THE SPIN: Infiniti’s stunning Essence on mini tour

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Infiniti Essence concept vehicle

I love it when stereotypes are shattered. Or at least seriously questioned.

Take auto styling. The rap on Asian brands is they can’t design beautiful, timeless cars. OK, the styling of Japanese and Korean brands’ production vehicles is often, to put it mildly, uneven. At one extreme you’ve got the cookie-cutters — sometimes I think Hyundai out-Accorded the Honda Accord with its Sonata. Then there are those attempts to break from the pack. You know the ones — where “polarizing” is code for “We know some will think this is just plain weird.”   From this driver’s seat, Scion’s old xA, as well as the galleon-sized butt of the current Acura TL, fall into that category.

When it comes to style, I’m partial to the clean, monochromatic European exterior and interior touches that help rides like the Audi A5, Jaguar XF, and even the sub-$20k Volkswagen Jetta, stand out from the clutter. I’m not alone. Nearly one in ten Asian Americans opt for European brands when it’s time to buy a new vehicle.

But now Infiniti has come up with the Essence, a stunning concept vehicle that could have come from Pininfarina or Giugiaro/ItalDesign, but was born in San Diego’s Nissan Design America studios.

This hand-built, 592-horsepower concept coupe pushes all the hot buttons with its liquid platinum paint and swoopy lines. The Essence triggers double takes from passersby. Drivers have been known to whip to the curb, hop out to get a closer look from all angles, take pictures with their cell phones, and leave grinning.

That’s not good enough for some folks. To own the Essence, wealthy admirers have reportedly been ready to write out six- and seven-figure checks. One would-be buyer wanted to put it in his living room as a work of art.

But it turns out that some things in life really are priceless. Being filthy rich won’t help you pry this one-off away from Infiniti. Test drives?  Unless you’re Barack Obama or Jay Leno, don’t even think about asking.

Essence interior

Infiniti unveiled the Essence in March at the Geneva auto show to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The car is on a mini-tour of the U.S., giving many Americans their first chance to lay eyes (but not hands, thank you) on the sleek beast. We caught up with it at Hotel ZaZa in Dallas.

We will be forever grateful that none of the Infiniti/Nissan folk we actually spoke with about the Essence uttered the two most overused, and meaningless, words in the auto industry these days: “design language.”  (Note: the same can’t be said of the official press release.)

Let’s face it: the building blocks for what makes a sexy GT were etched in stone decades ago: long hood, sensual, sweeping lines and a low, ready-to-pounce stance. Those automotive styling commandments worked brilliantly for classics like the 1961 Jaguar E-Type, 1967 Toyota 2000GT and 1969 Chevrolet Corvette, not to mention the current Aston Martin DB9.

Infiniti Essence rear

Nissan’s design studios in San Diego and Japan evolved that formula, gracing the aptly named Essence with complex surfaces and intriguing technology touches like a driver’s panoramic heads-up display fed by six tiny video cameras, yet it still manages to be elegantly and powerfully minimalist.

One indulgence is normally hidden in the rear cargo compartment. With the touch of a button, the trunk lid lifts and a powered luggage tray glides out bearing what has to be the ultimate in accessorizing — custom-fitted Louis Vuitton briefcases and a modest overnighter.

Essence and custom Louis Vuitton luggage

As for mechanicals, the Essence has a hybrid gasoline/electric powertrain consisting of a 434-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 that’s direct injected and twin-turbocharged, and a slim, electric motor between the gas engine and transmission that contributes 158 horsepower. Batteries are lithium ion.

The Essence’s mission is to show the public what Infiniti’s capable of and where it’s going. Infiniti says some of Essence’s essence is incorporated in the 2011 M, as seen in this illustration:

2011 Infiniti M

One admirer, who refused to give his name but kept coming back to peer at the Essence, exclaimed, “I’ve never been a fan of Infiniti, but this makes you a fan!”

Now the trick for Infiniti is to convert concept to reality, and enthusiasm into sales. Pull that off and, who knows, one day we could see James Bond rocking an Infiniti instead of an Aston Martin!

The Essence road show’s next stops:

Troy, MI, Oct. 1, Louis Vitton

New York, Oct. 15, Cooper Square Hotel

Miami, Oct. 22, W Hotel

Atlanta, Oct. 29, Louis Vitton

Hilton Head Island, SC, Oct. 20-Nov. 1, Hilton Head Island Concours d’ Elegance

jeff_yipJeff Yip’s reports on new vehicles, car care, motorsports and the automotive aftermarket have appeared in such diverse publications as the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Houston Chronicle, Tire Business and Musclecar Enthusiast. Have a question or comment? Reach him at

About the Author

Look under the hood and you'd discover that Jeff’s lifelong interest and passion in all things automotive was practically genetically encoded. An award-winning journalist, he served on the staff of the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times. Today he contributes to many news outlets. Jeff is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach and earned his master's degree at Ohio State University, where he was a Kiplinger fellow.