I went for a drive last night. I didn't have a destination in mind. I just clipped my belt and started driving around Sydney, drinking in the beautiful light of our nation's largest city and enjoying the luxury of the car I had to review. It's called the Infiniti Q50, and I want to be in it and driving more than I want to be in my lounge room at home going nowhere.
Even as I write this review, I know it's parked outside my apartment building waiting patiently for me. It's like the vehicular embodiment of JARVIS from the Iron Man films. I shall reward myself with a drive when I'm finished. Or right now (grabs keys).
What Is It?
- Engine: 2.2L 4-cyl diesel
- Gearbox: Automatic with manual paddle-shift
- Entertainment System: 8-inch Infiniti MyTouch w/ Intel Atom processor
- Bluetooth: Yes (Phone & media streaming)
- Fuel consumption: 7.5L/100km
- Safety: 5-Star ANCAP Rating
It’s like a Nissan Maxima mated with a Nissan Skyline (you know, one of the grown-up ones). This is all to say that this particular Infiniti-branded child won the genetic lottery.
The Q50 we tested is powered by a 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-diesel, direct injection engine that produces 125kW of power (between 3200 and 4200rpm), and 400Nm of torque (between 1600 and 2800rpm). The gearbox is a 7-speed automatic with a sequential-shift manual option.
It’s a rear-wheel drive car, which is wicked fun to drive, especially given that it’s an incredibly smooth steer-by-wire system
You get 17-inch alloy wheels and run-flat tyres as standard, as well as swathes of tech like a lane-guidance system that basically drives the car for you, active noise-cancellation (like on your fancy headphones) in the cabin, digital radio, a 6-speaker audio system, two USB ports for your phones, Bluetooth audio streaming and an Infiniti infotainment system powered by a goddamn Intel Atom chip that can do everything from route you around traffic to read your emails for you.
It’s insanely luxurious, but impressively modern in a way that is unmatched by rivals like Mercedes and BMW. From the headlamps, right through to the rear-passenger seats, it’s sleek and modern while also fast and poised. It’s found that perfect balance between a comfortable place to be and a seriously-quick sports sedan.
For those playing at home, you may realise that Infiniti isn’t just making cars for the luxury sedan set. It’s also a pretty goddamn serious Formula One team, boasting amazing drivers like Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel. Infiniti likes to boast about this, like most manufacturers that have cars on the grid do. Infiniti is a little different, however, in that it uses the science of racing and melds it with the DNA of its consumer-level cars.
More care went into designing the seats, for example, than is probably sensible. Infiniti Red Bull Racing worked with scientists from NASA (yes, that NASA), to create seats that would cradle the driver in perfect comfort while driving, rather than just be some throwaway cloth-covered bench that you perch yourself on in other cars.
What they figured out was a seat which actually works to “engage the driver” all the way from the base of the spine, right up to the tip of the head.
Ever noticed how so-called head rests on car seats are like the least comfortable thing to put your head on? Infiniti designed its head rest to the contour of the spine, meaning that it gently contacts your head and braces you in a way that feels so comfortable and safe as you drive. It’s an amazing way to sit down and drive.
Then there’s the tech on the Q50, which is bonkers.
We’ve complained before that infotainment systems on cars -- from hot hatches through to luxury sedans -- are boring, and feel like they were designed by someone who just learned how to put contacts into their smartphone. The Q50 takes those complaints and blows them out of the water by giving you what is essentially an ultrabook inside your dashboard.
It’s powered by an Intel Atom chip for serious mobile computing, and incorporates the usual systems like satellite navigation, USB and Bluetooth media streaming and dual-zone climate control, as well as some unusual systems too.
That Intel Atom chip isn’t just used to keep menus zippy: it’s powering apps that plug your email into the car once it’s paired correctly, as well as your calendar and contact list. It’s a nifty touch, despite the fact that I can’t really understand why it’s there.
Infiniti is also bringing some tech smarts to the road as well, not just in your infotainment system.
There’s a nifty lane-guidance system which is guaranteed to both blow your mind and scare the living hell out of you every single time you use it.
It’s a laser-guided system which analyses the lines on either side of you, and when you’re on the highway serves to gently nudge you back into your lane. Basically: a robot that can see the road drives keeps you straight in your lane for you, as if you didn’t even need to be there in the first place.
You’re more than just a bag of meat wrapped in a luxurious, space-age seat, however: the system won’t make dramatic turns for you. From what we tested, it’s happy to make turns up to a 15-degree angle before it starts to realise you’re getting lazy with corners.
The way it’s able to do all that auto-steering malarkey is because it’s not your average steering column. In most cars, the steering column is attached directly to the wheels, and with the aid of some augmentations in the form of power steering allows you to turn the car with ease. It’s even easier to turn the wheel in the Infiniti, mostly because the steering column isn’t really attached to the axle at all: it’s a drive-by-wire system.
In the same way that your acceleration pedal in modern cars uses a computer to figure out the throttle input, the steering wheel in the Infiniti Q50 uses insanely quick calculations to figure out which way you want to put the car. In truth, it doesn’t feel any different to a normal power steering system, until you start monkeying with the settings.
Infiniti allows you to customise your steering experience, and have it feel lighter or heavier depending on how you want to drive. Light steering is automatically engaged in modes like Sport, or you can set up a sort of house-style that allows you to flick into a custom driving mode with a custom wheel configuration to boot.
It’s like driving the future on today’s roads.
Cosmetically and feature-wise, it’s a fantastic car, but everything between your feet and the headlights is spectacularly underwhelming. The diesel model is just an unhappy car to drive.
Despite the turbo it's still not as fast as it should be when it comes to acceleration. The petrol model is likely to be zippier, and we’ll bring you our impressions with the car when we drive it next week.
Having said that though, the fuel economy on the diesel model is unbelievable.
There is a hybrid model we haven’t yet driven, however, which may be a more interesting drive than both.
Should You Buy It?
We love the Q50, but at this price, it’s going to a tough ask for people to look at cars like the Mercedes Benz C-Class or the BMW 3-Series Sedan which both play around that $65,000 price tag to say that they want the Infiniti, mostly because the brand doesn’t have a strong foothold on the Australian luxury market. It also has that awkward halo effect from Nissan, which may devalue its luxury cred even further to buyers who want a fancy badge.
Having said that though, the Q50 is definitely something that those buyers should at least be test-driving before writing it off completely as a wallet-opener. The Q50 2.2d S model has more tech, more comfort and a more interesting look than any Merc or BMW could offer at the same price.
If I’m honest, the Infiniti’s real competitor in Australia is Volvo. Volvo’s cars are brilliant alternatives to the BMWs and Mercs of the world, aimed squarely at those who want luxury with a different look and badge to everyone else. The Infiniti Q50 is the luxury family car with sports car looks and prowess that Volvo and drivers should definitely be looking at. Architects, designers, editors...basically anyone with glasses and a trendy turtleneck should look out for the Q50.