The hybrid powertrain is all contained aft of the cockpit. Primary propulsion is accomplished with two electric motors, one on each rear wheel, both featuring its own single-speed transmission (this design eliminates the need for a differential and provides electronic torque vectoring control). Energy for the electric motors is stored in a 15-kWh lithium-ion battery placed behind the seats, which is chemically different from the lithium-polymer pack Lotus used in its 414E. Auxiliary propulsion comes from a Lotus-designed, all-aluminum, 1.2-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine, rated at 50 horsepower, that serves as a range-extender after the 30-mile life of the battery pack is extinguished. Teamed with an 8.1-gallon fuel tank, the combo allows the Emerg-E to cruise about 300 miles without stopping.
Offered the chance to take the Emerg-E for a quick loop around an autocross course in Southern California, I jumped at the opportunity.
- Climbing into the low-slung cockpit wasn't overly difficult, but it did take a bit of maneuvering to clear the wide floor sills of this right-hand-drive test car. Once in place, there was decent room for my six-foot, two-inch frame, and I found the bucket racing seat comfortable. In addition to the aforementioned battery changes from the 414E and a fresh new skin, Infiniti has redesigned the cabin with a unique dashboard, instrument cluster, seats and steering wheel.
- Despite all of the power on tap, driving the Emerg-E at low speeds was drama-free. There is no built-in creep, but a well-weighted accelerator pedal made crawling across the paddock in pure-EV mode effortless. Infiniti claims the 0-60 sprint is accomplished in 4.1 seconds, but my full-throttle launch felt a tick or two slower (the engineer sitting next to me warned that performance may be reduced as the battery was just about depleted). Other than the expected whir of the two motors, and the sound of gravel being thrown off the tires, all was silent for the first second. Then the combustion engine burst to life with a pleasing deep growl and boosted system power.
- Braking was strong, as the Infiniti concept shares its four-piston monobloc calipers and drilled rotors with the production Evora and supplements it with a regenerative system. The pedal had a solid feel, and modulation was good. When lifting off the throttle, I didn't note the strong drag often associated with aggressive regeneration - maybe I was concentrating too much on the first corner that was rapidly approaching.
- Initial turn-in wasn't as sharp as I had expected, about equal with the new C7 Corvette if a comparison is required, but the Emerg-E had no problem ripping around the tight circuit and navigating all of the cones. The center of gravity is impressively low, with most of the weight positioned slightly in front of the rear wheels, and I didn't note any understeer through the slalom (the Pirelli P-Zero Corsa rubber gripped tenaciously). Thanks to abundant torque and instant throttle response, flinging the coupe around the old concrete runway was a pleasure. I'd prefer a little less overall weight, but I'll take the powerful hybrid powertrain and chassis tuning just as it is - that's a huge compliment to a concept car.
- While the Emerg-E is an impressive little package, and the automaker has built a handful of prototypes, Infiniti has no plans to rush it into production. Consider its efficient technology nothing more than a test bed for future models as the automaker works towards introducing its first electric car.