Is this less individualist Infiniti saloon more of a threat to German rivals?

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The thing about alternative choices is that they’re only worth having if they don’t stray too far into left field; if they’re viable, basically.

A cosmonaut’s wristwatch with laser beams instead of hands and a casing made of recycled ex-Soviet missile parts might seem fascinating, but if it costs twice as much as the average automatic watch, needs six hours of direct sunlight a day to keep it working and isn’t actually very easy to read, the novelty value won’t last long.

Infiniti’s first model was the 1989 Q45 saloon – a car only an inch longer in the wheelbase than the new Q50

It’s a truth that Japanese luxury car maker Infiniti knows only too well. The brand is more than 25 years old, but it has only had an official presence in Europe since 2008.

That Infiniti has yet to make more than the faintest impression here has much to do with its negligible brand awareness with the general public, a very small dealer network and a lack of the right kind of engines for the European market.

The little-known, equipment-rich, pricey, petrol V6-only Infiniti G37 saloon was the cosmonaut’s wristwatch of the compact executive saloon market in the past. Its replacement, however, looks much more sensible – and yet still like something fresh and different.

Thanks to Daimler AG, the Infiniti Q50 has a four-cylinder 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine on offer, making it a realistic proposition for company car drivers. This car is competitive, its maker claims, in all the ways the G37 wasn’t.

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Infiniti also offers a hybrid version, which couples a 3.5-litre petrol V6 petrol to an electric motor and a seven-speed automatic transmission. This version of the Q50's available with four-wheel drive too, which might tempt those looking for year-round dependability. There is also a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre unit and a 3.0-litre V6 making up the petrol line-up

Does this mean that the Infiniti Q50 belongs on your driveway, or on your employer’s fleet scheme, even? Let’s find out.

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Infiniti Q50 rear

The Q50 is based on a widely enhanced version of Nissan’s ‘FM’ platform. It’s built predominantly out of high-strength steel, with aluminium parts adding lightness. It permits a longways engine, front-mounted transmission and rear-wheel drive, and features double wishbones at the front and multi-link suspension at the rear.

The Infiniti’s curvy styling is likely to be a decisive factor for those who take the plunge. It makes the Q50 stand out among its straight-edged German business saloon rivals rather effectively and was widely approved of by our test team. If the primary job of that styling is to win admiring glances from those who simply haven’t considered an Infiniti at all, the designers can celebrate a victory.

The fuel flap and boot both close with a tinny twang, like a decade-old Primera. This stuff matters

But the Q50 must be about substance as well as style if it’s going to make a difference in sales terms. And making the biggest difference on that front is a 2.1-litre, four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel engine derived from the one found in a Mercedes-Benz C 220 d but modified in key areas.

The changes made to it by Infiniti’s engineers were, it says, intended “to ensure engine response is in line with Infiniti’s emphasis on performance”.

With that aim, it fitted a new induction system, intercooler, low-pressure fuel system, exhaust after-treatment system, oil pan, engine mounts and ECU. That leaves the engine block itself, the variable-geometry turbocharger, the majority of the exhaust and the common-rail injection systems, which are all identical to the ones fitted to the Mercedes.

Its vital statistics are broadly competitive (168bhp, 295lb ft, up to 64.2mpg and CO2 from 114g/km) but they don’t give the Q50 diesel any obvious advantages or outstanding selling points under the bonnet. And this is a car in need of as many of those as it can get.

The Q50’s transmissions are Daimler-derived, too, the German company being one of the few car makers that develops its own gearboxes. As a result, you can choose between a six-speed manual and a seven-speed automatic. The manual entry-level model is the most tax-friendly, emitting 114g/km of CO2.

The diesel version we weighed clocked 1780kg on our scales, which is more than an Audi A4 2.0 TDI and a BMW 320d. So much, perhaps, for athleticism.

If you want a more refined and powerful option, then you could consider the hybrid. It utilises a 302bhp 3.5-litre petrol V6 that works in conjunction with a 67bhp electric motor. Output from the pair is sent through a seven-speed automatic transmission to the rear or, optionally, all four wheels.

