The Infiniti Q50 is the car that will change it all for the Japanese luxury manufacturer in Australia.
A mid-sized Infiniti sedan to take on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series has been long overdue and while Australians will have to wait until January 2014 before it arrives locally, we’ve come all the way to California to bring you a first taste of what’s in store from the challenger brand.
From the outside the Infiniti Q50 is nowhere near as peculiar looking as its Infiniti FX SUV sibling. It’s not conservative in style, but it’s more subdued than what we’ve come accustomed to from Infiniti, now bringing contemporary aggressive design with a hint of Japanese elements.
Australia is expected to get the Infiniti Q50 range initially with two engine choices, a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel and the flagship Q50 Hybrid S, the car we are reviewing here. It’s also likely to get a 1.8-litre petrol turbo model in the future, a Mercedes-Benz engine.
The Infiniti Q50S Hybrid is powered by the tried and tested 3.5-litre V6 coupled to a performance-orientated Infiniti “Direct Response” hybrid system. Though not a true reflection of the car’s power and torque (due to the hybrid system), officially the Q50 delivers 264kW of power and 365Nm of torque, resulting in a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 5.5 seconds.
The Q50 also features the world’s first steer-by-wire technology, which essentially electronically transfers the driver’s input to the front wheels where an actuator drives the steering rack.
It’s technology typically found in Jet fighter flight controls and Infiniti has employed the closest thing to a fighter pilot, its director of performance, Formula One world Champion Sebastian Vettel, to tune the steering feel.
First time behind the wheel, it’s not the steering feel that will grab your attention but the car’s interior. It’s a different story with the Infiniti Q50 than any other Infiniti we’ve driven. It has an excellent interior.
The general cabin ambience is miles ahead of the current Infiniti models on offer, no longer sharing any noticeable parts with Nissan vehicles – particularly the central display system - but exuding a proper luxury segment interior that outclasses the C-Class and BMW’s 3 Series. It rivals that of the Lexus IS with a big focus on technology and connectivity, but is perhaps not as flash or refined – at first glance - as its Japanese rival.
The Q50 features not one, but two large dual screens (LCD/VGA 8-inch upper and 7-inch lower color displays) that present crisp high-resolution displays and an Intel-powered hardware with intuitive software that we found super quick and easy to use. This marks yet another big step forward for the luxury brand, which up until now had relied on Nissan’s not-so-friendly infotainment system.
Despite its rather large exterior dimensions, the interior is not nearly as big. The front and rear seats are comfortable and accommodating but rear legroom is limited (no different to the 3 Series) and there are no side pockets.
The car’s intelligent key can be programmed to each driver, so that the Q50 knows exactly how to adjust the seat and steering position, cabin and seat temperature, navigation system settings and other little things to suit each driver. A pretty clever way to make you feel at home.
Other world first technologies include a “Predictive Forward Collision Warning” (PFCW) system, which will not only detect a potential collision with the car in front, but the proceeding vehicle as well.
This is very handy when following a large SUV or truck that limits visibility. Essentially, before the car in front suddenly brakes heavily and steers out of the way to avoid an obstacle, the Q50 would’ve warned you of danger ahead so you’re well prepared. It does this by bouncing a signal under the car in front to detect what’s ahead.
Available in both all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive configurations globally, Australia will take the rear-wheel drive models only.
On the road the first ‘wow’ moment is steering feel. There’s just absolutely nothing like it. In sports mode it’s so precise that it shames go-karts. It’s super responsive, fast paced and really tightens, as the going gets tough. It’s so good that we just wanted to spend the day going around roundabouts.
We may not like Sebastian Vettel for his antics with Mark Webber, but whatever input he had into tuning this steering system, deserves a few points.
It took Porsche many generations before it ditched its hydraulic system for an electric one – mainly to not upset the purists – but having driven the Q50, it’s clearly obvious that steer-by-wire is the future of steering systems and Infiniti are here first.
The hybrid system with the 3.5-litre V6 provides a punchy powertrain package, helped by the seven-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is rather intense and until a performance division of Infiniti arrives, this will likely be the fastest Q50 in the range. The company says the hybrid system is like the modern day supercharger in the performance benefits that it provides.
Ride quality is on the firm side, but still closer to the C-Class than the 3 Series in comfort. It’s not as plush and refined as its Mercedes rival but is a good mid-way point between sport and comfort.
The important factor to mention here is that this is a hybrid. It’s actually the first hybrid we have ever driven that is fun and engaging. Lexus has an IS300h in the new Lexus IS range, but it’s outclassed in every way by I350. Infiniti has taken a different approach, though, offering the Q50S hybrid as the flagship and not really focusing on fuel economy, which, by the way, is 7.8L/100km.
The Infiniti Q50 S Hybrid is undoubtedly the best car Infiniti has ever made. It’s about 5 months away before it lands in Australia and – by all accounts – will signal the actual launch of the brand in our market.