Britain's least-known mid-sized exec gets new fleet credentials

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The hard yards stretch on for Japanese luxury brand Infiniti.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ registration statistics for 2014 contained one reason to be cheerful for the marque: a full year of sales of the Q50 compact executive saloon inflated its UK volume to almost double what it was the year before.

Infiniti is looking to an unlikely source for sales progression: the Q70 mid-size executive saloon

That would have looked like a huge success for a lot of premium players. Unfortunately for this one it still meant registering fewer than 800 cars in the UK – barely any more for the whole year than close competitor Lexus managed in the sleepy month of December alone.

The story is little more positive when told in Continental terms. Despite investing big in the five years prior to establish itself as a European player of note, Infiniti’s 2014 volume within the EU was still considered insignificant enough that the ACEA, Europe’s association of car makers, didn’t bother listing it in its annual statistical press release.

Although Infiniti is reasonably well established in other parts of the world, in Europe it’s probably best known as the brand that has been plastered all over Red Bull Racing’s and now the Renault's Formula One car.

It must be a worrying context into which to launch not one but two all-new British-built cars, but at least the Q30 hatchback and QX30 crossover are in growth segments.

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Until they arrive, though, Infiniti is looking to an unlikely source for sales progression: the Q70 middleweight executive saloon, which has been given a price slash, a styling refresh, a new diesel engine and a different name. Will any of the above turn the car into a markedly better BMW 5 Series rival than the Infiniti M30d was four years ago?

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Infiniti Q70 rear

The Infiniti M became the Q70 in the spring of 2014 and received a subtle facelift to match its new identity. But only now has Infiniti reappraised its prices and substituted the slow-selling 3.0-litre diesel version for this more fuel-efficient four-cylinder diesel, which uses the same 168bhp 2.1-litre Daimler engine that you’ll find in the Q50.

The four-pot diesel repositions the Q70 in the heart of the mid-sized executive class, making it much more competitive on price and CO2 emissions with the biggest-selling versions of its German rivals.

I'm a sucker for Infiniti's flowing, wavy design language, and it works better on a five-metre saloon than anywhere else.

Emitting less than 130g/km of CO2 and now available, quite well equipped, for less than £33k, the Q70 suddenly looks like a justifiable prospect for the company car drivers who make up the overwhelming majority of the class’s clientele. The Q70’s 2015-model-year facelift brought about an exterior redesign that’s more noticeable on Sport versions than our Premium Tech test car.

Nevertheless, the keen-eyed will have clocked new LED headlights and tail-lights, new front and rear bumper designs, a new ‘wave mesh’ radiator grille and a smattering of extra chrome, none of which appeared on the old M30d.

This is an elegant-looking car, partly thanks to its generous overall length. Distinctive compared with the straight-laced German norm, it’s certainly a charmer.

Under the skin, besides accommodating the new diesel engine, Infiniti’s engineers have better sealed the cabin, retuned the suspension for better rolling comfort and fitted new alloy wheels for a quieter ride.

Customers who don’t want the new Daimler diesel option are offered as an alternative Infiniti’s petrol-electric Sport Hybrid, which partners a 298bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with a 67bhp electric motor.

Emitting 145g/km, it qualifies for company car tax only 1 percent higher than the diesel. Then there’s the range-topping 316bhp 3.7-litre V6 petrol, which gets sports suspension and four-wheel steering. Other markets than ours are also offered four-wheel drive and long-wheelbase versions.


Infiniti Q70 interior

Time has been harsher on the cabin of the Q70 than it has been on its swooping exterior, and the best mid-sized executive saloons now set the bar high for interior quality.

Six years ago, Infiniti might have just got away with the use of words like ‘meticulous’, ‘inviting’ and ‘intuitive’ in its description of the M30d’s various appointments and systems.

Satin chrome dominates the interior, with high gloss used only on the major control knobs and starter button

But the current versions of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Lexus GS have made the market accustomed to higher standards of perceived quality, apparent technological sophistication and systems usability.

