Andy Goodwin reviews and road tests the Infiniti Q50, a newcomer that’s a technical tour de force, but is it a match for the executive establishment?
The BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 are boring. That’s the belief of Infiniti, and the Q50 is their answer for all those who feel the same way. So what do you get if you become one of the ten per cent who don’t choose a German car in the executive class? A much curvier ‘concept car’ shape for starters, and a digital cabin which uses dual touch-screens, stacked one above the other, for a fighter jet feel. Purists will also love the rear-wheel drive chassis, but are likely to need persuading about its world-first wireless steering system, with no physical connection between steering wheel and the front tyres.
Infiniti says the Q50 is a car you ‘log into’ rather than simply start.The Infiniti Q50 takes its design queues from a trilogy of concept cars called the Essence, Etherea and Emerg-E. It has a double-arch front grille said to echo a Japanese bridge, while its bold headlights feature a crescent of LEDs. Infiniti love crescents in fact, with the rear C-pillars and rear lights all taking on a curved shape. The interior has been decluttered thanks to those big screens, and features a driver-focussed layout, which should suit cutting and thrusting execs down to the ground. Infiniti says the Q50 is a car you ‘log into’ rather than simply start, which sounds blooming awful to these ears, but Infiniti’s heart is in the right place. Thanks to downloadable software in its own growing App Garage you can check emails, calendars and tweets from your own four-door office.
The Q50 is among the most spacious cars in its class, with enough room for a couple of portly chaps.Infiniti must have heard the good folks at NASA are a bit quiet nowadays, what with the Space Shuttle relegated to museums, so who better to help design its front seats? Apparently the human body adopts its most neutral position in zero gravity, so Infiniti designed its chairs to replicate this state – unfortunately not by creating anti-gravity inside the car, they are just very shapely. The Q50 is among the most spacious cars in its class, with enough room for a couple of portly chaps and 500 litres of boot space for golf clubs on high days and holidays.
Luddites will take great displeasure in a new system called “My car knows me”, for fear the sat-nav will starting telling people what you were up to last tuesday afternoon, when you were off ‘sick’. But really, it’s a friendly soul, saving personal settings for up to four people with 96 parameters, from your seat position to your favourite photo displayed on the start – sorry, log-in – screen.
Performance & handling
There are several distinct flavours of Q50, with customers offered a 170bhp 2.2-litre diesel with moderate performance (8.7 seconds to 62mph) or 359bhp petrol hybrid which runs from rest to 62mph in as little as 5.1 seconds. Then, there’s the choice of standard or fly-by-wire steering (which comes with Sport and Hybrid trim levels, and is optional on Premium trims). Choosing the latter makes the Infiniti’s character much more adaptable, because the nature of digital steering means it can be programmed to be either super responsive, heavy, light or relaxed with a few stabs of the touch-screen.
Digital steering allows more intervention, with lane assist subtly changing the course of the car on the motorway.Fly-by-wire steering makes the Q50’s nose so responsive in its sharpest setting, you have to completely readjust your driving style, and it feels manic at first, but makes the Q50 incredibly agile when you get used to it. Digital steering also allows more intervention, with lane assist subtly changing the course of the car on the motorway.
While it could be a good safety feature for some, we had to turn it off, as the gentle meandering felt quite odd. We only sampled the automatic gearbox (a manual is available with the diesel), which shifts nowhere near as quickly as the excellent BMW system, but is perfectly adequate for normal driving.
Economy & environment
Its 0.26 Cd drag coefficient makes it as slippery as a bar of soap in a Top Gun shower sceneInfiniti is refreshingly keen to stress its hybrid system is a performance one, not one aimed at interstellar fuel economy. Still, 45.6mpg and 144g/km of CO2 emissions are impressive figures for such a car. The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 manages 44.1mpg and 149g/km, with 302bhp. But, the Hybrid will be a fairly rare sight in the UK, where the diesel will take most sales. It’s designed to appeal to fleet buyers and business users, with 64.2mpg and 114g/km of CO2 competing against 61.4mpg and 120g/km of CO2 in the BMW 320d SE with 181bhp. Stop and start is fitted across the range, and the Q50 is incredibly aerodynamic, with its 0.26 Cd drag coefficient making it as slippery as a bar of soap in a Top Gun shower scene.
Equipment & value
There are three trim levels called SE, Premium and Sport, with the Hybrid getting its own range-topping equipment. SE is the only version with cloth seats. SE and Premium have 17-inch alloys, while Sport and Hybrid have 19-inch wheels and a sportier bumper design. Bluetooth is standard, as are the dual touch-screens and option to download apps (free for first year, subscription afterwards). Remote keyless entry is standard, as is a rear view camera and front and rear parking sensors, making the Q50 a comprehensively equipped car.
Forward Collision Warning monitors not only the car in front, but the one ahead of it too.Choose wireless steering (with three stages of redundancy, you’ll be pleased to note) and you also get Active Lane Control, which monitors your lane position when driving on dual-carriageways or motorways and keeps you from wandering into danger. Unlike most systems, this works with the steering, not by braking individual wheels. Forward Collision Warning is also available, which monitors not only the car in front, but the one ahead of it too.
The Infiniti Q50 is the kind of car which makes road testers wake up in a cold sweat. The number of systems you can switch on and off, settings you can personalise and buttons you can press are so numerous it’s not easy to test them all in a foreign city. We like the way the Q50 looks, and the fact it’s a new upstart amongst the established Germans (and Lexus, lest we forget). It’s comfortable and economical too, but (yes, there’s a but) we’re not sure all its systems add to its driving experience. In all likelihood you’ll find your favourite one, and stay in it. Ironically, we found the more systems we turned off, the more we liked the car, as there’s actually a decent chassis buried deep beneath all the layers of computer code, if you can find it.
Model tested: Infiniti Q50S Hybrid
Acceleration: 0-62 in 5.1
Top speed: 155mph
Emissions: 144g/km CO2