We have met once before, at the Motor Show in Geneva – not an easy environment for a show car to make its mark. Competition is fierce from the Italian coachbuilders, who each year dispatch their exquisitely engineered beauties along the catwalk of automotive vanity. But this car – the Infiniti EMERG-E – upstaged them all.

A car of beguiling beauty and classic sports car proportions. Displaying the Infiniti emblem with a self-assurance that points to a confident future, the car’s nose sniffs at the tarmac as if eager to explore every inch of the circuit that lies ahead. From here, the distinctive waistline arches boldly, then drops away aft of the front fenders with the grace of a silk handkerchief, before disappearing into the two conspicuous air vents which bring the formal drama between front end and waistline to an ingenious rear-end conclusion. And sitting atop it all, a small, tight-cropped driver’s cockpit, a futuristic environment featuring the kind of flashing displays and dynamic animations that make you think the test drive is about to start any second.

And it is. It will happen. For a show car, that is pretty unique. For there is generally about as much substance beneath the outer shell of such automotive haute couture as on the catwalks of Paris. Which is why one usually applies the same approach to both. Look, OK! Touch, no way! Take for a drive, out of the question!

So when the roller shutter goes up it is perhaps a little presumptuous of me to have expected more than a modest auxiliary motor beneath that sensationally styled body to trundle such a beautiful exterior

out of that dreary hangar into the cool morning air. As a show car the Infiniti EMERG-E has done its time on the automotive catwalks from Geneva to Pebble Beach, and has given the world an appetizing foretaste of Infiniti design of the future. For what stands before metoday is a car that can actually take to the road – and now that dream is MINE!

In case I was in any doubt about electric drive technology being the future of the automobile, the Infiniti EMERG-E immediately consigns all such concerns to the past. Was the internal combustion engine really the brilliant invention we considered it to be for over a century? Or was it just a transient phenomenon, the worst excesses of which we managed to iron out through years of sophisticated design? A drive system that culminated in the kind of twelvecylinder monster that used to belong in every sports car worthy of the name – inspired engineering, for sure, but antiquated compared with what I now see before me?

Elegance on wheels rolls out of the hangar. A little on the quiet side, it seems to me, I’m not accustomed to such perfect manners. No bark from a fiery twelve-cylinder. Not even the rasp of an uncouth ten. And as a musical backdrop to such elegant lines the throaty roar of an American eightcylinder would in any case be out of place. But we could at least have enjoyed the silken refinement of a small six-cylinder unit. Instead, nothing. The Infiniti EMERG-E has just two electric motors between its axles. And even if the specifications boast 408 hp, complementing wonderfully the contours of this mid-engined sports car, isn’t it an unwritten rule that every automotive gourmet menu consists of three courses: observe, listen, drive?

Climbing aboard the Infiniti EMERG-E is relatively easy for those practiced at getting into sports cars. The door feels as light as a feather, which makes sense since the entire body is made of carbon fiber. It’s stretched over a chassis of extruded aluminum, to which are attached high-quality chassis components. Concealed somewhere in its midst are the lithium-ion batteries.

But then – what’s this? A three-cylinder unit. Not one that will see much action today. Since the batteries of the Infiniti EMERG-E have been fully charged for my drive, the two electric motors – responsible only for the drive system – will have sufficient power to catapult both car and driver along the tarmac at an impressive rate. Pure torque. Delivered immediately. And constantly. Zero to one hundred in 4.0 seconds. Don’t hold back, says the engineer on hand to brief me about the car. This is the real stuff! A prototype, sure, but more importantly a technology carrier designed to test for real the concept of a mid-engined sports car with electric drive and range extender.

And the reality is this: the Millbrook Proving Ground, the kind of facility that offers everything a tester could wish for when it comes to putting a vehicle through its paces: narrow, winding hill roads; fast corners; a high-speed banked oval; long straights. And the Infiniti EMERG-E is fun to drive. Enormous fun! Although not exactly light for such a compact vehicle, with a curb weight of around 1.6 metric tons, the freedom opened up by the innovative drive system has enabled engineers to distribute the weight in such a way as to have little negative impact on vehicle dynamics. The Infiniti EMERG-E handles precisely, feels firm and solid. Even if a tap on the bodywork occasionally suggests the opposite, returning the hollow ring of carbon-fiber components.

The Infiniti EMERG-E is such fun on the road that I forget to turn my attention to the battery status display, which has dipped dramatically after a few kilometers of committed driving. So imagine my surprise when, directly behind me, as I remove my foot from the accelerator, the three-cylinder engine of the range extender kicks in. Immediately it gets up to maximum revs, although this has nothing to do with the position of my foot on the pedal. The three-cylinder’s role is simply to recharge the batteries – quite independently of how I’m currently handling the car. And that is what really feels unfamiliar. No doubt it will take time to adjust to such ideas. Or perhaps it is simply an issue the engineers would rather leave until last.

The Infiniti EMERG-E is an experimental vehicle – the first Infiniti completely developed in Europe – a prototype that unfortunately, will probably never reach the production stage. It came about as a result of a UK government initiative aimed at accelerating the introduction of vehicles with low CO2 emissions. Infiniti collaborated on this initiative with universities and innovative suppliers, pooling their knowledge and Infiniti’s own expertise in the design of hybrid production vehicles to create a fully functioning technology carrier. The Technology Strategy Board, as the initiative is called, stipulated a focus on technologies that have never been combined in this form before. And, more importantly, which are close to potential commercial realization.

After a few committed laps of the test track, I climb out of the Infiniti EMERG-E with sweaty palms and listen to the engineer telling me about the development costs and monetary value of the unique vehicle I have just unwittingly and unrestrainedly pushed to its limits round the circuit. Now it rolls back into its hangar, silently, as if nothing had happened. No last bark, no puff of blue exhaust smoke from a final stamp on the throttle. No, the future is all quiet.