November 6th, 2013
To infiniti and beyond!
Matt Kimberley gets behind the wheel of the new Infiniti Q50 hybrid
Infiniti has only been a separate company from its parent Nissan brand for a little more than a year now. And Infiniti cars have only been built at all since 1989.
Undeterred, the firm is going up against some of the toughest opposition in the car market in the mighty shapes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, who dominate the European premium car market almost completely.
The Q50 is the spearhead with which Infiniti wants to give the big Germans a poking on their home turf. It’s sharply styled and certainly easy on the eye in either of the body styles. Sport trim looks surprisingly different from the front when you put it next to a more relaxed Premium-spec car, but in isolation both look strikingly – refreshingly – different to what’s already out there. It’s sized in between BMW’s 3 Series and 5 Series, so it might just be a great catch-all compromise.
The interior design is good, too, with a large centre console giving a snug, comfortable feel to a cabin that isn’t as open and spacious-seeming as some thanks to a windscreen and A-pillar sitting closer to the occupants than in rival cars. The console itself is dominated by two vertically stacked large screens; the top one recessed slightly into the surface and tasked with displaying the navigation system readout and visuals from the manoeuvring cameras (front and rear).
Unfortunately this screen is tilted back significantly enough to be prone to glare, especially since it’s not angled towards the driver in any way. If the sun is coming through the passenger side window it can be hard to see parts of the navigation readout.
The lower screen, mounted flush with the console and topped with a smooth, glossy plastic cover, is effectively the touch-screen control panel via which the driver can adjust the myriad settings and personalisation options. It is rather vulnerable to fingerprints, but it’s quick to respond to touch and offers a clear, crisp app-style layout that anyone with a smartphone should feel right at home with.
Cabin storage is a mixed bag, with short-ish door pockets but a big central bin, which also houses two 12-volt power outlets, two USB ports, a 3.5mm jack and even a ‘video in’ socket to pipe pictures to the top screen – but not while you’re driving.
Speaking of driving, you can have the Q50 as a diesel, which borrows Mercedes’s slightly clattery but potentially very economical 2,143cc four-cylinder engine, or as a petrol-electric hybrid that uses the electric motor as a ‘supercharger’. It works like a charm, too, giving the Q50S (the hybrid’s special designation) an instant swell of torque low down in the rev range before the 3.5-litre V6 takes over to pump the overall power output to 360bhp.
In this guise the car excels in slow traffic under gentle throttle inputs, where the engine can switch off altogether until the battery is depleted. With the air conditioning on, though, the engine quite often has to keep cutting back in to power the auxiliary systems.
The rear-wheel drive version of the Q50S is a very fine steer on twisty roads, too, where a genuinely adjustable and composed chassis shines through, thanks in part to the clever Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), which in a world-first move isn’t connected to the front wheels by any mechanical means. It’s completely fly-by-wire, like a fighter jet, which means the steering responsiveness can be customised to how the driver wants it. It works brilliantly, giving an increased measure of control and a greater sense of confidence, flattering a driver but also giving them the green light to exploit the wealth of talent it has.
There are some small niggles with the new Q50, like the sat-nav screen’s glare issue, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable to drive. It cruises effortlessly, looks arguably much more stylish than the alternatives and feels solid. Infiniti’s customer service is reportedly something special, too, and you get the feeling that the youngest premium car manufacturer out there might be about to come of age.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Infiniti Q50S, from £40,000 on the road
Engine: Fully enclosed 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric hybrid system producing 360bhp and 403lb.ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds
CO2 rating: 144g/km
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