PH convoy in Calais, ready for push into France
Ordinarily a visit to Le Mans is a chance to show off your taste in cars, an opportunity to stretch the legs of your finest automobile, be it extreme, antique or just plain fast. For a motoring journo it's a chance to blag something as exotic as possible (generally on the flimsiest pretence of some sort of feature article).
This year, however, we decided to (shock, horror) take our own cars (shudder). Well, almost. Because although Stuart and RacingPete wafted over in Stuart's very management-appropriate silver BMW 525d, and although Garlick took a brave pill and bellowed over in his now astonishingly loud Chimaera, I took the PH fleet Infiniti. Which is my own car in as much as it's the one I drive to work every day, but not my own car in as much as it actually belongs to Infiniti. Still, it's not perhaps the most exotic 'blag' you can think of.
On a road trip, always take yesterday's pizza
It is, however, a thoroughly decent way to cover large distances in both speed and comfort. The seats are comfy (provided you are not of too chubby a disposition - those Japanese must be a slim-hipped lot), the Bose stereo is lusty enough to drown out my terrible singing, the air-con is strong and effective, and the 3.7-litre V6 settles into a long-legged lope that allows it to sit comfortably just a few careful kph above the 81mph legal maximum of a French autoroute.
Oh, and the adaptive cruise control, often a bit of a pain on busy UK motorways (though you can override its distance sensor by sticking your foot on the throttle, this seems to be rather missing the point) comes into its own on the lightly trafficked autoroutes that wend their way towards Le Mans.
Garlick eats Infiniti dust, etc...
Most intriguingly of all, however, the unassuming silver Infiniti got rather an appreciative audience en Sarthe
, from both continental types and the British alike. At the Classic British Welcome in St Saturnin (a thoroughly well-attended car meet on the Friday morning of Le Mans), for example, the G37 got ushered into the 'VIP' parking area, and even drew a few curious and admiring glances.
This is probably partly down to the car's sheer rarity and relative obscurity - not all that many people seemed to know what it was - but it was a gratifying vindication of my faith in a car that has been christened the 'Almera' by some of the harsher elements of the PH office staff (you know who you are...).
C'est Quoi, ça? Un 'posh Nissan'?
But as enjoyable as the Infiniti is, it's not perfect. The looks are a wee bit anonymous from some angles, the interior has a little too much eau de Nissan
about it for a £40k car, and the grey/cream leather is collecting grime a little too quickly. Worst of all, the gearbox just doesn't quite cut it - it feels half a generation behind the best modern autos. It's nothing serious, but it's just a bit too slow to respond, whether you're in flappy paddle manual mode or full-on auto.
And that's a bit of a killer, because to choose a G37 you have to actively not want an Audi or a BMW equivalent, both of which are objectively better. But there are surely plenty of people out there like that. Some of them, presumably, were the ones whose eyes were drawn to it au Mans...