The powertrain’s evidently been developed since it appeared in the larger M35h, and now offers a generally convincing blend of pace, drivability, economy and performance.
Quiet and smooth on step-off and when the combustion engine starts, the Q50 moves along in urban congestion consummately. The electrified part of the powertrain allows the V6 to shut down for frequent and fairly lengthy periods, and you can coax better than 40mpg out of the trip computer without trouble.
Head out of town and that economy will sink to average 32mpg – low enough to make the car’s true colours as a niche-market indulgence more plain. But you’ll also find there’s a generous slice of dynamism here.
The Q50S feels fast, obedient when you shift gears in the transmission’s manual mode, and handles well - with plenty of grip and aplomb. The chassis is skillfully balanced for cornering - and carefully tuned for tight body control and purposeful damping, partnered with enough compliance to make the compromise entirely liveable.
This is no BMW 335i, but it might shade an Audi S4 on poise, verve and involvement; that V6 engine’s still a charmer when it revs. At times you’ll wish the active safety systems were less intrusive, the powertrain a natch more seamless in its power delivery when you first feed in some power, and the brake pedal feel more consistent. Those failings aren’t unforgivable, however.
The Q50’s big technological breakthrough – it’s steer-by-wire steering system – turns out to be something of a damp squib. Standard on the Q50 S Hybrid and the 2.2d in Sport trim and optional lower down in the range, the system has several selectable settings for directness and steering weight, and allows you single-seater-level heft and response if you want it.
You won’t want it. The rack is at its most fluent and intuitive in its lightest and slowest modes; making it faster or heavier only made the Q50 more demanding and less agreeable to drive for this tester.
The system has reasonable on-centre feel – more consistent if you disable the lane keeping assist – but there’s no increase in weight as you lean harder on an outside front wheel, or telltale lightness as that wheel runs short on grip.
There’s no real steering feedback at all – there can’t be – but there’s no decent digital substitute for it, either. The car’s immune from being knocked off course because of bump-steer or camber change, but that seems scant consolation, particularly when earlier test experience suggests the standard power steering setup is a good one.