2014 Infiniti LE
By Paul A. Eisenstein
On Sale: Early 2014
Expected Pricing: Low-$40,000s
Who says battery cars have to be boring? No question that the vast majority of today's hybrids, plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles put a premium on fuel economy rather than performance. But an assortment of new models will try to shift the balance more to the muscle side of the equation.
That includes Infiniti, the luxury arm of Nissan Motor Company, which is scheduled to get its first battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, sometime in the 2014 model-year. The maker offered up a first look at what's to come with the introduction of the Infiniti LE Concept at the New York International Auto Show.
Yes, technically, what was on display was a show car. But unlike the concept vehicles of the past, that simply means Infiniti added a little bling and disguised a few final details it hasn't yet worked out. That includes the final grille design which will look a bit more traditional than the cut crystal style nose shown at New York's Jacob Javits Convention Center. But beyond that and a few other subtle sheet metal tweaks, what you see is what you're going to get.
And that's a very, very different vehicle from the Nissan Leaf, despite the fact that the two share the same specially designed platform and basic electric drive component set. The Infiniti LE is designed to stimulate, it seems, rather than simply transport.
The new model is lower to the ground and far more sleek and sexy, with an overall sports car-like design, rather than the ungainly shape of the Leaf, which, like the Toyota Prius, was designed to look different from a traditional car. What's particularly surprising is that Infiniti designers were able to switch shapes so effectively.
When you're designing a car to run on battery power you have to keep one thing in mind above all else: range. The littlest things can shave off miles, so that immediately means low rolling resistance tires that sacrifice grip for improved aerodynamics. The better you cheat the wind the farther you can go on a charge.
The Infiniti LE has a wind-slick drag coefficient of 0.25, significantly better than the Nissan Leaf, we're told, largely because it sits much lower to the ground. Yet the luxury brand didn't have to adopt some of the more awkward details from the Leaf, like the blister-like headlamps. In its current form, the compact sporty design carries many key Infiniti design cues, such as the crescent-shaped rear pillar, as well as Infiniti's LED head and taillights.
Significantly, Infiniti designers were told to stop the project three times, sources reveal, in order to ensure they stayed on the right course to deliver a truly sexy and sporty machine.
There's been plenty of development done under the hood, as well, to maximize the performance of the basic Infiniti battery drivetrain. While the maker isn't revealing specifics, yet, that appears to mean finding ways to improve the performance of everything from batteries to electronic control systems to the motor driving the LE. The goal was to improve acceleration performance over that of the Leaf.
One of the details that has yet to be finalized is the size of the Infiniti LE battery pack. The maker has reserved space for almost 10 percent more batteries than the 24 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion cells on the Nissan Leaf battery-car. What Infiniti ultimately delivers will be a trade-off between range, performance and price. But the maker asserts a goal of getting at least 100 miles per charge.
And the Infiniti LE should be able to launch from 0 to 60 in 9 seconds or less. While that won't threaten someone in a G37 it's an acceptable number for an electric car and several seconds faster than the Leaf, which does not boast an acceptable number.
Look for the Infiniti LE to charge into showrooms by early 2014 or sooner. Pricing is to be determined but should be several thousand more than the top-end $38,100 Nissan Leaf SL. From there, you may qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit and state and local incentives where applicable.