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2013 Infiniti Q50 road test

By raccars Published

Infiniti is the premium car brand made famous by F1 driver Sebastian Vettel – but now it wants its product to do the taking. The Q50 junior executive challenge is its latest new car and its most serious attempt yet at taking on BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Price: From £27,950 (test Hybrid AWD: £41,600)
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 143 mph
Fuel economy: 43.0 mpg
CO2: 155 g/km
On sale: Now
Insurance group: TBC

Three UK Infiniti Q50 facts

  • Only car on sale to offer a drive-by-wire steering option
  • Infiniti is a Japanese brand whose parents are the Renault-Nissan Alliance – whose technical partnership with Mercedes-Benz provides the Q50’s diesel engines!
  • Range based around core SE, Premium, Sport and Hybrid range, with high-value UK-specific diesel-only Executive and Premium Executive variants

What is it?

Infiniti has been longing to build a BMW 3 Series rival for years. With the Q50, it believes it has finally done just that. Replacing the old G37 saloon, the new model is infinitely more modern, has a more on-message range of engines and, most importantly, has been benchmarked for European tastes.

It means the Q50 range is built around efficient Mercedes-Benz-sourced diesel engines, rather than thirsty V6s, and offers a full range priced from below the £30,000 mark. It also has a full range of cutting edge technologies that includes a high-end infotainment system and a multitude of other gadgets.

It’s the core car that immediately appeals to us, though. First, because Infiniti has followed its German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz in basing it around a rear-drive chassis, rather than Audi’s front-wheel drive models. Like its rivals, Infiniti also offers a four-wheel drive variants – this currently comes as a hybrid, another high-tech option but likely to be a slow seller. Diesel is where it’s at.

The other key draw of the Infiniti Q50 is the way it looks. Unlike the dull old G range, this is now a very sporty and sculptural-looking model indeed. There’s plenty of form in its design and, as a leftfield alternative to the German brands, it certainly carries weight. The front end is particularly striking.

Generally, then, all very positive – at first glance, at least... the proof, of course, comes in the driving…

Performance

Infiniti is billing the Q50 as a performance saloon so naturally focused the launch event around the hybrid model. This has a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and an electric motor, producing a total system power of 364hp. The result is 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds which is sports car quick.

It feels very rapid on the road too, and the highly sophisticated drivetrain delivers all this performance smoothly and serenely. The one issue we have is the automatic gearbox. It takes too long to downshift which can leave you lagging as you wait for it to make its mind up.

The diesel alternative uses the familiar (and strong) Mercedes-Benz 2.2-ltire four-cylinder diesel. It sounds clattery from the outside but it much more refined inside, although you can never quite forget the fact it is a four-cylinder motor.

It performs very well, with lots of pulling power, and feels as much of a strong all-rounder here as it does in the contemporary Mercedes S-Class it’s also found in. 170hp means it has just enough power; a more significant 295lb ft of pulling power ensure it’s an easy drive in daily use.

Ride and handling

Infiniti is proud of the fact it has developed a ‘front mid-engined’ layout for the Q50. This means the mass of the engine is centralised which helps the front end turn in more sharply and eagerly.

You can feel this on the road; the Q50 is a lithe and entertaining machine on twisting roads, with agile responses and a very stable feel that helps the driver hold the car on a tight line through bends. Being a rear-wheel drive model means it’s well balanced; the four-wheel drive version adds extra traction.

Infiniti has developed an innovative ‘drive by wire’ system for the Q50, which takes all steering actions by electronic means rather than physical ones. The mechanical connection is there simply as an emergency backup.

It’s very impressive in use, much more so than traditionalists would expect. OK, it feels a bit artificial, but no more so than other electronic steering systems. And the lack of a direct link between the wheels means bumps are isolated and high-speed stability is enhanced. It surprised us and we liked it.

Inside story

The outside is a real step on for Infiniti, but the interior doesn’t mark quite the same leap forward. It’s much more generic and too similar to the dull old Infiniti G37 range, particularly the plain design. All the same, high-quality and tactile materials do help lift it.

The central LCD touchscreens are also excellent, with faultless resolution and plenty of functionality. Most of the car’s systems are based around them and, once you’re used to them, they’re a treat to use.

It’s a very comfortable car to spend time in, with an excellent set of front seats (although space in the back is good, the rear seats themselves are less supportive). Apparently, Infiniti used guidance from NASA studies in space during the designing of the seats, which we can only judge to be thoroughly effective.

The regular diesel gets a commodious 500-litre boot – however, do note that the hybrid’s batteries take up space. This means space is reduced to 400 litres, and the seats also don’t fold like they do in the regular diesel.

Marketplace

Infiniti is going in hard against the established German elite with the Q50. Prices are sharp and it is even retailing a high-value Q50 Executive mode, which has a list price starting from below £30,000 and a standard equipment list focused on fleet users.

It will also be using excellent fuel economy to draw in buyers. The diesel returns well over 60mpg and even the powerful hybrid can top 45mpg. Retained values should be much better than the Infiniti G range too (although this will make it less of a secondhand bargain…).

Nobody within Infiniti is in any doubt as to the challenge they face, though. The new Q50 has to take on the might of the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class: a fearsome class to crack, that’s defeated many before it. Has it the substance to succeed where others couldn’t?

Verdict

The Infiniti Q50 impressed us. It is everything the G37 range was not, and should help draw in BMW 3 Series buyers seeking something stylish, high-quality and a bit different.

It’s not perfect, and the interior ambience in particular needs work, but it is a very competitive offering all the same. Worth a look, particularly in sub-£30,000 diesel guise…

Five rivals

BMW 3 Series – The class benchmark. Currently still unbeaten
Audi A4 – Getting on a bit now but there’s still plenty to like in the bulletproof Audi
Mercedes-Benz C-Class – To be replaced next year by a car that should be a small, sporty S-Class. Could be the new class champ
Lexus IS – Lexus continues to improve its premium sector offer but so too does the competition
Volvo S60 – Improved by new engines and facelifted looks but still not up to BMW standards

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