There’s a reasonable chance that, having read the title of this review, you’ll have muttered “A what?” out loud. Don’t worry you’re not alone – nearly everyone we spoke to last week about this car said the same.
Infiniti doesn’t have much of a presence in the UK at the moment it has to be said. A luxury/sports spin-off brand of Nissan, it’s been quietly and successfully shifting large-engined saloons, coupes and SUVs in the States for more than a quarter of a century before being introduced to Europe in 2008 and even Japan in 2013.
With a push to the mainstream with a pair of British Touring Car Championship entries this season and a new model being built right here in the UK later this year, it’s time to get familiar with Infiniti – and to get started we’ve been driving their entry level saloon around for a week.
The Q50 fits into that pretty awkward premium saloon sector that’s dominated by BMW, Mercedes and Audi, so comparisons will always be drawn with these three powerhouses. So here’s the good news – it doesn’t look anywhere near as boring as the German rivals.
However it’s something of a mixed bag in regards of aesthetics. We can’t deny that the overall image is pretty handsome, more so in the metal, but there’s the odd detail that catches the eye and causes a double-take. It’s the front end where the main hiccup is, because a strong styling line rips down the bonnet from the A-pillar and into the grille before flaring out into the lower bumper, tricking the eyes into imagining the bottom of the bumper is much wider than the car above it. With the bottom-heavy front end, it looks a little like a pouting, sulky teenager with its lip stuck out.
The curves at the side of the concave grille are carried into the back of the window line and although it’s nice to see some consistency of design, having it in that location looks like a careless nod towards the BMW “Hofmeister kink“. We doubt it’s an intentional homage, but it does little for the old Japanese car stereotype of mimicking European products.
Wash away these concerns though and you’ve got a nicely styled little thing. The dished side panels that emerge from the bulged wheel arches catch the light nicely, and the curved haunches are far better judged than their rivals. It gives a neat road presence all round, probably helped along by the rarity factor – and the excellent dark purple paint job.
Infiniti Q50 interior
This is one of the nicest places to sit that we’ve seen for a while and it’s bolstered by an array of gadgetry that will boggle most minds.
When it comes to materials there are no complaints. No matter where we poked and prodded our fingers met with leather, soft touch plastic, piano black plastic or a variety of metals or metal-feel finishes. Perhaps the only place where the plastics got a bit grey and drab were the door-pocket bins, but since they have to withstand a lifetime of careless toeing we’ll forgive it – especially with the extensive leather above it.
But it’s pretty likely that the first thing you’ll notice when you get in is the pair of screens on the centre console. Both are touchscreens, though the lower, larger screen has an extra party piece that’ll be familiar to all smartphone users: you can swipe and pinch it to navigate more quickly.
By default the top screen is the sat-nav and parking cameras while the lower one controls all other functions, but you can mix and match a bit. There’s a dazzling array of information on offer, and it all looks and feels very modern. The rest of the conventional switchgear is exactly where it ought to be, except the handbrake which is a foot-operated ratchet where the clutch pedal would ordinarily go.
Get away from the driving seat and the Infiniti is a no less pleasant place to be. All of the remaining chairs are comfortable, but, as you’ll see in a minute, they’re perhaps not as laterally supportive as they could be. Legroom in the rear is also fair for the class, while there’s a good sized boot that – with the provided instructions – will fit four sets of golf sticks in one hit, so the weekly family shop is a breeze.
Infiniti Q50 engine
As with the touchscreens, just one isn’t enough for Infiniti, so the Q50 – at least in the shape of the vehicle tested – has two engines as well.
The first is pretty potent all by itself. It’s a 3.5 litre V6 hurling 300hp to the wheels, previously seen in Nissan’s old 350Z sports car. If this wasn’t enough for you, there’s a 60hp electric motor providing some pull too, and it’s capable of driving the car all by itself for a mile if you treat the accelerator gently.
