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The new 3-series rival from Infiniti features a competitive diesel engine and makes for an interesting alternative to more established choices
Andrew Frankel Autocar
8 October 2013

What is it?

The Infiniti Q50 is a new rival for the BMW 3-series and point one in a plan that, if it happens the way Infiniti predicts, will see sales increase five fold within the next 5-10 years. Infiniti says the Q50 is an all new car, albeit one that still uses elements of the platform architecture of the outgoing G37. Make of that what you will.

What is beyond doubt is that Infiniti is serious both about this car and its prospects in Europe where you still need an electron microscope to see Infiniti sales (around 6000 units last year) relative to those of any of the vast German establishment figures it intends to tackle. To prove the point, Infiniti has bought diesel engines from Mercedes-Benz complete with their transmissions so it can at last enter the part of the playground where the big boys play.

In addition to the 2.2-litre diesel that is anticipated to take between 80-90 per cent of UK sales, there is also a petrol-powered hybrid using a Nissan 3.5-litre V6 coupled to a seven-speed auto gearbox and boosted by a 67bhp kick from its electric motor. Infiniti reckons to sell 1500 Q50s in the UK in its first year on sale – small beer for sure but still contrasting starkly with the fewer than 600 cars from all ranges sold in the last 12 months.

Infiniti has a long list of potential claims to fame for the Q50, but the most headline grabbing is the provision of the world’s first drive-by-wire steering system to be fitted to a car. Optional to the tune of £800 on the lower and medium grade models but standard on the Sport model, there is no mechanical connection at all between the wheel you hold and those that actually steer the car.

The manufacturer says it has enabled them to eliminate friction and kickback while allowing the driver to configure both the weight and response of the helm. Feel is digitally synthesised and should the system fail, a fully mechanical failsafe will automatically engage.

Prices start at £27,950 for the SE diesel, just undercutting the £28,410 asked for its key rival, the BMW 320d SE and rise past a Premium grade to £32,750 for the Sport. Options on all include navigation and various packages to enhance entertainment, safety, comfort and so on.


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What's it like?

The Infiniti Q50 represents a solid step in the right direction – not a seven league leap – but a welcome, sizeable and significant step. The car is attractive inside and out and while the minor controls are not as intuitive of those of its best German rivals, after only an hour or two’s acclimatisation, the car is easy to instruct and operate.The 2.2-litre engine isn’t that quiet in a C-class but I’d not say it’s any noisier in the Infiniti. The Mercedes-Benz is around 40kg lighter than the Infiniti, which may explain the latter’s slightly inferior performance, fuel consumption and emissions, but if you like the idea of the Infiniti, you’d be making a mistake to allow such small differences break the deal.However the Mercedes auto gearbox that was all that was available for us to try might: it’s smooth enough when you leave it in Drive but if you want to shift yourself you’ll find the pattern is the wrong way around (you have to push forward to change up) and the response times very sluggish. We’d choose the manual and save £1550.Infiniti makes much of the car’s appeal to the driver and to an extent it's right. The suspension is firm enough to provide poise without wrecking the ride, and on the 19in tyres of the Sport version we sampled, grip levels were commendably high. What it lacks is the composure of its best rivals when near its grip limits – it’s a bit too keen to push its nose wide both on braking into the corner and when powering away for it.As for the unique ‘Direct Adaptive Steering’ I was able to drive a car so equipped – and a standard analogue example – up exactly the same stretch of mountain road, one after the other. And while Infiniti later let me do all sorts of tests in artificial environments aimed at proving the drive-by-wire system is better, out there on real roads it wasn’t a patch on the everyday, common-or-garden conventional steering.

Digital feel is no substitute for the real thing and despite Infiniti’s best efforts, I felt curiously removed from the car. The standard set up, by contrast, is quite excellent. True DAS doesn’t wreck the car, and its ability to tailor its ratio, weighing and response according to conditions will have advantages in certain situations – probably mainly in town – but if it helps you to understand where I am with it, I’d pay £800 to have it taken off my Q50.

Should I buy one?

I’ve liked most Infinitis because while none has come close to topping the class, they’ve always had a certain iconoclastic appeal. And for better or worse, the Infiniti Q50 carries on this work.

Commendably, Infiniti has resisted the urge to make a me-too 3-series copy that would always suffer by comparison and created a car with a character of its own and a certain charm, too. The problem is you could have said the same about its G37 predecessor and that did sales no good at all.

What will ensure the Q50 does not suffer the same fate is not the witchcraft in the steering system, but the fully competitive diesel engine under the bonnet. Even so, it has not made the Infiniti a logical or even natural choice for prospects shopping in this class, for that territory still belongs to the Germans.

But if that’s too predictable a route for you, the Q50 has at least now shone a light on a path less well travelled for sure, but still satisfying, attractive and interesting to follow.

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Infiniti Q50 2.2d Sport

Price £34,270; 0-62mph 8.5sec; Top Speed 143mph; Economy 57.7mpg; CO2 128g/km; Kerb weight 1669kg; Engine 2179cc, 4 cyls, turbodiesel; Power 168bhp at 3200rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1600rpm; Gearbox 7-spd automatic

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8 October 2013

Without testing I think I would rather go Mazda 6 if I was avoiding the obvious Germans.

8 October 2013
Autocar wrote:

while none has come close to topping the class, they’ve always had a certain iconoclastic appeal

Didn't Autocar rank the G37 coupe as No.1 in the sports coupe Top 5?

8 October 2013

I would think that one of the main potential benefits of this would be to save weight, but if there is still a mechanical failsafe, what's the point?

8 October 2013

As "Infiniti" is a daft name made up by an ad-agency in the 80's which means nothing at all.

Or maybe it's short for "infinitesimal" as per their sales.

8 October 2013

To my eyes at least and especially the side profile in image 3, this Infiniti is almost a carbon copy of the BMW 3 series

8 October 2013

Of course its 40 kg heavier than the Merc, its got TWO power steering systems !!

8 October 2013

Thing is Mr averageman. This cars styling will have been signed off way before the styling of the latest 3 series went public. If they are similar, it will be coincidence. The side profile is similar but the front and rear are quite different and I favour this car, especially from the front but yes similarities with the Mazda 6 are there but at least it does not look like an Audi!!

The steering thing bothers me. If it does not feel or work any better then what are the benefits?

One massive benefit on the long term will be reliability. A Infiniti powered vehicle will rack up huge mileages with no bother. BMW's and VAG products are woeful in comparison. Stateside these cars rank way above their German counterparts for sheer reliability and durability. Lets hope the Mercedes bits do not drag this Q50 down.

8 October 2013

Apart from looking pig-ugly and having a pointless USP ('drive-by-wire' steering system backed up by a manual system - DOH!), I can't see this selling even its modest 1,500 units a year ...

8 October 2013

... is another case of a theory not working well in practice. Theoretically it should offer all the benefits of fly-by-wire (FBW) technology. FBW is used in commercial aircraft to reduce weight and maintenance costs whilst improving response times - boosting both comfort and safety. After reading this review it seems difficult to make a case for spending the additional £800 on the automotive equivalent. Saab fitted something similar to one of their prototype cars back in the 90's. The fact that system never progressed any further probably speaks volumes.

8 October 2013

The styling is a mix of Lexus IS and BMW 3 Series imo.It has the advantage of a diesel engine over the IS.


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