression engine.
Dubbed VC-T, the engine is promoted as the world's first of its type to go into production and one that solves a time-honoured struggle between performance and economy.
The QX50 will lay groundwork for an autonomous driving future.
The ability to change the compression ratio of the combustion process on the run allows the engine to automatically alter its output and fuel consumption, varying its power output and fuel use relative to driver demands.
Nissan has yet to supply full details of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine's fuel economy, though it has quoted potential output of 200kW/390Nm.
The QX50 will also lay groundwork for an autonomous driving future, with Infiniti stating the QX50 Concept's drive-assist system "is part of the company's development of autonomous driving support technologies."
While Infiniti has not expanded on details of the technologies, it is likely safety systems including auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist will come as standard on the production QX50.
Infiniti president Roland Krueger said the QX50 concept is close to the production SUV version.
"With the unveiling of the QX Sport Inspiration at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, we showed the future of Infiniti QX models," he said.
"The new QX50 Concept evolves this concept further and shows how Infiniti could develop its future presence in what is the fastest-growing vehicle segment globally."