Even so, the Q70 remains a spacious saloon for both driver and passengers, with some pleasingly rich and attractive features. The driver’s seat is comfortable and the primary controls well located. Although they’re busy with switchgear, the high centre console and raised ‘waterfall’ centre stack seem to stretch out towards you to put the multimedia and air conditioning controls within easy reach.

Despite the Q70's cabin feeling a bit low rent compared with its German rivals, you still get plenty of equipment with four trim levels to choose from - Premium, Premium Tech, Sport and Sport Tech. Entry-level models get 18in alloy wheels, LED headlights, keyless entry and start, and sat nav as standard, while the Premium Tech models gain Infiniti's Dynamic Shield protection technology, a 360-degree camera, semi-aniline leather upholstery and a Bose sound system. 

The Sport trim adds an aggressive bodykit, electrically adjustable sports seats, magnesium paddle shifters and 20in alloy wheels, while the range-topping Sport Tech models come with a 360-degree camera, a 16-speaker Bose stereo, built-in air freshener and Infiniti's Connectivi+ infotainment system complete with a 30GB hard drive and high resolution screen.

Although the glossy, faux-looking wood veneers of our Premium Tech test car didn’t meet with the universal approval of our testers, the use of satin chrome around the centre console and door handles did attract consistent praise – as did the tactility of the Q70’s leathers. But there’s no mistaking how dated key parts of this interior appear. The instruments, trip computer and multimedia system in particular cry out for renewal.

Even larger adults are given plenty of room in the back seats of the Q70, where there is generous head room and more knee room than in a 5 Series or an A6. But there’s a large and unpalatable compromise to be paid farther back, with a smaller boot than that provided by any of the Q70’s competitors.

What boot space there is suffers from considerable suspension and wheel arch intrusion and, worse still, there’s no option to flop the rear seatbacks down to accommodate longer loads.

The upshot is that the Q70 would be a much less usable saloon than its competition – less usable, even, than many saloons from a couple of classes further down the market segmentation pecking order.


Infiniti Q70 engine bay

There are three engines in the Q70's line-up; a 2.2-litre turbodiesel four cylinder, a 3.5-litre V6 hybrid powertrain and a 3.7-litre petrol V6. The hybrid model's petrol motor kicks out 302bhp with an additional 67bhp electric motor, while the diesel produces 168bhp and the flagship V6 develops 315bhp.

Having switched from a six-cylinder diesel to a four and been downgraded by almost 30 percent on both power and torque, it was inevitable that the Q70 would feel somewhat impoverished here. The car’s saving grace may yet prove to have been the unpopularity of the M30d, because the new blood buying the Q70 for its fleet viability probably won’t have known what the old M-series offered, so they won’t miss it.

Even if you mitigate the winding up of the torque converter, the Q70 2.2d takes 9.6sec to sprint from 0-60mph

Whether you’re inclined to judge this car against its immediate predecessor or its immediate rivals, our performance numbers betray it as not only sluggish but also only average for fuel economy.

Even if you mitigate the car’s leisurely step-off by winding up the torque converter, the Q70 diesel takes 9.6sec to pass 60mph from standing.

The most recent BMW 520d we figured took 7.8sec and a 2.2-litre turbodiesel Jaguar XF will also dip under eight seconds, both fitted with an automatic gearbox.

The chilly conditions of our test day can have made little difference to the Q70’s performance, because it barely has enough power to make wheelspin a factor.

And although our True MPG real-world fuel economy testers have recently seen almost 49mpg from the most frugal versions of the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class on a like-for-like combined cycle test, the Q70 returned only 39.0mpg.

In day-to-day use, the Q70 may not feel as disappointing as those objective numbers may imply, but it fails to do much that gives it the distinguishing aura of a true premium product. Although reasonably quiet at low revs, that Daimler diesel sounds and feels coarse both on start-up and when working hard. Infiniti claims to have Active Noise Control at work in the cabin, cancelling the harshest frequencies of that motor through the car’s audio speakers.

