Infiniti has its work cut out for it. Breaking into a market dominated by the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes is no easy task. It also has to try to take sales away from Lexus, and with Ford and Hyundai set to join the luxury executive segment later this year and early in 2015 the competition is really heating up.
One of the latest weapons in its arsenal though is the new Q50, which has generally been getting great reviews, so we were quite excited when the Q5 3.5 V6 hybrid arrived in the office car park. In terms of styling it does little to set itself apart, particularly with its Lexus-like front end. It looks sharp, though, with its strong angles and aggressive snout while chrome embellishments here and there add to the executive look.
Inside it is all about luxury and creature comforts. There is more leather than in a Coricraft store and the seats are so padded you would be forgiven for thinking you are in a classic Chesterfield sofa. The driving position is excellent and there is decent rear legroom and reasonable boot space. I really like the interior layout. It matches the Germans in terms of quality, style and comfort and, in some ways, beats them. Then there are the bells and whistles. Like Lexus, Infiniti works on the notion of including as much as possible as standard kit; the only options on our test model were the LED headlights and the sunroof.
It features an impressive twin screen infotainment system, although one of the big drawbacks is the lack of satellite navigation. I am assured it is coming later this year. The top screen shows the clock and temperature data and can also show other information, but the main feature display is the lower one. Here you are greeted by icons similar to those you will find on your smartphone. You can even swipe through the screens. If you have your phone connected by cable with iOS or Bluetooth with Android then you can access Facebook, Twitter and other apps, all of which can be read to you. There is also an app garage where you can download additional apps.
In addition, you can edit your profile here. This means that you can have multiple drivers who simply select their profile when they climb into the car and it resets everything from the driving position to the climate control and your favourite radio station. It takes in-car technology to a whole new level and while it all looks a bit daunting at first, I found myself getting used to it rather quickly. Under the bonnet sits a V6 petrol motor engine mated to a hybrid motor. It is a similar setup to that in the BMW 3-Series ActiveHybrid in that the hybrid is used to reduce emissions and fuel consumption while still providing you with a potent powerplant.
The electric mode saw me silently gliding through car parks and occasionally in traffic but push down on the accelerator and the V6 roars into life. It really does roar too. It has a great engine and exhaust note which urges you to switch from Eco to Sport mode, place your hands on the paddles and head for the hills. The only real drawback with the hybrid setup is the additional weight. You definitely feel it, especially in corners, but I also had to be careful over speed bumps. Worse was my driveway where the belly of the car where the batteries sit scraped rather unnervingly every time I arrived home.
While I am on the subject of drawbacks, I have to mention the driver assistance systems. Like other Infiniti models I was expect- ing the full surround radar to beep constantly. To my relief that was not the case but instead it would brake so dramatically in traffic that I thought I was in a full electric car with its huge regenerative braking. It was so harsh in stop- start traffic that on a number of occasions I suspect the driver behind was caught out because I expected to be rear-ended. Fortunately it could be turned off.
Another system that can also be turned off is the Direct Adaptive Steering. On occasion this electronically assisted steering system put up such a fight I thought I was wrestling with an irate Jack Russell. Turn a corner and it insisted on trying to pull the car into the centre of the lane. I headed immediately for the off button on the steering wheel. Overzealous computers aside, the Q50 proved to be a really great car to drive. It offers a superb combination of driver’s car and luxury commuter and, when you add in the latest infotainment technology, in some respects it is actually ahead of its major rivals. Will it take sales away from the Teutonic trio?
Possibly. Those seeking something a bit different to the thousands of 3 Series, C-Classes and A4s might well be looking for one of the only four Infiniti dealerships in SA, and when you consider the 3-Series ActiveHybrid costs a whopping R688,349 its value for money becomes even more apparent. Infiniti has definitely done a good job of creating a car to rival the favourites, but perhaps in some respects it has tried just a little too hard.
The Facts: Infiniti Q50 3.5 V6 Hybrid
Engine: 3498cc, V6, petrol, combined with electric motor
Power: 261kW at 6800rpm
Torque: 350Nm (plus 270Nm from the electric motor)
Top speed: 250km/h
Fuel consumption: 6.8l/100km (Achieved)
Price: R559 000