Think Japanese version of a BMW 3 Series and your mind typically drifts to the Lexus IS350. And rightly so; if you read our September issue, you’d know we consider it an impressive car. As it turns out, however, the Germans now have another rival in the shape of the Infiniti Q50.
Design-wise, the expressive Japanese signature remains but it’s blended with some understated Euro sophistication. Hard creases are finessed by Terminator-esque soft-liquid metal surfaces that culminate in sharply ascending hip lines reminiscent of the haunches of a muscle car. These are impressive lines that, importantly for this brand, won’t be confused with those of any Korean or Chinese exports.
Jaguar design boss, Ian Callum, once said it’s natural for people to compare new-car designs to those of existing vehicles. It’s human nature to seek parity. Well, there are certainly traces of his XJ in the Q50’s front-end, combined with spades of visual aggression. At the rear, there are shapely taillamps and a pair of oval tail pipes that occupy opposite ends of the body-coloured diffuser. Our test model was shod with 17-inch alloy hoops, but larger items are also available.
When it comes to the interior, forget “posh Nissan”; the Q50 does a convincing job of being a fully fledged premium offering that’s high on tech, perfectly ergonomic and clever. The leather seats are cosseting and the hide covering the helm is similarly pleasant; Infiniti has pulled off an excellent job of providing a rivalling experience to what you’d expect from its German counterparts. Onboard electronic addenda include climate control, electric seats and steering adjustment, a comprehensive multimedia and sat-nav system, Bluetooth, heated seats and technology that bests its rivals. Yes, I said it.
BMW leads in the handling department in this segment and Lexus offers the best value (the Audi A4 is getting a tad old and we’re yet to find out what the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class has to offer). Infiniti has realised that it has to lead in something, and for this range, it’s the technology.
The most significant bit of tech is the steer-by-wire system, called direct adaptive steering (DAS). In simple terms, the input that the driver feeds into the steering wheel doesn’t go to the wheels but to an actuator that drives the steering rack and turns the wheels accordingly. You might think the steering response would be slower if the driver input is first sent to another system and then to the wheels, but it’s not. If anything, the response is better. There’s no hesitation whatsoever and there’s also no effect on the steering wheel when traversing uneven pieces of road.
The true effects of this system were felt when we drove a Q50 without DAS. The latter experienced noticeable kickback, while the DAS-equipped version stayed still in my hands. The system allows you to choose between different modes depending on how heavy or light you want the steering to feel, and the system will store this preference. And, should the electronics fail, there’s a shaft that converts to a conventional mechanical steering. According to the Japanese manufacturer, this technology took 15 years to develop.
Another feature that will tickle tech geeks is Active Lane Control (ALC). While most other systems use the vehicle’s ESP to apply braking force on one side of the car in order to alter its course, this system uses only the steering. A camera detects where the lanes are and if it “senses” that the car is drifting, instead of braking the Q50, it (to use a not-so-technical term) freezes the steering so that the vehicle doesn’t drift further across. It also keeps the Q50 centred between lines.
Lastly, there is Infiniti’s InTouch system that makes use of two screens so that you don’t disturb what is happening on the top one when you need to access other systems of the car.
The Q50 is so loaded with tech that is easy to get caught up in the details, but it’s important not to forget what lies at the heart of the matter. In the case of SA, it will be a Mercedes-Benz-sourced 2,1-litre turbodiesel with 125 kW and 400 N.m of torque, and a hybrid that makes use of a V6 petrol engine and electric motor. This model delivers a combined 268 kW and 350 N.m of torque. The former of the two powertrains sounds rather rough and agricultural and the seven-speed automatic transmission is slow to respond. The hybrid, though, feels quick off the line and has strong acceleration. Both vehicles have supple suspension setups that allow for a relaxed drive.
Infiniti has made a great car. It has its shortcomings – it nannies you a tad too stringently and, as a result, it’s not the most dynamic car in a very dynamic class. But, like the Lexus IS350 when we tested it, I predict a warm reception for the Q50. Is it a better car than its Japanese rival? Well, that depends on your requirements.
Pricing, too, will steer buyers to or from the Q50. We’ve been told that the base vehicle will cost around R400 000, with the high-spec (with DAS and ALC) model in the high R500 000s. The IS350 starts at R464 300 and goes up to R571 500 for the IS350 F Sport. I will say this for certain, however: the Q50 is the best Infiniti to date.
Infiniti Q50 3,5h
Est price: R575 000
Engine: 3,5-litre,V6, petrol/electric hybrid
Trans: 7-spd AT
Power/Torque: 268 kW (combined)/350 N.m
0-100 km/h: 5,1 secs
Top speed: 250 km/h
Fuel cons: 6,2 L/100km
Infiniti Q50 Diesel
Est price: R400 000
Engine: 2,1-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Trans: 7-spd AT
Power/Torque: 125 kW/400 N.m
0-100 km/h: 8,7 secs
Top speed: 231 km/h
Fuel cons: 4,4 L/100km