If that’s true, you wouldn’t know it once the crank is spinning beyond 3000rpm, when the engine becomes abrasive as well as increasingly breathless. And although the seven-speed transmission shifts smoothly enough in laid-back mode, it won’t be hurried to kick down, or by selecting a lower ratio using manual mode.

The car is reasonably well isolated from wind noise at motorway speeds, but only averagely so from road noise intrusion. Stopping distance is typical for a car of its size, considering the prevailing test conditions.


Infiniti Q70 cornering

In the Premium Tech specification of our test car, the Q70 is unlikely to be at the height of its dynamic powers. A handling compromise just on the sporting side of normal, and prioritising a certain straightforward cornering poise and honesty of control feedback, is what we’ve come to expect from Infiniti at its best.

Not that we got that from the Q50. It remains to be seen if the Q70 delivers it in optimal specification, but in this apparently softened state of being, the car offers neither truly convincing ride comfort and ease of operation nor much in the way of sporting dynamism.

The Q70's soft but also relatively short springs and fairly firm roll bars allow it to roll only so far

Its gait feels soft, compliant and necessarily gently damped at first, the body loping along convivially over an unchallenging surface – but plenty of weight characterises the steering and there is above-average directness, too.

A more conventional big limousine with an agenda for comfort would have lighter, slower steering, but moreover it would filter out more of the bump steer and surface interference that you feel from the front contact patches. So the Q70’s steering feel, while welcome to an interested driver, is perhaps a bit miscalculated.

Stretch the car to an enthusiastic pace and its body control becomes quite loose, allowing more in the way of vertical movement than roll, admittedly, but also a little too much suspension crash into the cabin – no doubt as a result of the eased-off damper settings.

Although softly sprung, the chassis has insufficient wheel travel because it seems to run into its bump-stops fairly abruptly at times. Although cornering balance is quite well judged, lateral traction isn't. Also, the power steering’s assistance levels can fluctuate widely when you're pressing on, making the car tricky to guide on the limit.


Infiniti Q70

Some credit is due to Infiniti for finally arming its 5 Series rival with an engine that, although disappointing in practice, may at least earn it a place on some company car lists. The hybrid model emits 145g/km of CO2, while the 2.2-litre diesel variant emits 129g/km. However, the diesel model sits a tax band above a BMW 520d.

In entry-level guise, the Q70 is marginally more expensive than the bottom-rung BMWs, Audis and Lexuses that it seeks to supplant, and it is unlikely to be fancied by the bodies who set residual value forecasts, so don’t expect contract hire rates to be cheap.

Our Q70 2.2d averaged 39mpg during True MPG testing

The Infiniti brand is a family member of Nissan - a car company with a fine reliability record. Infiniti’s safety showing is also quite commendable.

The car has never been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the mid-spec Premium Tech version comes packed with active safety equipment such as blindspot warning, lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation and moving object detection at parking speeds.

Specification-wise, the 3.5-litre V6 Hybrid model has the better dampers, much better performance and creditable average fuel economy of more than 45mpg, so don't rule it out.

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2.5 star Infiniti Q70

Great minds often claim that getting to the top isn’t as tough as staying there. These people have, by and large, forgotten how hard the ascent was. More to the point, they don’t know the car business.

This is an industry where sales volume equals budget and, more often than not, budget delivers formidable contenders. That makes life that much harder for brands like Infiniti and cars like the Q70.

Better on paper than in the real world, where it is unconvincing

But this car’s shortcomings can’t all be excused, even by those who understand its maker’s plight. It rides and handles like a car that’s slightly misconceived as well as undernourished, its performance lacks any kind of lustre and its interior isn’t up to date or sufficiently versatile.

Although the Q70 may finally have the powertrain to appear on your company car list, the upshot is that it still doesn’t have the integrity or breadth of ability to seal the deal.

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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.

Infiniti Q70 2013-2018 First drives