In­finiti wis­dom

Here’s a sure sign that Nis­san’s luxo brand is fi­nally get­ting fair dinkum

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@cars­guide.com.au

IT’S a leap of faith to buy an In­finiti in Aus­tralia. There are only three deal­ers na­tion­ally (Ade­laide and Perth out­lets are in the pipe­line) and the pres­tige brand can’t com­pete on im­age, be­cause it has yet to sell enough ve­hi­cles to es­tab­lish one.

Its re­sponse, at least with the Q50 sedan, is to load the car with ev­ery con­ceiv­able con­ve­nience its com­peti­tors re­serve for the op­tions list and to adopt the lat­est soft­ware it can code into car.

Technophiles and those who grew up on GranTurismo will take to this car like kids to candy. Oth­ers may find it a vir­tual re­al­ity they’re not yet ready to ex­pe­ri­ence.

VALUE

This is where In­finiti plans to en­tice buy­ers out of Lexus and Audi. A 2.1-litre turbo diesel bought in from Mercedes starts at $51,900 for the base GT spec, rises to $57,900 in S trim and tops out at $61,900 for the S Pre­mium.

Stan­dard gear in the GT in­cludes a pair of LCD touch­screens — the top one for the stan­dard sat­nav and the one be­low for in­fo­tain­ment — Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, eight­way pow­ered and heated front seats, floor mats, dual-zone air­con and LED lights.

The 3.5-litre petrol-elec­tric hy­brid is the per­for­mance vari­ant. S trim mod­els are rear­wheel-drive; the range-top­ping S Pre­mium is on-de­mand all-paw grip. Prices are $67,900 and $73,900 re­spec­tively.

A 2.0-litre four-cylin­der turbo petrol en­gine will be added to the Q50 line-up late this year and, based on the seg­ment, should ac­count for about half of all sales.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Un­less buy­ers opt for the base GT, they’ll be com­ing to grips with com­put­erised steer­ing.

Some will love the di­rect­ness and lack of kick through the wheel over cor­ru­ga­tions that are the ben­e­fits of no phys­i­cal link to the front wheels (a backup me­chan­i­cal sys­tem is fit­ted but ren­dered in­op­er­a­tive by a clutch). Some won’t ap­pre­ci­ate the lack of tac­til­ity they’re ac­cus­tomed to when driv­ing.

Steer­ing weight and wheel re­spon­sive­ness can be ad­justed us­ing a tog­gle switch be­tween the seats. Ac­tive Trace Con­trol “senses driv­ing based on the driver’s steer­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion/brak­ing pat­terns, and con­trols brake pres­sure at in­di­vid­ual wheels to help smooth ve­hi­cle re­sponse”. We pre­ferred to ap­pre­ci­ate it when switched off.

Other tech in­cludes pre­dic­tive col­li­sion avoid­ance with ac­tive brak­ing, sen­sors that can ap­ply the brakes if a car is ap­proach­ing as the Q50 re­verses from a carpark, ac­tive lane­keep­ing soft­ware and adap­tive cruise con­trol.

A seven-speed auto is stan­dard on both the 2.1-litre turbo diesel and 3.5-litre petrol­elec­tric hy­brid.

DE­SIGN

To say the Q50’s an im­prove­ment on the G37 is like say­ing $100 is bet­ter than $50: it’s self-ev­i­dent. The sedan has far more co­he­sive looks that con­vey a mus­cu­lar, flow­ing look without be­ing de­riv­a­tive or rad­i­cal.

The cres­cent shaped roof pil­lar is a sig­na­ture de­sign cue and is prac­ti­cal as well in terms of giv­ing ex­tra vis­i­bil­ity for rear pas­sen­gers. Not that too many will want to sit there for too long. It matches its com­pe­ti­tion for rear legroom but no car in this class has a limo-like rear.

Qual­ity is up, too, and — im­por­tantly — the In­finiti’s styling looks be­spoke rather than merely up-mar­ket Nis­san.

SAFETY

Take away the ad­vanced soft­ware de­signed to mit­i­gate or avoid a col­li­sion and the Q50 is still a well-built car. ANCAP gave it a five-star rat­ing with a score of 35.76/37.

The only points it lost were due to pres­sure on the front oc­cu­pants’ chests in the frontal crash test and even then ANCAP deemed the re­sults to be ac­cept­able. An ac­tive bon­net helped it earn an ac­cept­able pedes­trian pro­tec­tion rat­ing; no small feat given the strin­gent testing for 2014 ve­hi­cles.

DRIV­ING

Let’s cut to the chase: the com­puter-con­trolled steer­ing re­quires the driver to adapt. The jerks and shakes that are cus­tom­ar­ily part of trav­el­ling over back roads at speed are gone from the wheel, so the driver needs to fo­cus more on chas­sis feed­back through the seat to get a feel for the ter­rain he’s travers­ing.

The up­side is an im­me­di­ately re­spon­sive steer­ing wheel backed by de­cent dy­nam­ics and a sta­bil­ity sys­tem that gives the driver scope to play. On the limit, the steer­ing light­ens per­cep­ti­bly rather than starts to jud­der to in­di­cate the driver is near the grip/tal­ent thresh­old.

Keep the trace con­trol switched off. The steer­ing it­self is great but the cor­ner-com­pen­sat­ing soft­ware feels too ar­ti­fi­cial and ad­justs the wheels (via brakes) without giv­ing any steer­ing feed­back. I don’t mind the line be­ing tight­ened but I ex­pect some re­ac­tion from the tiller.

En­gine noise sup­pres­sion is good in the hy­brid and diesel alike . There’s some hiss from the mir­rors at speed and the wide run-flat rub­ber will moan faintly on coarse-chip bi­tu­men. Nei­ther in­trudes griev­ously.

The diesel has a less sporty sus­pen­sion setup than its per­for­mance coun­ter­part. Un­for­tu­nately cus­tomers can’t opt for the softer set­ting on the hy­brid — as the sports-ori­ented model, it is tuned for the stiffer dampers.

A 0-100km/h time of 5.1 sec­onds for the rear-drive ver­sion high­lights this sports fo­cus, yet the hy­brid’s claimed fuel use is just 6.8L/100km (ex­pect 9L-odd in the real world). In­finiti claims it com­bines V8-style ac­cel­er­a­tion with four-cylin­der econ­omy.

The dual screens are a stand­out and means the sat­nav dis­play is vis­i­ble even when chang­ing sta­tions.

Air­con con­trols flank the bot­tom screen and there are but­tons for the au­dio un­der­neath for those who pre­fer man­ual op­er­a­tion.

VER­DICT

This is a clear step up for In­finiti and gives it a gen­uine con­tender in the class.

Buy­ers who dare to try some­thing new will ap­pre­ci­ate the high level of stan­dard gear, es­pe­cially once they com­pare the cost of the same fea­tures in ri­val ve­hi­cles.

We may up­grade our rat­ing af­ter a com­pre­hen­sive road test.

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