Infiniti has had a very quiet start to its return to the Australian market, with old models and pricing that was, initially at least, far too high. Infiniti says the Q50 is the real start to Infiniti's success in Australia. It's the first all-new design to reach our shores and it shows, with an aggressive look that bears no relation to its Nissan masters.
The question is, with a new design and a high tech approach, will this be the breakthrough the brand needs?
The three-tier, two engine range kicks off at $51,900, for the 2.2 diesel-only GT, a very handy $8400 cheaper than its most obvious competitor, the BMW 318d. It's also cheaper than the A4 and C Class. The diesel S can be had for $57,900 and the S Premium for $61,900. The S Hybrid is $67,900 and the range tops out at $73,900 for the hybrid AWD-only S Premium.
Explore the 2014 Infiniti Q50 range
The GT base model bursts out of the blocks with an impressive array of standard features, but we've only space for the highlights. Every Q50 has the dual stacked screens of Infiniti InTouch system which handles most of the car's functions. The top screen is for navigation and you can leave the maps on even when you - or your passenger - are fiddling with the other functions.
The standard list features surprises like DAB digital radio, sat-nav, electric driver's seat, leather upholstery. Moving on to the S spec level adds the Direct Adaptive Steering, sport front bumper and Bose stereo, among a few other details. The range-topping S Premium, available with both engines, adds a safety package with backup collision warning, active headlights, blind spot and lane drift warning and active cruise control.
The Q50 is the first car Infiniti in Australia that really looks like an Infiniti. It's all curves and bulges and swoops, with the double arch grille at the front and the crescent theme in the headlights, rear doors and rear lights. Inside is a European-feeling interior. It doesn't seem related to its parent company's cars either, so feels appropriately special, somewhere between a Mercedes and Audi interior.
The Q50 has a five star ANCAP safety rating under the new 2014 guidelines, which mandate higher pedestrian safety. Standard across the range are six airbags, brake assist, brake force distribution, active cruise control, front and rear sensors with rear-facing camera. S Premium adds a suite of safety features including predictive collision forward warning, active lane control, blind spot intervention, forward emergency braking and moving object detection. Pre-collision forward warning monitors two cars ahead and hits the brakes to help prevent an accident. Back-up Collision Intervention avoid large objects and adults walking into your parth.
The diesel 2.2d is from Mercedes-Benz engine 125kW/400Nm, 5.2l/100km, with stop-start. The hybrid 3.5l V6 is good for 268kW and 546Nm while returning 6.8l/100km (RWD) or 7.2l/100km (AWD). The diesel has a conventional 7-speed torque converter automatic with paddle-shifts and downshift rev-matching.
Direct adaptive steering (DAS) is available on all models bar the GT. Electric motors create the steering effort in conjunction with three ECUs. This system is able to filter away a poor road surface away so the driver doesn't have to deal with kickback or ruts. The driver can set the steering up to suit themselves, reducing weight for an easy drive or going the other way and adding weight and feel via the on-screen selection process.
The Q50 is an excellent drive in either diesel or hybrid models. While it's still not quite at the level of the exceptionally well-sorted BMW 3 Series, it is a properly dynamic drive. Rear wheel drive coupled with strong engines means it can be hustled at indecent speeds while never losing its composure.
Freeway and city work is shrugged off, delivering an excellent, quiet ride courtesy of double wishbones up front and an independent multi-link rear end. The Hybrid models have stiffer damping and are even better on the twisty stuff. The S 2WD hybrid sits 10mm lower and for the keen driver, that's the one to pick. It's a very quick car and with all that torque from the electric motor, rockets out of corners. The AWD version is good too, but is slightly slower, heavier and less involving.
Of course, in traffic, the hybrid can creep around in electric mode in virtual silence. The Direct Active Steering does take some getting used to. In Sport mode, the Q50 feels extremely darty as the rack speed is increased dramatically - it feels akin to a Focus ST, with just small movements required to turn the car into corners. It can feel a little artificial at times, as though the front wheels are second-guessing you but there's enough feel to let you know what's happening.
If the Q50 is the sign of things to come, the future for the Infinti brand as a performance luxury brand is promising. Both the diesel and hybrid are fast and frugal, the pricing is sharp (the GT can be had for $55,900 driveaway until April) and it's great fun to drive. It ticks many, many more boxes than some of the other Infinitis we've driven and has all the toys this part of the market demands. The launch drive left us smiling and nodding. Bold styling, good pricing and a good model line-up means the company has everything in place. Now all it needs is buyers.