Infiniti Q50 on the pace in real style
- Credit: Infiniti
If its driving talent lives up to its looks, the Q50 could seriously rival German premium brands, says Matt Kimberley of the Press Association.
Infiniti may be a relatively new brand in the UK, and certainly in East Anglia which has just opened its first dealership in Norwich, but the premium marque has been building cars since 1989.
And it's going up against some of the toughest opposition in the car market in the mighty shapes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz which dominate the European premium car market.
The new Q50 saloon is the spearhead with which Infiniti wants to give the big Germans a challenge on their home turf. It's sharply styled and easy on the eye in either body style. 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 that sit 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 displaying the navigation system readout and visuals from the front and rear manoeuvring cameras.
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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. With the sun through the passenger 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 touchscreen control panel allowing the driver to adjust the myriad settings and personalisation options. It's rather vulnerable to fingerprints but quick to respond to touch and offers a clear, crisp app-style layout that anyone with a smartphone should feel right at home with.
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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 – not while you're driving.
You can have the Q50 as a 170PS 2.2-litre turbo diesel, which uses Mercedes's 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 overall power to 364PS.
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 air conditioning on, the engine has to cut in quite often to power the auxiliary systems.
The rear-wheel drive version of the Q50S is a very fine steer on twisty roads where its genuinely adjustable and composed chassis shines through, thanks in part to clever direct adaptive steering. In a world-first, it isn't connected to the front wheels by any mechanical means but is 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 and allowing them to exploit the wealth of talent.
The new Q50 is enjoyable to drive, cruises effortlessly, looks arguably much more stylish than alternatives and feels solid. Infiniti's customer service is said to be special, too, and you get the feeling that the youngest premium car-maker might be about to come of age.