The Infiniti Q60 has come along at a tricky time for a small car maker such as this to introduce any kind of medium-sized coupé onto the UK car market; the new Audi A5 is box-fresh in showrooms and the Mercedes C-Class Coupé still young enough to feel like a newbie.
Despite being given a strong start in life by what’s an undoubtedly handsome exterior styling, this car at once fails to match its key German rivals in most of the ways that matter; and also to endear itself to its driver enough to represent a tempting alternative to a set of broadly talented but, in some cases, unexciting competitors.
The engine with which Infiniti chooses to power the car we are testing, and what we must imagine Infiniti intends to shift as its bigger-selling of two petrol-powered derivatives, is a 2.0-litre turbocharged and directly injected motor that produces 208bhp and 258lb ft of torque.
For a similar outlay, BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi will sell you a like-for-like four-cylinder petrol coupé with significantly more power and better claimed fuel economy. And while the Q60’s acceleration is advertised at almost seven-and-a-half seconds to 62mph, its rivals do the sprint in around six.
On the upper-level, the V6 Q60 3.0T Infiniti offers four-wheel drive and adaptive ‘digital’ dampers, but on this Q60 it fits passive suspension, rear-wheel-drive only and a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
The one major ‘mechanical’ option you can have is Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering system: its world-first ‘by-wire’ fully electronic steering setup, now in its second generation, which removes the direct connection between steering wheel and steered axle for what its maker claims is smoother and more responsive directional handling. Our test car had it.
The Q60’s cabin will be a comfortable place in which most owners may spend time. Its leather sports front seats are well-shaped and a good size, and there’s space in the back for smaller adults or children, as is roughly the prevailing standard on practicality for cars such as this. Taller drivers will find themselves somewhat short on headroom, though, and the car’s electric steering column missing some telescoping adjustment range, while the front seats themselves feel as if they ought to be set lower for the perfect driving position.
The Q60’s fascia looks and feels quite expensively hewn for the most part, as do many of its fittings – but some of its minor switchgear feels a touch flimsy and cheap. Between a roomy armrest cubby, decent-sized door bins and cupholders and a generous glovebox, cabin storage is ample.
But what really disappoints inside the car is the infotainment system, split as it is between two centrally mounted touchscreens located at the top of the centre stack which don’t really look as though they belong on the same dashboard. They take a while to respond to fingertip inputs and display navigation mapping in quite blocky fashion. The audio system sounds healthy enough, but next to the connectivity-heavy slick graphical splendour of the infotainment setups offered by both Mercedes and Audi, what the Q60 brings to the party is a long way from being good enough.
As for trim levels, there are four to choose from – Premium, Premium Tech, Sport and Sport Tech. Entry-level models get adaptive LED headlights, 19in alloy wheels, a reversing camera, keyless entry, traffic sign recognition and autonomous emergency braking.
Upgrade to Premium Tech and you’ll find the Q60 adorned with sat nav, cruise control, a 360-degree camera, a Bose sound system and blindspot monitoring, while the Sport trim includes direct adaptive steering, electrically adjustable front seats and steering wheel, ambient lighting and magnesium paddle shifters. The Sport Tech model adds all the niceties found on the Premium Tech Q60s.
The car’s 2.0-litre engine sounds a bit gruff at idle and on step-off, but settles to a quiet cruise. It falls short of the tractability you might expect of it on the basis of that 258lb ft claim for peak torque though, needing revs to make the car pick up speed with much urgency – and, even in Sport mode, leaving you exposed to the hesitancy of the seven-speed automatic gearbox.
The ‘box has a manual mode but no shift paddles, and its reluctance often becomes frustrating when a quick burst of speed would help you on your way.
The Q60’s 19in alloy wheels, standard-fit run-flat tyres and firm suspension settings make for a harder ride than most of its rivals, becoming quite coarse over poor surfaces and feeling a bit wooden and over-damped over bigger intrusions. The chassis improves as you work it, though, showing off good body control, plenty of adhesion and well-balanced grip levels as your speed increases.
It would be a recipe you’d enjoy more if not for Infiniti’s ‘DAS’ active steering setup, which should be keenly avoided by interested drivers even in this revised form. Take a corner at matter-of-fact speed on a smooth surface and the system seems pleasant enough. It has reasonable weight and pace, and you’ll notice that it get both quicker and heavier in Sport mode, and lighter and slower in Normal mode.
But in the minutiae of the constant conversation you have with a car’s front wheels in order to keep it where you want it within it in its lane, running true along your intended path, the system is plainly flawed. It feels woolly, muted, muddled and, at times, quite unnatural. The resistance felt through the rim, as the rack’s electric motors try to synthesise real steering feedback, is changeable and strange: more like friction than load.
And what weight and mock ‘feedback’ there is isn’t something that builds your confidence in the car’s stability or grip level, nor does the system seem to deliver a telling improvement on steering response versus a good conventional rack. The driving experience that results reminds you of watching Top Of The Pops in days a long time after Kajagoogoo and Morrissey – when the featured artists were still miming, but desperately trying to convince you they weren’t.
The Q60’s steering may be at its most unnerving on the motorway, where, with the car’s lane keeping system enabled, it can steer itself around a gentle arcing bend and maintain its lane position without any change at all in the position of the steering wheel in your hands, or the torque detectable through it. To this tester, who doesn’t object to most good lane-keeping systems, that lack in intelligibility represents semi-autonomous driving technology at its worst.
The Q60 may be a significantly different prospect with its big-hitting turbo V6 engine and adaptive suspension – or even with Infiniti’s standard-fit hydraulic power steering system fitted and the standard run-flat tyres swapped for quieter ones.
In this specification, however, there’s just not enough to recommend it – even as a leftfield, minority-interest alternative to the Teutonic mainstream.
On performance, refinement, drivability, ride isolation, steering, packaging and infotainment sophistication, the Q60 just doesn’t survive comparison with what your money might otherwise buy – and it’d need to be much better to drive to get the enthusiast vote.