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Infiniti Q50 S Hybrid review | first drive

EXPERT RATING
8
In the world of slow-starters, Infiniti has been the standard bearer.

In the world of slow-starters, Infiniti has been the standard bearer. Only 207 have found Australian homes so far this year, well above the 132 they sold over a short period in its Aussie infancy back in the early 1990s, when it was massively over-priced and unknown.

But that is destined to change with bold expansion plans to bolster drivetrains and model offerings. Allen Lu - managing director for Infiniti Asia/Oceania - talks of the German opposition being too clinical and cold, with plans to seduce younger buyers, as well as those with a younger mindset, by way of a passionate and performance-driven sales pitch as well as plenty of technology.

With that persuasive pattern in mind, a brief drive of the Q50 S Hybrid in California promised plenty, and by and large the clever petrol-electric hybrid has won some favour.

VALUE

Pricing is well short of being set in stone - it's not here until the end of January next year - but the expectation of an entry-level four-cylinder turbodiesel (with three-point star origins) starting under $60,000 is no fantasy.

The hybrid V6 flagship is going to ask more - if you can save enough to fork out $80,000 you'll get some options too - and talk of a four-cylinder petrol turbo also boasting German heritage is a chance for an appearance later next year.

But on the features list for that pricetag is a 14-speaker Bose sound system, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable and heated front seats, leather trim, satnav on one of two touchscreens, 17in or 19in alloy wheels (depending on the final spec), a sunroof.

TECHNOLOGY

We're not getting the 3.7-litre alloy V6 that leads the Q50's charge in the US - the Australian flagship will be powered by the 225kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric hybrid, which uses two dual-clutch set-ups to link the conventional (minus torque-converter) paddleshift-equipped seven-speed auto, the petrol V6 and the electric side of the equation.

Backed by a lithium-ion battery, the electric motor cranks out 50kW and 270Nm - Infiniti says that equates to a 260kW kick, backed by a long stream of torque. If that's not clever enough, there's steer-by-wire - a world-first in production vehicle design, says the company, backed by more than a decade of research - that controls the front wheels more rapidly and also works with the active lane control system.

DESIGN

Infiniti is spruiking the sedan as a car to seduce new buyers and there's plenty of emotive language used about its - "sensuous dynamic styling" and the like - with aerodynamic curves, muscular elements to the haunches and LED lighting front and rear.

The stylish look continues inside, with two touch-screens in the centre-stack, "electroluminescent" instruments that were easy to see, a cabin that's covered in trim bits of wood and leather. The only drawback with the 154kg-heavier hybrid over the petrol-only V6 is luggage space, which is listed (depending on which specs you read) at 510 litres for the V6 and 400 litres for the hybrid.

SAFETY

There's not much missing from the Q50's safety features list, with the S model getting an upgrade in disc size and calipers, while the hybrid stoppers also feature brake energy recovery - it would be a surprise if it didn't rank highly in any crash test results.

Also on offer is automatic high-beam, radar cruise control, the 360-degree "round-view" camera system, automatic braking and collision alert, blind spot and an active lane departure systems. The active lane system uses cameras that not only watch for an unintended change in direction, but also makes adjustments for road surface and crosswinds in tandem with the steer by wire system.

DRIVING

If you are looking for a reason to get in on the ground floor of something other than a typical German - but with a bit of character - then this might be worth a look when it gets here next year. The Q50 hybrid looks bigger than it is, blending some styling elements that are reminiscent of Lexus and Mazda, but its a handsome mix. Within the confines of the four-door sedan, it's a quality feel to the cabin that is whisper-quiet, if not cavernous for rear legroom.

Technology levels are high but not at the expense of an enthusiastic driveline - the rear-wheel drive V6 is smooth and transitions between petrol and electric propulsion are without intrusion or interruption. The electric-only function doesn't surrender to internal combustion too soon either, offering whisper-quiet lower-speed drive, as well switching quickly to electric mode and petrol shutdown when coasting.

It also makes some of the right noises when under load, with almost lusty tones coming from the V6 when it's delivering serious forward progress, but the real surprise was a decent chassis set-up - the steering is not just electric-assisted, but steer-by-wire with a mechanical column as back-up. But the weighting was good, as was the chassis balance between ride and handling - although an absolute verdict on that would require a drive on the lacklustre local roads, but rear-drive dynamics feel as though there's potential for adeptness.

Rear space (particularly leg room) and cargo area aren't going to set new class benchmarks but four average sized occupants will be accommodated comfortably, as long as they don't pack the kitchen sink. The complaints are limited to the on-going gripe - that's not exclusive to Infiniti - can we please get rid of the foot-operated park-brake? An electric option must be close to making these archaic devices extinct. It's in the way and rarely do they operate for long at peak efficiency before requiring adjustment.

VERDICT

While it remains to be seen what residual values do, the Q50 itself is a strong ambassador for the Infiniti brand - refined, quiet, balanced and punchy. But it's not any hope of making inroads into the established German and Japanese competition without a serious long-term commitment - a decent dealer network and a brand awareness campaign for starters - from its overseers.

Infiniti Q50 S Hybrid
Price: from $80,000
Warranty: 4 years/100,000km
Capped servicing: no
Resale: 42% (previous model)
Service interval: N/A
Safety: Not tested
Engine: 225kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6 petrol, 50kW/290Nm electric motor.
Transmission: 7-speed auto; RWD
Thirst: claimed 6.2 l/100km, on test 11/l100km, tank 67 litres; 145g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.8m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.4m (h)
Weight: 1775kg
Spare: space saver/temporary/puncture kit/full-size

Pricing Guides

$26,290
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$18,700
Highest Price
$33,880

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.0t GT 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $18,700 – 23,650 2014 Infiniti Q50 2014 2.0t GT Pricing and Specs
2.0t S 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $20,460 – 25,850 2014 Infiniti Q50 2014 2.0t S Pricing and Specs
2.0T S Premium 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $22,660 – 27,940 2014 Infiniti Q50 2014 2.0T S Premium Pricing and Specs
2.2d GT 2.1L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $19,030 – 24,090 2014 Infiniti Q50 2014 2.2d GT Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Stuart Martin
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$23,430

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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