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£40,745 when new
An Infiniti Q50 review. Which BMW does this one rival? This Infiniti Q50 is the Japanese firm’s BMW 3-Series, which also makes it a Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 rival. Effectively a premium cousin to Nissan, Infiniti has been selling cars in Europe for the best part of a decade, and yet you could argue its models are yet to establish themselves in their own right. A better-known German benchmark is still hugely helpful when it comes to identifying Infiniti’s products. Anyhow, this is the littler of two saloons. Well, little-ish. Here, in its 400bhp top spec trim - dubbed the Q50 S - it weighs a portly 1,813kg. Its price is more palatable, starting at £41,000 with a heck of a lot of equipment as standard. The kind of stuff you’ll be paying extra for with the Germans, which don’t offer as much power, either. First points to the Infiniti, then.
Yes. And more points can perhaps go on the board for its styling. Perhaps it’s a little anonymous as an overall shape, but there are smart details, and it doesn’t seem to ape the class establishment in any area. The spec sheet promises much. Infiniti offers sensible diesel and hybrid versions of the Q50, but this new drivetrain is the one to lift the range out of anonymity and into the minds of people who like cars. It’s a 400bhp 3-litre V6 petrol turbo, good to shift the Q50 S to a 155mph top speed via a 5.1sec 0-62mph time. It would be faster still if it wasn’t so heavy… Perhaps, but that would be ignoring the fact this car really goes, with a hard-edged and charismatic six-cylinder tone backing up the acceleration. The engine is a surprise star; if the Nissan 370Z replacement was to go turbocharged, it would still have plenty of character if it used a tune of this V6. It even likes to rev. But there’s a caveat, and that’s how much this car – with just its rear wheels providing drive – can struggle to put its power down on anything but bone-dry roads. Leave the seven-speed automatic gearbox to do its own thing and you ought to be okay. But try to make haste having used the paddles to select second or third gear yourself, and the power will either be spun wastefully away, or the car will squirm at the rear, even in a straight line. Not enough to frighten the driver, but it’s certainly a little disconcerting. The car handles tidily enough, but compounding those concerns about its grip is its digital steering setup. Uniquely in this class, it’s a fully electronic system, with no mechanical link between the wheel in your hands and the turning front wheels. And given it offers barely a whisper of communication, we’d rather they’d stayed old school. In short, it’s cool that Infiniti’s given this car 400bhp, but you might struggle actually using all of that power. The Q50 S is happiest and most composed comfortably below its limits. Which, when it’s such a refined car, might not be a deal-breaker for its buyers. So it’s good at cruising? Yes. It’s a very quiet car and it rides comfortably. There’s also no overstating how much smoother a richly powered petrol engine is to use than a heavily turbocharged diesel. Those not bothered about nerdy things like ‘feel’ and ‘feedback’ might be enamoured with just how light the steering is, too. The interior is a mixed bag. There are some curious and interesting shapes, and more interesting fonts and displays than established rivals. But all too often in the car world, ‘more interesting’ politely paraphrases ‘not as good’. And so it is with the Q50’s odd, split-screen display, which keeps the sat nav up top, and a separate, smart phone-like screen for other functions below. No doubt you get used to these things in time, but I never quite figured out where to look while adjusting the air con or changing the radio station. My eyes naturally fell on the top screen when they should have been looking down. Or shouldn’t have been looking down, given that’s a distraction. Both screens have clashingly different graphic layouts too. So what’s the verdict? It’s an interesting car, but it’s a tough old class it’s competing in. And it’s hard not to see such a big-hearted car failing to put its power to good use as a missed opportunity. Sports saloons like this ought to be the ideal ‘point-to-point car’, for want of a less meaningless cliché. They should be cars you hop in on a crappy day and can drive as fast as you dare, arriving unruffled at your destination having had fun without attracting any attention. It’s what’s made fast BMWs and Mercs such staples of the performance car market for decades. Enjoyable as its V6 is, this Q50 S feels like it’s another few months of chassis development away from being in the ballpark of a 340i or C43 AMG. And if it’s an alternative rival to the German stalwarts you’re after, both the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia have launched since the Q50 first appeared. And both will satisfy keen drivers notably more.