First Drive: Infiniti Q50
Sector: Compact Executive Price (November 2013): £27,950–£41,625 Fuel: 64.2–41.5mpg CO2: 114–159g/km
Infiniti’s new Q50 is a car aimed to break into the premium compact executive sector. It’s something Lexus has struggled with manfully for years and not managed, and Infiniti has at least as big a mountain to climb, if not more so.
With its lack of dealers and near-zero history to go on, it means the sector where many of these registrations are made, leasing, will quite naturally take a defensive position to start with, which doesn’t help with getting competitive monthly rates.
That said, there are some positives. Pricing and emissions is an area where the Q50 is perhaps at its strongest. There’s a 167bhp diesel variant, part of the deal with Mercedes-Benz to supply powertrains, with six speed manual and seven speed auto and emissions are competitive, going as low as 114g/km for the manual.
There’s also a 357bhp hybrid version, which is less efficient on paper and probably even less so on the road. Of the total overall volume annually in the UK of 1,500 units, even Infiniti reckons this one will make up only 10-15% of the mix.
The far more relevant diesel starts at just under £28,000 which is about £1,500 less than an entry-level 320d, and it has a decent level of kit as standard, although making satv nav and DAB standard rather than optional might sweeten the deal further.
The cabin has lots of space in the back, and some typically swoopy Japanese plastics make it a pleasant place to be if not the apotheosis of corporate chic, and the touch screen system is excellent: it looks and operates like an iPad, with pin sharp clarity and is simple to use. It’s as good as anything on the market at almost any price, and users can connect to all manner of handy apps and connectivity systems including email and calendars. It really can be tailored to be an office outside the office.
It is also a car smothered in a blanket of safety systems with the grand titles of Intelligent Brake Assist Plus, Lateral Stability Enhancement, Active Trace Control, Back-up Collision Intervention (automatic transmission only), High Beam Assistant, Around View Monitor – now with Moving Object Detection, Intelligent Cruise Control with Full Speed Range, Distance Control Assist, Blind Spot Warning and Blind Spot Intervention, and Forward Collision Avoidance Assist. So you’ll be wrapping your drivers up well from that point of view.
It is also the first car in the world to come with drive-by-wire steering. Standard on higher end models, it is supposed to allow the driver to tailor the steering response as well as cut out the tiring small corrections a driver might make during a journey for the likes of cambers and wind, and also cut off vibration from the road. But in reality it is just plain odd, and allied to the many automatic safety systems seems to have a life of its own, making off little corrections when you really don’t want them. And somewhat strangely, there’s also a redundant conventional steering column being lugged about in the car too, disconnected by a clutch and ready to cut in should everything else go wrong, which legislators have forced. So you don’t even make a weight saving.
It’s a shame really, because the basic car with good old fashioned steering seems quite nicely sorted and this big headline-grabbing technology takes away from what should be a decently priced, nice looking car.
There is one other issue though, and that’s the diesel engine, which is raucous under acceleration. It’s not the most refined thing in a Mercedes-Benz, but is even less so in the Q50. It needs some work, because the poor diesel in the Lexus IS was one of the things that proved the death knell for that car in the corporate market. At least this has the emissions at the right level though, which gives it more of a chance.
The Q50 is a frustrating car because it’s not that far away from being a pretty good thing, and if the diesel was more refined and you didn’t have to have the odd steering you’d say it was almost there. But it’s up against cars such as the A4 and 3 Series which are brilliant performers, and being pretty good is just not good enough.