Road Test: Infiniti Q50 2.2d Premium Auto
Sector: Compact Executive Price: £31,900 Fuel: 58.9mpg CO2: 124g/km
The Q50 is to be a turning point for Infiniti in Europe. Aiming for a small share of the compact executive class, this will be the model which will help the Japanese premium brand double its UK sales volume and lay out the foundations for the lower-medium Q30 launching next year.
That’s a tough segment to crack. Volvo and Lexus have struggled in the past, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo are readying new models, and Infiniti is a relative unknown at present. Sales last year were in the hundreds, and residual values have been tricky with an engine range tailored more to Asian and North American tastes than European ones.
But the groundwork is underway, the dealer network is expanding its coverage and senior-level appointments are frequent as the carmaker sets out its stall. Infiniti also isn’t looking to knock the dominant players off the top of the sales charts, which should keep the Q50 a refreshing, avant-garde choice. It’s a sensible approach which should pay dividends later on.
It also helps that the Q50 is a real head-turner. This is a really well-proportioned saloon, with swooping bodylines and its own sense of style which markedly non-German. The longest wheelbase in its class means ample rear leg room, and most cabin materials are of a high quality. There are a few hard plastic parts dotted around, but it’s clear that the Q50 was benchmarked against European rivals, rather than Japanese ones.
But perhaps the most noticeable difference inside is the infotainment system. The Q50 groups most functions into a tablet-style high-definition touchscreen in front of the gear lever, with the option to download additional apps, and only basic controls are assigned to the rotary commander on the centre console. This had the potential to be a real headache but InTouch is attractive to look at, intuitive to use, and the real-time traffic information is very accurate.
The Q50 is available as a hybrid but, unlike Lexus’s latest models, it’s not a car targeting much of a fleet presence with its 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. Instead, Infiniti has borrowed a 170bhp 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel from Mercedes-Benz, which comes pretty close to the segment’s benchmarks on fuel economy and CO2 emissions and will be the likely favourite for company car drivers.
Sadly it’s not the car’s best point. The engine has the sort of coarse rumble which disappeared from most compact executive cars a couple of generations ago, vibrates through the cabin at idle and only really settles down at motorway speeds. Power delivery is muscular and fuel economy typically rests in the low 50s to the gallon, but the lack of refinement is surprising in a car which otherwise feels very slick and polished.
The rest shapes up nicely though. Ride quality is firm, but no moreso than any other compact executive car on large wheels, and the steering is responsive if a little lacking in feedback compared to rivals. Do the sums on the seven-speed automatic gearbox, though, as the six-speed manual is much closer to segment benchmarks on running costs and costs £1,550 less.
It’s also worth noting that Infiniti’s drive-by-wire steering setup isn’t standard on SE or Premium trim levels. This removes the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and front wheels, reducing vibration and automatically correcting motorway weaving and high crosswinds, but it also polarises opinions and is worth trying on the road before ticking the option box.
As a first shot at the UK compact executive segment, though, the Q50 isn’t miles wide of the rest and stands to be a good spearhead for the brand’s growth plans. Try it, you might be surprised.
Comfortable, well finished and good to drive, it’s only a shame that the Q50 suffers from below par refinement. However, a sensible attitude to volumes should help residuals continue to rise, and keep this an exclusive choice in a sector dominated by three ever-popular cars.