Infiniti: Keeping up with the Germans

By Grant Edwards

Australian motoring writer Grant Edwards trials the Infiniti luxury Japanese car

The Infiniti Q50 has been names as contender for the World Car of the year 2014. It has just gone on sale in Australia.
The Infiniti Q50 has been names as contender for the World Car of the year 2014. It has just gone on sale in Australia.

Keeping up appearances plays a major role in the premium segment. And just like Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced bouquet) from the English sitcom, looking the part for luxury car buyers is pivotal.

Therein lies the challenge for new premium brand Infiniti and the new Infiniti Q50.

The luxury offshoot of Nissan has been around for nearly 18 months in Australia (with no plans so far to be sold by Nissan NZ) and has sold about 400 cars.

Getting a foothold against the likes of Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW is tough work, especially among the image-conscious.

Yet spend some time in the new Infiniti Q50 and there is no doubting it's a true player in this lucrative compact sedan segment.

It's available with a diesel and a hybrid drivetrain (a turbo petrol is also in the pipeline), starting with a promotional drive-away price of US$55,900 ($67,180) between February and April.

It's Lexus-quiet on the road, which is what we've come to expect from Japanese luxury.

Fit and finish befits the premium branding, with soft-touch materials and leather spread throughout the cabin. It's certainly on a par with the Germans, if not better.

Plastics are restricted to the areas which don't matter, like at the door bases and the glovebox (which, incidentally, is velvet lined).

The dash is dominated by two large touch screens embedded in a double wave effect. Sitting on top is the sat nav, while on the bottom screen are the apps and key information that control the climate, stereo, trip and performance meters.

From March, buyers will be able to hook up software such as Google and Facebook (see story opposite) to make their cars mobile communication devices.

Double-stitched leather seats offer supportive all round comfort. Those in the back have reasonable space, with enough glass courtesy of the crescent-cut C-pillars and small head rests on the front pews to avoid claustrophobic feelings.

Infiniti has delivered a fun and dynamic sedan. Cornering flat and feeling composed with both powerplants under its skin, the Q50 is more than adept when cruising and when challenged in the bends.

The Infiniti Q50 has gone on sale in the UK and is on sale in Australia.
The Infiniti Q50 has gone on sale in the UK and is on sale in Australia.

The hybrid drivetrain is the most powerful of the pairing with a rapid acceleration (just above five seconds for 0-100km/h), and when partnered with Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) it can hammer into a corner with athletic acumen.

Drivers can choose between various modes such as standard, economy and sport, the latter making hefty changes to the steering feel. At slow speeds, DAS sport mode is heavy and almost feels like there is no power steering at all, but for those who like to drive they'll relish its ability when things get twisty. That's when the Q50 feels ultra-sticky.

As the DAS uses electronic input rather than mechanical, the steering is extremely quick.

With the electronic system you don't get the same feedback through the wheel when pushing hard, but we really liked the way it generated a feeling of great stability.

Top-spec models also have some cool safety gear, including a back-up collision warning for when you are reversing from a carpark and have limited vision.

It has radar vision of about 15m either side of the vehicle that can warn or stop the Q50 if a person, car or object is detected.

And then there is the forward collision function, which actually measures two car lengths in front. It provides audible warnings and can also bring the car to a halt if there is a frontal crash imminent.

The interior of the luxury Nissan brand's Infiniti Q50.
The interior of the luxury Nissan brand's Infiniti Q50.

GT standard kit includes alloys, Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio streaming, sat nav, electric adjustable front seats, dual zone climate-controlled air con, automatic wipers and lights, leather trim and keyless entry with push-button start (and it can remember individual settings for up to four drivers).

In the S variants, buyers gain a base-pumping 14 speaker Bose stereo, additional electric driver seat adjustment, bigger alloys, DAS with lane control, sports-tuned suspension (hybrid models) and sunroof.

Step up to the S Premium and you get a cool suite of safety gear such as radar cruise control, lane departure and blind spot warning, rear collision warning, around-view monitor, predictive forward collision warning and emergency braking.

Servicing is capped and the pricing is reasonable, although the petrol requires dealership visits every six months.

Fuel consumption should be pretty frugal on both variants, although the hybrid and diesels we tested this week each returned about nine litres for every 100km with a combination of tough city and rural driving.

There is a pair of cup holders in the centre console and a spot in each door pocket for a bottle.

Three adults can fit across the back seat, although the transmission tunnel means centre leg room is impeded.

Hybrid models have reduced boot space due to the battery, and the seats don't fold 60-40 like they do in the diesel derivatives.

Whatever the model, the Q50 is a striking sedan, and looks especially impressive with the largest 19-inch alloys.

It's unmistakable with its headlight "eyes", with LED lighting running light eyebrows.

For now, Australian Infiniti buyers are taking a leap of faith. Depreciation remains an unknown and the brand is yet to gain widespread recognition.

The Q50 is a worthy entrant into the luxury realm. Plush cabin surrounds, a quiet ride and two dynamically capable powerplants ensure buyers won't be disappointed post-purchase.

Infiniti has also thrown a lot of kit at the sedan, and those searching for value will be hard pressed to find better in this genre.

Now it's just a matter of convincing those keeping up with the Joneses.

- NZ Herald

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