Hybrid Q50 range-topper has only niche appeal, but it’s smooth, versatile and handles UK roads well

What is it?

The Infiniti Q50S Hybrid is the car with which Nissan’s luxury arm hopes to finally prop open the door to Europe’s executive car market.

Infiniti has been knocking on that door since 2008. There’s been no answer to speak of yet.

Now, enter the new Infiniti Q50: a saloon the size of a BMW 3-series that replaces the petrol-only G37, but brings fleet-friendly four-cylinder diesel power to Infiniti’s elbow for the first time.

There’s more to this car than heater plugs, mind. The Japanese brand is betting on state-of-the-art technology to motivate Q50 buyers – specifically, younger buyers who appreciate its smartphone-savvy in-car entertainment system.

A fully loaded Q50 comes with a dual touchscreen multimedia system, LED headlights, a 14-speaker Bose stereo, surround-view cameras and enough active safety and convenience systems to give the average Mercedes S-class some competition.

Infiniti’s Daimler-powered 2.2d turbodiesel will be the version to deliver some much-needed European sales volume for the brand, and that car will be the subject of a full Autocar road test in due course.

In advance, Infiniti supplied us with the range-topping petrol-electric alternative as a whistle-whetter on UK roads.

What's it like?

A breath of fresh air for the executive saloon segment on styling. The Q50 is very classy, but also shapely and quite pretty – in a class where sacrificing business-smart assertiveness for an alluring curve looks like an incalculable risk.

Park one next to a Mazda 6 and suddenly the Infiniti doesn’t look quite as distinctive as it does side-by-side with an Audi A4. Luckily for Infiniti, the latter comparison is the more relevant.

Available in equipment-rich specification only, the Q50S Hybrid rides on a unique sports suspension setup and draws power from a 302bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine working in combination with a 67bhp electric motor.

The powertrain’s evidently been developed since it appeared in the larger M35h, and now offers a generally convincing blend of pace, drivability, economy and performance.

Quiet and smooth on step-off and when the combustion engine starts, the Q50 moves along in urban congestion consummately. The electrified part of the powertrain allows the V6 to shut down for frequent and fairly lengthy periods, and you can coax better than 40mpg out of the trip computer without trouble.

Head out of town and that economy will sink to average 32mpg – low enough to make the car’s true colours as a niche-market indulgence more plain. But you’ll also find there’s a generous slice of dynamism here.

The Q50S feels fast, obedient when you shift gears in the transmission’s manual mode, and handles well - with plenty of grip and aplomb. The chassis is skillfully balanced for cornering - and carefully tuned for tight body control and purposeful damping, partnered with enough compliance to make the compromise entirely liveable.

This is no BMW 335i, but it might shade an Audi S4 on poise, verve and involvement; that V6 engine’s still a charmer when it revs. At times you’ll wish the active safety systems were less intrusive, the powertrain a natch more seamless in its power delivery when you first feed in some power, and the brake pedal feel more consistent. Those failings aren’t unforgivable, however.

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The Q50’s big technological breakthrough – it’s steer-by-wire steering system – turns out to be something of a damp squib. Standard on the Q50 S Hybrid and the 2.2d in Sport trim and optional lower down in the range, the system has several selectable settings for directness and steering weight, and allows you single-seater-level heft and response if you want it.

You won’t want it. The rack is at its most fluent and intuitive in its lightest and slowest modes; making it faster or heavier only made the Q50 more demanding and less agreeable to drive for this tester.

The system has reasonable on-centre feel – more consistent if you disable the lane keeping assist – but there’s no increase in weight as you lean harder on an outside front wheel, or telltale lightness as that wheel runs short on grip.

There’s no real steering feedback at all – there can’t be – but there’s no decent digital substitute for it, either. The car’s immune from being knocked off course because of bump-steer or camber change, but that seems scant consolation, particularly when earlier test experience suggests the standard power steering setup is a good one.

Should I buy one?

You’ll need alternative tastes to consider the Infiniti, for sure. But you could do a great deal worse than this for a sporting executive saloon – and pay a great deal more on benefit-in-kind tax.

It'd cost you £130 a month more for an Audi S4 as a company car, to be precise: a premium the German is undoubtedly not worth.

What all that implies about a non-sports suspended, lesser-equipped turbodiesel Q50 is the lingering question – and it remains to be proved on UK roads.

But, at least, the Hybrid must at least go down as an encouraging sign.

Infiniti Q50S Hybrid

Price £40,000; 0-62mph 5.1sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 45.6mpg; CO2 144g/km; Kerb weight 1825kg; Engine V6, 3498cc, petrol, with hybrid motor assist; Power 359bhp at 6800rpm; Torque 403lb ft at 5000rpm; Gearbox 7-spd automatic

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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fadyady 14 January 2014

Not bad

and not a bad article either - makes fair points vis-à-vis the competitors like the M Sport and the S4. Point well made on the looks in comparison with Mazda 6 - albeit Mazda doesn't have a model to rival these rather fast saloons.