Q50s with the hybrid system can operate in pure electric mode, which helps them deliver a claimed combined average of 45.6mpg along with 144g/km of CO2 emissions. If these don't tickle your fancy, there are two petrols to choose from - a turbocharged 2.0-litre unit and a 3.0-litre V6 producing 208bhp and 399bhp respectively.

Infiniti’s four-wheel-steer technology doesn’t appear on either model. The car’s big technological weapon is an all-electronic steer-by-wire system that’s standard on Sport models and the range-topping petrol-electric hybrid, and available as an option elsewhere.

Regular readers will know that we’ve been critical of the system’s lack of consistency and user-friendliness after more than one test acquaintance.



Infiniti Q50 interior

Trim levels include SE, Premium, Premium Tech, Sport and Sport Tech. Hybrid models are the range-topping variants and are offered in equipment-rich specification only. Opt for the entry-level Q50 in SE trim and you'll find a reversing camera, 17in alloy wheels, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and dual touchscreens as standard.

Upgrade to Premium and you get leather upholstery, heated front seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and engine start-stop function, while the Premium Tech models throws in Infinti's Safety Shield systems, a Bose stereo, a 360-degree camera system and Infiniti's InTouch infotainment system complete with sat nav.

Wheel and pedal alignment are good, and there's plenty of reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel

The Sport trim includes 19in alloy wheels, adaptive steering, sports seats, magnesium paddle shifters, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and a sporty bodykit, while the Sport Tech trim adds all the technological niceties found on the Premium Tech models.

If there’s one avenue of European excellence that Japanese manufacturers have failed to emulate over the years, it’s the high-class ambience of a premium saloon. On one hand, the Q50 is a case in point.

For all the functionality dispensed by dual LCD screens, the dashboard is a chunky, charmless affair, littered with too many buttons and precious little flair. On the other, it feels very well made, highly legible and, with swipeable, pinchable touchscreens, a technological step ahead of its Teutonic peers.

Everything else – switchgear, vents and so on – has been swept aside for the seven-inch and eight-inch displays in the centre stack, which can only be incorporated by piling them on top of one another. By default, the uppermost screen deals mostly with the sat-nav display and parking cameras, while the lower one tends to control other functions, including the Infiniti Drive Mode Selector.

However, if space shuttle levels of infotainment weren’t sufficient to make your brain spin, Infiniti has built in a similar degree of control redundancy. Aside from the map, most features can be accessed from both displays and controlled via voice, button and fingertip input.

Elsewhere, the Q50 is much easier to understand. The instrument cluster could hardly be clearer, and it’s not hard to get a comfortable driving position. Visibility is also good, and although the refinement is somewhat affected by engine drone, 66dB on the motorway (in the diesel variant) is acceptable.

In the back, passengers are treated to rather comfortable seats, although the legroom ahead of them isn’t overly generous. The middle perch, blighted by a high and intrusive transmission tunnel, is strictly reserved for the discomfort due an arch enemy.

Infiniti claims a boot capacity of 500 litres, but with a floor that slopes up to make room for the car battery beneath and a lid reluctant to offer any hydraulic assistance whatsoever, it hardly seems 20 litres more convenient than that of a 3 Series.

The Q50 comes also with Bluetooth and it connects to a smartphone without fuss. From there on, things get a bit fiddly. Your mobile can be accessed in multiple ways, which you’ll find either incredibly convenient or unnecessarily complicated.

As standard, the Q50 has a six-speaker stereo, providing USB and Bluetooth streaming connectivity. However, the likely popular Multimedia pack features a much beefier Bose system complete with eight extra speakers and a DAB tuner.

Somewhat surprisingly, Infiniti’s navigation system isn’t included on any trim level. Instead, it must be added separately or as part of the aforementioned Multimedia pack.

When it is on board, it’s usable enough and benefits from the large native display – although it could use an upgrade in processing speed if the pinch zoom is to be used more consistently.


