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KWAZULU-NATAL – This is the car, says Infiniti. The one that will make the difference. The one that will add the requisite volume sales to transform Infiniti into a global player in the luxury vehicle market.
The Q50 is the first of a new product offensive from Nissan’s luxury brand and is the bearer of Infiniti’s new “emotive” design language designed to attract a younger, premium customer. It’s the first offering from a US$13-billion investment designed to increase Infiniti’s global sales from 172 000 to somewhere around the 500-600 000 mark within the next decade.
No pressure, then.
Even less pressure (to stretch the understatement a little further) in South Africa. Since Infiniti’s launch here a couple of years back, the brand has hardly worried Naamsa’s monthly sales figures and it remains a (very) alternative purchasing choice in our luxury-car market.
What then does this D-segment luxury sedan have that will entice SA buyers away from their beloved Mercedes-Benz C-Classes, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4s? Not to mention the Lexus IS350 that already comfortably occupies The Alternative Choice To The Germans?
As a first salvo in its attack, Infiniti has launched two derivatives of the rear-wheel drive Q50 in our market – a Mercedes-Benz-sourced 125 kW/400 N.m 2,1-litre turbodiesel and a 261 kW/ 536 N.m 3,5-litre V6 petrol hybrid adopted from its previous gen. M35h model that was never brought here. At launch I drove both derivatives, but will focus here on the hybrid. (You can see a full test of the 2,1-litre diesel in the August issue of CAR magazine when it goes up against the new C220 BlueTEC.)
The R559 000 7-speed auto Q50s Hybrid features as standard a host of luxury mod-cons expected for this significant fiscal outlay and I wont dwell on them here (there’s a list further down if you’d like them outlined). Instead let me focus on two significant bits of automotive tech that Infiniti hope will do a lot of the enticing.
The first is Direct Adaptive Steering or DAS and it’s another name for drive-by-wire steering technology usually associated with the aeronautical industry. Rather than using a steering mechanically connected to the front axle, this system employs actuators on both the steering wheel and front wheels connected by wire through a series of sensors and calculators. The basic explanation is that sensors detect input from the steering wheel and send a message down to the sensors on front axle that then instruct the actuators to turn the wheels. (And yes, there is an “old school” mechanical column to act as a secondary fail-safe back-up mechanism).
Why would they implement such wizardry, you may, ask when an actual steering column seems perfectly capable? “Faster and more direct steering response” is the answer.
The second piece of tech is Active Lane Control (ALC). Unlike normal “reactive” lane departure prevention system that uses the car’s brakes to haul it back into line once its wheels have crossed a lane, the ALC uses a windshield camera to constantly monitor the road ahead and use the steering to keep it within the demarcated lanes.
And do these new systems work?
Yes they certainly do.
A little gymkhana-esque course in the parking lot of the Sibaya Casino north of Durban proved the DAS’s claims and slaloming through the cones, the system certainly felt sharper and more response than the same car without it fitted. Being a digital system, it’s also tunable and aside from three standard modes – Light, Standard or Heavy – you can also personally customize its settings. Impressive too was how DAS works in reverse. Driving over some artificial “bumps” nailed into the casino’s asphalt, none of the road anomalies were transmitted to the steering wheel, which remained stable despite the buzz the wheels were enduring.
Driving along the N2 toward Ballito, the ALC system too proved an eyebrow-raiser as it resolutely kept between the dotted lines without any steering input from me. It works at speeds of 70-180 km/h and only when the lane lines were distinctly faded or obscured by the inevitable road construction did the system fail to recognize its boundaries.
Perhaps then the real question here is not whether Infiniti’s vaunted new tech works, but whether it can do the requisite enticing…
My guess is not. And I say this because, to be frank, I don’t think the Q50 needs them. Focus too much on this wizardry and you lose sight of what, in its own right, is fundamentally a very good car.
The hybrid powerplant provides ample power and low-down torque to handle mid-gear overtaking that real-world driving demands. And driving a non DAS-equipped Q50, I found its steering response and feedback to be perfectly matched to an agile chassis that handled both the sweeping N2 bends and the zig-zaggy parking lot slalom with sure-footed poise. In my short time with the car, I’d put its handling somewhere between the sportier 3 Series and the more refined new C-Class.
You’re siting in a distinctly premium interior too. On first impressions isn’t quite up there with the Germans – especially the Audi A4’s and the C-Class’ – with a little too much piano black plastic on the fascia for my tastes, but the overall design aesthetic is more understated European than exuberantly Asian which better suits our market’s tastes. Despite having a longer wheelbase and exterior dimensions than its competitors (size-wise it fits in-between a 3 and a 5 series), rear passenger space feels on par with its D-segment competitors. Given it’s larger dimensions I would’ve expected a little more.
Of course one needs to consider price in this segment too and here the Q50 does look like a winner when comparing it to other hybrids out there. And there aren’t many. The obvious ones would be the BMW ActiveHybrid3 which is R127 000 more at R686 449 and less powerful (250 kW/450 N.m); or the Toyota Camry-based Lexus ES 300hh EX that’s slightly cheaper at R530 500 but clearly lacking in the trouser department (151 kW/213 N.m) and nowhere as technologically sophisticated.
I’d say the Q50 most certainly makes a strong case for consideration outside the traditional German trio. You’d still be taking a gamble on resale values of course, but given Infiniti’s plans to expand their SA footprint from the current four dealerships to 10 in the next few years that might change. Later on this year Infiniti will also launch a turbopetrol derivative here in the form of a 2,0-litre (150 Kw/315 N.m) that, like the 2,1-litre diesel, is also Merc-derived thanks to their partnership with Daimler. By September the Q50S Hybrid will also be available as all-wheel drive and don’t discount the possibility of a Nissan GT-R-engined halo model in the coming years. At the Geneva show we saw the Q50 Eau Rouge concept with such an engine and it’s been whispered to me that there is a “very strong possibility” that it will see production.
Things are looking up for Infiniti.
Sport, powered, and heated front seats
Intelligent key with enhanced memory functions
Auto-dimming rear view mirror
Rear view camera
LED auto-level headlights and daytime running lights
Drive mode selector
Heated exterior mirrors w/ power operation, folding and reverse synchronization
Tyre pressure monitoring system with individual pressures
LED FR & RR fog lamps
Rain sensing wipers
Dual zone climate control AC
dual intuitive touch-screens (8” & 7”)
2 USB slots
Leather multi-function steering wheel
Remote keyless entry
Push engine starter
Tyre Pressure monitoring system
60:40 RR Folding seat
18” triple spoke Alloy wheels with run flat tyres
Direct Adaptive steering
Active Lane Control
Multimedia pack – R30 800: Navigation system, Advanced Bose audio with 14 speakers.
Safety Shield Pack – R27 000: Intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning and lane departure prevention, blind spot warning and blind spot intervention, forward emergency braking, predictive forward collision warning and automatics also get distance control assist and back up collision intervention.
Visibility pack – R20 310: Adaptive front lighting, smart beam to help prevent high beam blindness to oncoming traffic and around view monitor for clear and safe parking
Metallic paint – R3 000
Fast factsModel: Infiniti Q50s Hybrid
Price: from R559 000
Engine: 3,5-litre V6 petrol plus 50 kW electric motor
Power: 261 kW 6 800 r/min
Torque: 536 N.m @ 5 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 5,1 secs
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 6,8 L/100 km
CO2: 159 g/km
Transmission: seven-speed auto
Maintenance Plan: 5 years/100 000 km