I conflate cars and politics. That might seem an extreme combination. It isn’t. The two are inseparable.
Consider this week’s subject vehicle — the 2013 Infiniti FX37 wagon, manufactured in Japan and sold in Asia, Europe and North America.
It is a bulbous sculpture — as much because of government mandate as it is because of aesthetic or engineering license. The FX37’s hood is representative.
It is what is being called in the global automobile industry an “active hood system.”
An “active hood” is designed to reduce injury to pedestrians struck by cars or wagons. In such collisions, pedestrians often are lifted from their feet, flipped in the air, after which they land head-first onto the vehicle’s hood.
That head-hood impact often is the one that severely injures or kills, because many automotive hoods are inflexible or too close in proximity to the engine bay.
Governments in Korea, Europe and Japan, where vehicle-pedestrian collisions are common and often lethal, urged automobile manufacturers to fix the problem. Put another way, in response to public concern, governments adopted policies to make motor vehicles more pedestrian friendly. “Policy” and “politics” are semantic and functional twins. One cannot exist without the other.
The “active hood system,” usually indicated by a slightly bulging hood and increasingly common on vehicles sold worldwide, is a direct result of those policies and politics. It is one of many politically driven technologies common in today’s cars and wagons.
The problem is that government mandates and consumer demands often are at odds. It is one thing to bubble-up a hood for pedestrian safety. It is quite another to make it aesthetically and commercially acceptable.
Nissan Motor Co., maker of all things Infiniti, is a genius at this. The company is a pioneer in what automotive designers call “fluidic sculpture,” the art of making solid bodies seem to flow like water. And so it is with the Infiniti FX37, on which the hood flows beautifully into the front fenders, which flow nicely to the rear end.
The FX37 replaces the Infiniti FX35. If politics is the art of combining often conflicting wants and needs and emerging with an acceptable compromise, there is politics in that replacement, too.
The FX35 is named after Nissan’s famed 3.5-liter V-6 engine (303 horsepower, 262 foot-pounds of torque). The FX37 replaces the 3.5-liter V-6 with the company’s new 3.7-liter V-6 (325 horsepower, 267 foot-pounds of torque).
Why the replacement?
Infiniti FX fans — the consumers and voters who spend money for that wagon/crossover — wanted more power. They also wanted better fuel economy. The governments that write regulations and policies for the FX vehicles wanted more fuel economy and cleaner tailpipe emissions. Nissan/Infiniti wanted more sales and profits.
The company seems to be on the road to getting both in its FX37 through creative engineering-reducing friction between engine components, installing a super-efficient 7-speed automatic transmission, reducing vehicle weight wherever possible. The result is that the FX37 delivers decidedly more power with a slight increase in fuel economy — 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway compared with 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 miles per gallon on the highway in the FX35.
But, as with all politics, there is a downside. That fancy new engine in the FX37 demands expensive premium grade gasoline to work properly. As the politicians say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”