With the launch of the new Infiniti Q50, the company hopes to steer a new course – quite literally.
The 2014 saloon is the first all-new model to adopt Infiniti’s ‘Q’ badge, which will be used on all passenger cars going forward, with ‘QX’ reserved for its SUVs. Were the Q50 nothing more than a new name for the same old rose, however, it might be worth little beyond a cursory inspection. But the Q50 is far more significant, and set to rival the likes of BMW's 3-series and the Mercedes-Benz C-class.
For one thing, it introduces a raft of new technologies, most notably Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering, the first steer-by-wire system. That’s part of parent Nissan’s ‘step above’ strategy, promising a level of refinement and features a notch above what one would expect in the premium segment. And that, Infiniti hopes, will help it to finally shift from an essentially US-based, second-tier luxury brand into a truly serious global competitor.
That is, of course, a lot to expect from one vehicle, but the Q50 is clearly more than just a replacement for the old G saloon. It’s a wee bit longer, a full two inches wider and half-an-inch longer, plus the new car has a lower stance and a notably more dramatic and sporty presence, with a more distinctive grille, full LED lighting, a more curvaceous silhouette and the now-trademark reverse crescent curve to the C-pillar — first seen on the Infiniti JX full-size SUV (now called the QX60).
Nomenclature aside, the Q50 features a richly appointed cabin anchored by twin LED displays at the top of the centre stack. The first serves traditional duties, such as navigation. The lower touchscreen operates various vehicle functions, including the promised upgrade of the Infiniti InTouch infotainment system. To our great relief, the maker has sidestepped the trap that sinks many competitors, providing not only steering wheel and voice controls but also real switches and knobs for climate control and audio functions.
The list of high-tech features is a long one and includes both familiar and new safety systems such as Nissan’s Around View Monitor, as well as Active Lane Control. The latter relies on a camera that scans the road looking for lane markers. It’s a step closer to true autonomous driving and is largely the result of the optional new Direct Adaptive Steering technology.
The steer-by-wire system eliminates the normal mechanical link between driver and front wheels – although there is a redundant, clutch-operated mechanical back-up in case of a power failure. Having driven a rough prototype a year ago, we were pleased with the production version’s overall feel, which actually seemed a bit more natural than some of the electrically assisted mechanical steering systems we’ve driven of late – although performance-minded drivers might remain wary.
The Q50 is set to come with a choice of two powertrains in Europe: a 168bhp and 295lb ft 2.1-litre turbodiesel and a 359bhp and 402lb ft hybrid that pairs a 3.5-litre petrol V6 with a 50kW electric motor using a small lithium ion battery for storing regenerated energy. The diesel promises fuel economy of up to 64.2mpg (combined) and 114g/km of CO2, while the hybrid comes in at 45.6mpg and 144g/km. Most models are rear-wheel-drive only, but the Hybrid can also be had in all-wheel-drive form.
The diesel wasn’t available on our US test drive, but we did get to try the Q50S Hybrid and the 323bhp 3.7-litre petrol V6, a model that won’t be coming to Europe. Both the petrol engines are pleasantly quick, although Infiniti emphasises performance as much as fuel economy, with the Q50 Hybrid launching from 0-62mph in a claimed 5.1sec.
Prices will start from £27,950 for the 2.2d in SE trim when the Q50 goes on sale in the UK this autumn. All in all, it’s a worthy successor to the old Infiniti G. It’s attractive, well equipped and nicely appointed. It’s quick and most drivers will probably check the ‘fun to drive’ box.
Traditionalists may be wary of the Adaptive Steering system and the dwindling list of true performance aficionados will most likely lament the lack of a manual gearbox. But, on the whole, it’s a big step above the old G and, in many ways, other compact premium competitors. It’s got a good chance of being noticed by those who never considered an Infiniti before.
And for those waiting for the successors to the G37 coupe and convertible, hang tight. They’ll eventually reappear under the Q60 nameplate.