Infiniti Q50 side profile

Buyers can opt for one of four powerplants in the Infiniti Q50; the bulk of sales will no doubt be attributed to a Mercedes-derived 2.1-litre turbodiesel. There's also a 3.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid for those seeking a more serene experience backed up by some serious punch, while the petrol range is punctuated by 2.0- and 3.0-litre units.

Infiniti’s first four-cylinder diesel engine, despite its impressive origins, has not entered at the top of its class. There’s more to noise intrusion than simple numbers on a noise meter, and here’s a case in point.

The Infiniti's diesel engine could be quieter, and its gearbox quicker

The Q50 fires to an idle that registered 1dB less on our meter than a 320d did, but it seems louder and more irritating because of a prevalence of diesel rattle from which the powertrain, except at motorway speeds, never shakes loose.

It’s fine in low-throttle operations. Step-off is easily measured and the seven-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly enough around town and at a cruise. Expect more, though, and you’re likely to be disappointed. From rest to 60mph, the Q50 lags behind not just the 320d (8.7sec versus 7.7sec) but also the C 220 d (albeit by only a tenth).

We mention these figures not because 0-60mph sprints are regular features of a compact executive saloon driver’s day, but because they are a handy benchmark. We could just as easily have picked 30-70mph, through which speeds the 320d is 1.3sec faster than the Q50 (8.7sec).

Ask more of the Infiniti’s performance than leisurely cruising and you’ll not only find that the engine sounds strained towards the uppermost reaches of the rev band, but also that the gearbox is reluctant to shift down of its own accord, and stubborn if you ask for it.

However, the Q50 did return admirable economy in our hands. Its touring figure (59.2mpg) was a touch better than we returned in a 320d and its 45.5mpg average was superior to the BMW’s 41.6mpg.

It was slightly damp when we figured the diesel Q50 – not sufficiently so to affect acceleration from rest, but enough to account for the fact that, on greasy asphalt with some rubber laid on it, the Q50 braked no better than on good, clean, wet asphalt. Both figures are good, though, and the Q50’s stoppers gave no indication of fade.

On the hybrid front, there's much of note. It offers buyers a sensible blend of pace, economy and performance, while proving smooth and effective in its operation. Off the line the Q50 hybrid moves away effortlessly, with the electrified powertrain permitting the V6 to shut off regularly and for extended periods. It's not difficult to eke over 40mpg out the Q50 hybrid, according to the trip computer at least.

Get into the country and you'll see that figure drop to the 30s, but the tradeoff is a fast-feeling saloon with an obedient and unobtrusive transmission. The V6 is suitably evocative when it revs, but over-active safety systems can curtail any fun that you might find. The hybrid's brake pedal could do with being more consistent, too.

It's hard to deny the impressive quoted figures, though; Infiniti says the hybrid will do 0-62mph in 5.1sec and reach 155mph. It'll do that, however, yet still be capable of potentially averaging 45.6mpg and emitting a reasonable 144g/km of CO2.


Infiniti Q50 cornering

Infiniti offers the Q50 with the choice of a modern steer-by-wire system or a more conventional electrically assisted rack and pinion.

The advanced steer-by-wire system is available on the hybrid and 2.1-litre diesel in Sport trim, and optional on other models. It grants the driver several settings for response and weight. The truth is, though, that you don't want those options.

A reduction in weight would help the Q50's handling capabilities no end

With the steer-by-wire system the Infiniti is at its most fluent and reactive in its basic modes; any faster or heavier and its steering becomes overly weighty and demanding.

On-centre feel is adequate but feedback is minimal in corners, making it hard to judge what's really going on. The only consolation is that the Q50 is immune from steering deviations caused by bumps or camber changes, but the tradeoffs aren't acceptable.

Ditch the advanced steering system and the Q50 approaches competitiveness with its peers. Again, it does not challenge for the class lead, but it displays decent low-speed compliance, coupled with a control of its body movements that is quite acceptable in the class.

