Steve Sharpe test drives the Infiniti Q50 hybrid
Infiniti is the luxury car arm of Nissan, and is a name that will become more and more familiar in the coming years.
The brand has been around for more than 25 years but has only really been seen on the road in the UK since 2008, and it hasn’t made that much of a ripple in that time.
Put simply, Infiniti isn’t particularly well known as a car-maker.
But things are changing and in 2014, the first full year of sale of the Q50 range, the company sold more cars in this country than ever before, which has helped pave the way for the first UK-built Infiniti model due later in 2015.
That model, an all-new premium car based on the Q30 Concept, will be produced just up the road in Sunderland’s Nissan plant. There’s also a new dealership opening just through the Tyne Tunnel at Silverlink
Five Infiniti saloon, coupe and crossover models are currently sold in the UK, with powertrain options comprising petrol, diesel and hybrid power, and prices starting at £27,950.
The Q50 is what Infiniti calls its performance saloon. There are two engines in the range, which starts at £27,950 – a 2.2litre diesel and a 3.5litre V6 petrol hybrid, which tops the £40,000 mark.
The hybrid connection might make you think that version is, like many other manufacturers’ hybrids, aimed at the eco end of the market, putting economy before performance.
Not a bit of it with this one.
While its true that the electric battery side of the engine obviously cuts down emissions and petrol consumption at low speed, this hybrid is no slouch.
In fact more than that, it’s seriously quick, hitting 60mph from a standing start in a shade under 5.5 seconds.
But first things first. Image is a serious part of the appeal of any car, and image is something that Infiniti has struggled with since it first appeared on our shores.
Many models just didn’t stand out enough but Infiniti have addressed that identity problem.
The whole ranged have been renamed with a Q in there somewhere, for a start, and the designers have been busy with their pens and pencils.
The Q50 certainly fits well into the luxury car segment.
Broad, low and chunky, the Q50 has a different slant to class rivals like the Audi A4 and the BMW 3 series.
It has a curvier look to it, with ripples along the flanks and a more angular front end, with striking headlight clusters and a creased bonnet leading down to a bold grille bearing the distinctive Infiniti logo.
Inside the feel is slightly off the normal too.
The first thing that strikes you is the prominent double media area in the centre of the console. With two large screens glowing brightly, it couldn’t be accused of understatement.
The upper screen features the satnav, cameras fore and aft and the media displays, while the lower one has touch sensitive controls for various parts of the car.
Despite the in-your-face design, everything is pretty easy to use, it’s smart and comfortable and everything looks well put together.
The plastics are quality and cushioned, and there are stylish little touches to lift the general feel, like leather stitching and silvery inserts
The Q50 is a big car and there’s plenty of legroom and headroom for both front and rear passengers. The boot’s a reasonable size but the opening is quite small and there’s a lip to hoist things over.
The leather-upholstered seats are big and supportive and it’s easy to adjust your position and make yourself comfortable for a long haul.
One area where the Q50 is going to have to be at the top of its game is in levels of refinement, because established rivals like Audi and BMW are certainly smooth operators in this department.
I could have no complaints with the hybrid version I tested.
Powered by an electric battery and a 3.5 litre V6 engine, it’s another indication of how far this kind of technology has travelled in a relatively short time.
Switch on the keyless ignition and the dashboard lights up and dials whirr round. Select a gear on the automatic gearbox and the Q50 will gently and almost silently pull away.
If you keep the acceleration gentle the battery will run the big Infiniti purely on electrical power right up to town driving speeds. It’s only when you accelerate swiftly that the petrol engine kicks in, almost imperceptibly, and supplies you with some pretty breathtaking acceleration.
The engine is so quiet, and the seven speed gearbox so slick, that you just surge forward with a distant roar as an accompanying soundtrack.
One moment you’re pootling along in battery power, a few seconds later you’re up to 60mph.
The technology is such that the battery is constantly charging as you drive – partly through the braking sytem, which results in braking a little fierce on occasion – and the Q50 will revert to battery power during normal driving, whether you’re driving steadily through town or slowing at cruising speeds.
It’s pretty impressive technology.
And it makes driving the Infiniti a real pleasure. It’s a premium car and you get a premium feel.
Around town the Q50 is easy enough to manoeuvre.
Although a sizeable car it has good visibility all around and there were enough hi-tech gadgets on my test car – forward and reverse cameras, and an automatic braking system that engages the brake something appear to be in the way at low speeds – to add to its safety, although it seemed a little enthusiastic on a couple of occasions.
Cruising on the motorway is effortless and taking on country lanes proved that the Q50 is capable enough.
Although not the most agile, the Infiniti will corner well and everything stays in place while doing so, with body roll well controlled and a good amount of grip.
The steering set up, which is a steer by wire system that’s usually seen on jets and is a world first on a production car, allows the driver to adjust both the steering’s response and weight to suit personal preferences and type of driving.
I found it strange to be honest, although I did eventually I get used to its unusual, slightly heavy feel.
My test car also benefitted from all-wheel drive, which kept it feeling sure-footed when the rain and sleet came down this week.
One of the biggest obstacles to Infiniti gaining a foothold in the premium saloon market, and indeed any UK market, is the strength of the existing cars in that segment.
The manufacturer will have to offer something a little different, if not better, to raise its profile, and of course value for money.
Running costs are on the high side – claimed economy figures show 41mpg but that’s in optimum driving conditions and emission figures of 159 g/kg will affect road tax and company car drivers.
While the diesel versions of the Q50 start at around the £28,000 mark, the hybrid is well above that.
And if you take into account a long list of optional extras on offer, the price can be pushed up even further.
There’s a decent amount of equipment as standard on entry level model, though, including dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control and 17-inch alloys, but a digital radio and sat-nav are optional extras on all Q50s.
Top spec trim adds heated leather seats and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and the hybrid comes gets sports suspension, larger alloys, sports seats and LED headlights.
The future does look bright for Infiniti as a car-maker.
With looks to set it apart, a blistering turn of speed and a smooth, luxurious ride, this hybrid Q50 certainly has the potential to become a player in the premium market.
Infiniti Q50 hybrid AWD
Engine: 3.5litre petrol / electric motor
Transmission: Seven speed automatic
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 41mpg avg