Put together with a four-wheel-drive system, this gives the Infiniti a decent poke. Even at 1.9 tonnes (thanks to those batteries), a feisty launch in sport mode will see you hit 60mph in not much more than five seconds thanks in part to the instant torque of the electric motor. This is exactly as alarming an experience as it sounds – and it’ll help you rocket away from traffic lights faster than most other cars in this bit of the car market.
However, the fuel economy isn’t quite what you might expect from a car toting a “Hybrid” badge. On-paper stats peg it at 41.5mpg combined, but you’ll need a very specific set of circumstances to match that. Our figures of just over 33mpg when being very good and just under 25mpg when being less than good were roughly consistent with the car’s previous experiences according to its on-board log.
The Q50 employs something special that you won’t find in other road cars, called steer by wire. Rather than a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels, it’s all done with electricity. In effect this is just like a Playstation driving wheel, relaying commands and many drivers will find it a little disconcerting at first.
It has its advantages though, and cycling through the driving mode selector shows you one. With no physical connection, the steering can be set as light or as heavy as Infiniti wants it to be and it really shows when you flick into Sport. It’s perhaps a pity that the car’s turning circle is relatively large – Q50 owners will get a lot of practice at three-point turns.
Whichever mode you’re in, the Q50 is unashamedly a sports saloon. It’s a little on the firm side around town and on longer motorway trips, but it’s nothing you can’t live with – and the trade off is a great drive. It’s surprisingly agile given its weight and exceptionally difficult to unstick, though there’s a whiff of understeer as it wanders wide if you’re too fast in slower turns.
In essence the fact it’s a hybrid will play very little role in day to day driving because the electric motor works with the engine pretty unobtrusively. The only real clues are the charging/discharging dial in the tachometer and the fact that the petrol engine will occasionally cut out. It’s largely a seamless affair.
Infiniti Q50 value for money
A premium saloon stuffed with quasi-ruched leather, twin touchscreens and a whole load of electricity is not going be a cheap affair and our Q50 would cost £41,640. That doesn’t scream unreasonable from the off, but there’s a deeper tale here.
Although the screens are standard, the sat-nav isn’t and it’s supplied here as part of a £2,760 multimedia pack that also brings a 14-speaker Bose audio system and DAB (digital) radio, but the navigation system can be had as a standalone item for £1,920. That’s a pretty pricey add-on for a feature that cars half the price are carrying as standard.
Nissan’s pretty neat Around View Monitor, consisting of four cameras dotted about the car and knitted into a single image when reversing, is also added, for £1,040, while our car also had the suite of ‘safety shield’ technologies – intelligent cruise control, lane assist, blind spot warning and collision avoidance and mitigation – for another £2,080. The good news is that this classes as fully kitted out and rival offerings nip in at just about the same sort of price.
159g/km CO2 puts the Q50 a couple of tax brackets above some of its competitors, but for £50 per annum more it’s not worth quibbling about, and while the fuel economy is not likely to be what it says in the handbook, rivals are similarly optimistic.
On paper at least the Q50 Hybrid is no worse value than better known marques – it depends how much value you place on the badge, and how much value you can stand to lose – the Q50 will only hold about 35% of its value after three years, so this car would be worth around £15,000.
Let’s take the badge off the table first and go for the objective jugular – as a normal UK driver there’s so little to dislike about the Q50 it’s almost a surprise it’s such an unknown car. It’s perhaps not the last word in ride quality and some rivals have more suave interiors, but other than that we’re just picking at a few percent here and there.
We love the fact that Infiniti has given it unconventional looks (even if we’re not so sure about the result head on) and the dual display set up combined with the silent EV running makes the experience far more like stepping into a flight simulator – aided by that drive-by-wire steering, just like an Airbus – than the duller environments of other mere automobiles.
You do have to bring the badge into consideration at some point though and there’ll be people who’ll baulk at shelling out BMW money on a brand they either have never heard of, or think is just a Nissan. Still, with the Q50 hitting the racetrack this season in the UK’s top level of domestic motorsport the chances are that the company’s exposure is going to improve.