6

10

Model

Q50

Price

$51,900

The Numbers

2.5-litre petrol-hybrid V6, 268kW, 546Nm, 0-100 in 5.1secs, 250km/h, 6.8L/100km

The Topgear Verdict

Makes bold claims, but doesn't quite have the driving dynamics of its competitors to back them up.

Q50

So, what is it?

A mid-size, luxury sedan, designed to boost Infiniti’s local profile and (so-far) modest sales. Infiniti’s global president, Johan de Nysschen, is on the record as saying Australian volume levels for the brand are “unsustainable”, and although local execs won’t say what is sustainable, it’s clearly got to be more than the 400 units shifted since local launch in 2012.

Why should I care?

The Q50 is stuffed with enough TLA’s (Three Letter Acronyms, describing the car's safety and luxury tech) to overwhelm even the geekiest (well-healed) geek. It’s claimed to represent a new class standard for fit and finish, and is competitively priced. Clear targets are the Audi A3, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

What's new about it?

Although it sits on the same (Nissan FM) platform as the G37 it supercedes (with an identical wheelbase), the Q50’s shape is the product of the brand’s new ‘fluid’ design philosophy, with a now signature ‘double arch’ grille, deeply sculpted flanks, and ‘distinctive’ headlights lifted virtually unchanged from the Etherea concept that previewed the Q50 in 2011.

Making a call on design and styling is always going to be subjective, but to our eyes the grille is strikingly similar to the Lexus ‘spindle’, and the lights (front and rear) could just as easily comply with Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design language, as seen most graphically on the Mazda6 and new Mazda3.

Engine choice at launch is between a (268kW/546Nm) 2.5-litre V6 petrol/electric hybrid, in rear or all-wheel drive with seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, and a 125kW/400Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel in RWD, with seven-speed auto only.

But where to begin on the tech-fest? It kicks-off with Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), a true ‘drive-by-wire’ system which electronically transmits steering wheel inputs to actuators turning the front wheels, with no mechanical connection (except in the event of an electrical melt-down, where a mechanical system takes over).

There’s also Active Lane Control (ALC), not to mention Distance Control Assist (DCA), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Forward Emergency Braking (FEB), Back-up Collision Intervention (BCI), High Beam Assist (HBA), Around View Monitoring (AVM), Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and Active Front Lighting (AFS).

Inside, there’s not one, but two colour touch-screens; the first for the sat-nav, and the second for the InTouch system, stockable with apps, and providing the interface for a slew of on-board functions.

That's all nice. What's it like to drive fast?

Infiniti says, “The all-new Q50 sedan is a true driver’s car”, and makes great play on its technical involvement with the Red Bull F1 team, with four time world driving champion Sebastian Vettel standing as the brand’s Director of Performance.

In a launch video detailing his input into the Q50’s dynamic development, Vettel says the prototype still needs some tuning, and we’re not sure the job was completed.

While acceleration in the Hybrid is rapid enough, with Infiniti claiming 0-100km/h in 5.1sec for the RWD (and 5.4 for the AWD), steering and handling are underwhelming.

By definition the DAS system doesn’t have any road feel, because the steering wheel has no mechanical connection to the front tyres. Infiniti calls out the up-side as sharper response and elimination of vibration back up through the wheel. The system is switchable through three modes each for effort and response, but the purely synthetic feel is wooden at best.

The car is also prone to cough up an unnerving mid-corner wobble at anything approaching seven or eight tenths. It could be the doing of one TLA not mentioned earlier – ATC (Active Trace Control), which uses a vectoring type system to control brake pressure at individual wheels, based on the driver’s steering and acceleration/braking patterns.

Whether it’s the ATC, a lack of cohesion between other systems, or a failing of the double wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension set up, the car suffers from a lack of composure and predictability in rapid going.

And driving from home to the office in the city?

Comfortable, quiet, and the BOSE audio system is brilliant. This is a more natural environment for the Q50, and rear room is good for a car of this size. One niggle is a lack of progression in the brakes in regenerative mode (the car harvesting heat energy and sending it for battery storage).

How much would I have to pay for one? And is it worth the coin?

Three spec levels are offered, GT (diesel only), S and S Premium, with pricing starting at $51,900, and finishing with the S Premium AWD Hybrid at $73,900 ($81,787 driveaway). Standard equipment levels are sky-high, and a 2.0-litre turbo, RWD only variant is scheduled to arrive later in the year.

What about a genuine high-performance version?

The Q50 Eau Rouge concept shown at this year’s Detroit motor show offers a big clue to a potential future hi-po model. According to Johan de Nysschen, the engine being evaluated for the Q50 Eau Rouge is, “A big personality, V-cylinder engine with forced induction. If we build this car, I would expect it to feature over 380kW and 800Nm."

Would you take this or the Lexus IS?

The Lexus. It gives nothing away to the Infiniti in terms of build quality and relative performance. It’s loaded with luxury, and dynamically superior.

So what would you give the Q50 out of 10, then?

6 – This is a car claimed to offer breakthroughs in terms of design, technology and dynamics. But on first acquaintance, we’re struggling to see how it stands above, or apart, from the well-established and credentialed competitors currently dominating this part of the market.

Reviewed by: James Cleary

Driven: February 04, 2014