With the conventional steering system it is easy enough to point, with steering that’s accurate if lifeless and prone to weighting up awkwardly in extreme manoeuvres.

However, those who want a little more dynamism will still end up looking elsewhere. Apart from on our wet handling circuit, where we discovered that ‘off’ on the stability control system means fully off and that the Q50 displays an admirable and enjoyable handling balance, there’s little truly engaging about the way that the Q50 goes down the road.

Those are characteristics that the 3 Series and C Class display and we rather regret their absence here. Still, they’re similarly missing from Audi A4s and it doesn’t seem to have done Audi any harm. In contrast, the Q50 is at least arrow straight and locomotive stable at motorway speeds.

The Q50’s kerb weight is substantial, so it is no surprise that agility fails to feature highly. For this car, stability is a watchword and dynamism is a distant second. That’s a pity, because beneath it all there is a fine chassis balance trying to get out. Roll and pitch movements are well contained and grip is good, even in the damp.

The standard Infiniti steers with meaty weight when pressing on, and very rapid direction changes can catch the electrical assistance out, making the steering heavier still.

There’s no two-stage stability control on the Q50 – no halfway mode that will allow you a little slip and then rescue you if the car gets too out of shape. Which is worth remembering if you disengage it in an effort to spin the wheels and gain some purchase on ice, say.

And once beyond the limit, there’s precious little understeer. What there is can be easily quelled by trail-braking, and thereafter there’s lift-off (or powered in low-grip conditions) oversteer that’s easy to control.


Infiniti Q50

This section was always likely to make painful reading for would-be Q50 owners. A big part of Infiniti’s problem is its greenness in the executive saloon market.

Stronger residual value forecasts and lower cost-of-ownership quotes might come in due course. But for now, you’ll need to be committed to choose the Infiniti Q50, because you’re unlikely to be persuaded by value for money.

The Infiniti achieved a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating

Our sources suggest that Q50 servicing, in particular, will be costly – twice as much as for an equivalent 3 Series or Audi A4 – and that retained value after three years and 36,000 miles will be about five percent poorer than for those cars.

These factors feed into contract hire rates that are currently up to 40 percent more expensive – in the case of the diesel – than they should be. Company car tax liability will be only about average for the class.

Equipment levels are broadly competitive but, even here, the Q50 doesn’t look like it represents brilliant value. The entry-level models get cruise control and climate control, those dual touchscreens, a reversing camera and a stereo with Bluetooth audio streaming.

However, DAB radio isn't standard (with no cheap way to add it, either), while a factory sat-nav system will cost you almost £2000. Heated leather seats are standard, but it's worth ticking the boxes for metallic paint and Infiniti's Welcome Pack,

Avoiding the steer-by-wire system means that you're restricted to entry-level and second-rung Premium specifications. Buyers should really consider opting for the automatic diesel variants instead of the manual, too, as it suits the car better.

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2.5 star Infiniti Q50

To pick up from the introduction, if you’d bought a ludicrous spaceman’s wristwatch – expensive and partially useless though it might be – you could at least justify it to your colleagues by yelling: “But it has laser beams for hands!”

The Infiniti Q50 has no laser beams for hands. It is not made from former Cold War missiles.

The Infiniti Q50 diesel will cost you 24p per mile more to run than a BMW 320d

It is a car that toes the mainstream line and even draws on some class stalwarts’ technology, yet it still, in our eyes, comes up short. And short where it matters, too: on refinement and running costs.

It’s a pity, because there are things to like about the Q50. It has a decent handling balance and the perceived quality of the interior is high in places, even if the ergonomics are less impressive.

But in demanding comparison with Europe’s best, the Q50 has left itself exposed. We’d almost prefer a ludicrous but interesting left field choice than an uninteresting and uncompetitive one.

Unfortunately, the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Jaguar XE are arguably the finest small executive saloons currently on the market – and pitched against the likes of that, the Infiniti doesn't stand much of a chance.

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Infiniti Q50 2014-2020 First drives