Don’t knock it until you try it
Infiniti is a so-called "premium brand". A premium brand offers a product with the usual functionality, but of a higher quality. That quality can be in the design or in high-quality materials. With a premium car, advanced technology and above-average handling are added.
But a relatively small brand like Infiniti has to work even harder to stand out as a premium brand. That is why the design is much more extravagant. While German brands invariably opt for clean lines, Nissan's luxury brand opts for round, almost organic shapes. At the same time, the front looks more than self-assured, making it clear that this business car has above-average qualities.
And those qualities include equipment. For instance, in many other premium brands, the price in the price list is just the beginning of negotiations. Next, option packages have to be chosen that together cost as much as a small city car. With Infiniti it is different: the chosen trim level mainly determines the trim, but less so the equipment. The test car is a "Performance+" version and it has only three options: a sunroof, metallic paint and an alarm.
Most of the luxury and safety features that have to be ordered with other premium brands come as standard on the Q50. However, it is noticeable that the Q50 has been on the market for some years now, as things like head-up display and a DAB+ tuner are lacking.
Nor does Infiniti join the latest trend of reducing the number of buttons and levers as much as possible. On the contrary: the dashboard has an impressive number of buttons and even two screens. The upper one is always used for the sat nav system, while the lower one shows menus from the audio system, the smart-phone interface and the many safety systems.
Because if there is one point where the Q50 stands out from the competition, it is with the many systems that support the driver. This is thanks to "Direct Adaptive Steering". As a rule, a rod runs from the steering wheel to the front wheels, possibly equipped with an electric motor to make steering a little easier (power steering). The Infiniti Q50 is the first car where the steering rod has been replaced by a computer (although a steering rod can be reverted to for emergencies).
A key advantage of this set-up is that the computer can provide much better driving assistance. Although Infiniti does not formally present the Q50 as a self-driving car, this sedan can provide more assistance than even the most expensive models from other brands!
For example, other brands give a cautious steering correction when the driver does not stay within the lines of the road surface. The temptation then is to take the hands off the wheel, but an error message appears and deactivates this assistance. But not at Infiniti! Infiniti offers a choice between a restrained and an "interfering" steering aid and the latter can, without protest, steer long distances as long as the bends are not too sharp. A pity though: the Q50 does not stay neatly in the middle of the lane, but "bounces" restlessly between the lines on the road surface.
The Q50 not only steers by itself, but also brakes independently! As soon as the "Safety Shield" is activated, sensors monitor the environment around the car. When the accelerator is released on an empty road, exactly what should be expected happens (the car rolls out). But when the computer detects slower traffic in front of the car, when the accelerator is released, the Q50 decellerates sharply and this Infiniti can come to a stop on its own. This does not involve an "emergency stop" like in other brands, but purely a comfort function (which also works independently of active cruise control).
It obviously takes some guts and/or faith in technology to leave the braking to the car, but soon the thought arises as to why only Infiniti offers this. Surely it makes sense that the driver does not want to hit other cars?
The reason Infiniti has so far been unable to gain much of a foothold in Europe (in America and Russia, Infiniti has been very successful) is its choice of engines. The 3.7-litre petrol engine is the standard engine on all models. The 320 hp this V6 generates is a great treat, but environmentalism and financial pressures are quickly putting an end to that in Europe.
That is why the Q50 is available with a hybrid or a diesel engine. The test car is fitted with the latter. Along with the seven-speed automatic gearbox, the 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel comes from Mercedes-Benz. Infiniti has replaced the twin turbocharger with a single one and fitted it with its own software to achieve uniqueness.
As a result, the 2.2D still delivers fine performance, but not the supremacy usual in this segment. That is not a euphemism for "slow", as from standstill the Q50 sprints to 100 km/h in 8.7 seconds, to go on to 231 km/h. The hefty torque of 400 Nm also ensures plenty of smoothness, making intermediate sprints easy even at high speeds. The difference is that while the Q50 performs well, its rivals perform even better.
In a car with a steering bar, the ratio of turning the steering wheel to turning the wheels is fixed. With electronics, the response can be made direct or indirect, but the ratio cannot vary. The Q50's electronic steering does allow the ratio to vary, which is why the difference between comfortable and sporty mode is greater than in any other car.
The unusual steering also has a drawback. Because there is no physical link between the front wheels and the steering wheel, any kind of feedback in the steering is missing. On uneven road surfaces or ruts, for instance, one can feel how the bodywork reacts, but not what resistance the front wheels experience from it. When the car then also steers itself, it is very uncomfortable. The test driver even experienced a slight nausea, like motion sickness. In short: try this out for yourself!
The engine drives the rear wheels and therefore the balance in the car is also very different from that of a typical sedan. Initially, the Q50 looks familiar, but when driven wantonly, the rear end gladly steps aside. Once again, Infiniti makes a bold choice with this, as it will deter the easygoing driver while making the sporty-minded motorist even more comfortable.
Infiniti is successful in America and Russia, but has been trying for years in vain to gain a foothold in Europe. Because Infiniti is still so small here, Autozine editors and business drivers alike have so far overlooked the Q50. And that's a shame, because this new sedan is a typical case of "don't knock it until you try it".
A test drive reveals that the Q50 lacks a little refinement, but technically it actually goes beyond the established order (without having to dig deep for option packages). In addition, the Q50 stands out with an emphatic sportiness thanks to rear-wheel drive and unique steering.
- Distinctive image
- Advanced technology
- Rich equipment, even without option packages
- Poor (leg) room in the rear
- Quiet, but could be quieter
- Poor sound quality Bose audio system