Road test: Infiniti Q50 SE diesel
The Infiniti brand is long established across the pond (Motor Writer’s US readers will be extremely familiar with it) but here in the UK, it is still little known. There was a modest number of dealerships prior to the brand re-launch in October 2011; at that time, the relevance of the models was off kilter with European taxation rules and our battered economy. Quite simply, trying to develop a premium brand, with thirsty petrol models and no heritage to speak of was going to be a tough one. And without vehicles acceptable to the all-important fleet market, it made little sense.
Infiniti has moved-on, though. It has rationalised its model names (now all prefixed with a ‘Q’) and introduced the Q50 saloon with petrol, diesel and hybrid power units. The all-new Q50 sits somewhere between the Audi A4 and A6. There is a larger saloon, the Q70 (formerly the ‘M’ which we reviewed here in hybrid form,) but it’s likely the Q50 will be the key model for sales. Here on test, we have the 2.2 litre diesel Q50 which certainly has the fleet market well in its sights.
The Q50 is certainly rather striking, especially in profile. The rear is a little over-chromed, a tad American perhaps, and the grill shape seems awkward somehow but many of the individual features are pleasing. Adding to the car’s hunkered-down stance are the sizeable wheels (18″ here, with 50% tyre wall aspect).
Inside, the cabin is extremely well-appointed and visually very pleasing, certainly putting many sombre BMW and Audi facias to shame. Almost slightly dated is the optional sun roof, upstaged by the dramatic all-glass affairs now available on many non-premium brands. The switches and buttons all have a re-assuring feel about them and the primary controls are fairly conventional in layout and operation. The main touch screen interface takes a little getting used to: there’s more than one way of doing most things and a couple of oddities (like the DAB radio option being hidden and selecting Sport mode via the menus not overriding the main console control setting). Also, the top screen reflects in the windscreen, particularly at night, which is a distraction.
On first drive, the 2.2-litre diesel felt coarse but kept at low revs it certainly did the job. Power output is a modest 170 PS but 400Nm of torque is the important figure here. While not feeling exactly spritely, there is always a reassuring pull. Ride is on the firm side; the run flat tyres don’t do the car any favours. Being able to pick and choose from the settings list, throttle response set to Sport and suspension left normal seemed to be the best combination.
Packed with goodies
It is important to live with a car for a while and over the week, this Infiniti has grown on me. While the engine’s coarseness remains, I have warmed to the car’s solid build, competent handling and strong brakes. While a little numb at low speeds, steering weights-up well during cornering. The Q50 uses Active Trace Control which can brake individual wheels to trim the line through bends.On the subject of electronics, the Q50 is positively packed with goodies, from blind spot warnings to a clever feature which stops the car bumping into the one in front in queuing traffic. Oh, and it can apply the brakes when reversing up to objects which is neat, although I experienced a couple of false positives. The car braked all on its own about a metre short of whatever was behind leaving me thinking I’d hit something. (I hadn’t.)
So who will buy a Q50? Someone looking for luxury, technology, exclusivity? Certainly. The four-pot diesel – necessary for European sales – takes the shine off the refinement elsewhere though. While the diesel is efficient enough to appeal to fleet buyers, the hybrid would be the civilised choice. A turbo-charged 2.0 petrol engine has just been announced for China; hopefully this will reach Europe soon. Pricing is competitive; although our car is specified with £10,000 of extras, the SE manual diesel undercuts an entry BMW 518d SE by over £2000.
Power: 170 PS (@ 3,200-4,200 rpm), torque: 400 Nm (@ 1,600-2,800 rpm), emissions: 124 g/km CO2 (band D), 0-60 mph: 8.5 secs.
Motor Writer rating: ●●●○○