If we copy what the Germans are doing, we will fail.” These were the words of Infiniti EMEA (Europe, Russia, Middle East and Africa) vice-president Francois Goupil de Bouille, at the recent launch of the Infiniti Q50 petrol in Cape Town.
The words echoed in my head as I was driving the vehicle, especially because Goupil de Bouille had explained the Q50’s role as a premium challenger. The manufacturer’s latest offering is daringly priced, which encourages you to compare it with its German rivals. The Japanese brand has highlighted three key elements that it hopes will set it apart from competitors in the segment: performance, technology and design.
Puzzlingly, the petrol version of the Q50 was only launched after the arrival in June of its diesel and hybrid counterparts — especially considering that diesel only accounts for 25% of the South African market and hybrids are still a niche offering. The diesel version of the Q50 has 2.2-litre engine offering 125kW and 400Nm of torque. The 3.5-litre V6 hybrid has a whopping 261kW of power and 536Nm — so the petrol-powered Q50 fits neatly in the middle.
Be that as it may, all three versions of the car are only available with a seven-speed automatic transmission. This is because, according to Infiniti general manager for South Africa George Stegmann, customers want automatic gearboxes in the segment. So, last week, it was time to take the petrol-fuelled sport sedan from Cape Town to the outskirts of Stellenbosch.
There are a number of driver modes available, and we found the Sport mode, with tiptronic transmission, to be the most exciting, with high levels of torque available from as early as 1 000rpm. The Direct Adaptive Steering stiffens and becomes more responsive with no lag whatsoever, which is impressive, considering that when you turn the steering wheel, the movement is translated digitally to the system before being applied to the wheels.
The Mercedes-Benz engine received minor tweaks in the Q50, but we were pretty sure that, pitted against the German manufacturer’s popular premium sedan (the C-Class), the Q50 would lose. In Standard mode the Q50’s steering wheel loosens up a bit — and the Active Lane Control navigates the road superbly, so well in fact that you start to feel a bit nannied by the system. With excellent ride quality and superb handling, you wish the boffins had spent a little more time working on its performance — in the petrol version at least.
Turning to the techno pack, the 2.0 litre Premium comes standard with Stop Start system; Drive Mode selector; cruise control with speed limiter; parking sensors with rear-view camera; an infotainment system that is accessed through a dual set of touchscreens to allow the driver to see vehicle in- formation, e-mails, music and social apps without leaving the route-guide page; voice recognition system; USB and Bluetooth connectivity; keyless entry and heated front seats. In addition, the 2.0 litre Sport has LED auto-level headlights and daytime running lights; intelligent key with enhanced memory functions; tyre pressure monitoring system with individual pressures and rather long magnesium paddle shifters. Satellite navigation — the main reason for the second screen — is not standard and will cost you an extra R30800. No doubt there is some impressive tech, but it comes at a price. Infiniti’s Q50 design leans towards the Eurocentric, but the wide grill breaks away: the car has a slightly Sonata-like rear and Subaru STI-inspired front. The Q50’s cabin is smaller than what it appears to be, with the rear seats barely able to fit an adult. In coupé- like fashion, the middle seat in the back is raised, making it impossible to sit there without your head rubbing against the roof of the car. Sedan outside, coupé inside.
Discomforts aside, the cabin feels luxurious and is available in an array of interior colours and trims. The Premium is fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels and the Sport has 18-inch triple- spoke alloy wheels with run-flat tyres. With all this technology and continuous effort to enhance engine performance, there is no doubt that Infiniti plans to become an aspirational brand. The war will not be won easily, and the lads at Infiniti admit they’re not quite there yet but, as Goupil de Bouille points out: “There is no piece of market share waiting for us in the fridge. We have to work for it.”
Engine: 1 991cc, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 155kW at 5 500rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1 250-3 500rpm
Fuel Consumption: 7l/100km
Pricing: Infiniti Q50 2.0-litre turbo Premium (R430 000); Infiniti Q50 2.0-litre turbo Sport (R470 000)