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