Performance first” is the motto of Infiniti, the premium car brand from the same company behind Nissan. You can tell it’s serious because, at the launch of its latest car in Barcelona, everyone from Infiniti is dressed like Sebastian Vettel. On the racetrack, I half expect a team to run on and remove the wheels in super speedy time.
Infiniti aims to take on established brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz by marketing cars with a technological and performance advantage.
I drove both the rear wheel drive Q50S petrol-electric hybrid, which pairs a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with a 50kW electric motor, and the 2.2-litre diesel model, which is significantly cheaper but less exciting.
The hybrid’s total output is 360bhp, and its performance figures are impressive: 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds with the potential for CO2 emissions of 144g/km and economy of 45.6mpg.
It features steer-by-wire technology – the first time it’s been used in a production car. This digital alternative to the traditional steering column feels a little lifeless, although the flipside is that on cobbled roads there’s no shake-feedback through the steering wheel.
It has other advantages, too; you can adjust the steering for weight and response, meaning you can choose between racecar-like minimal turning (as if you have the smallest steering wheel ever), or easy, lighter steering for around town driving and parking.
Its electronic lane-keeping system works well, too, gently adjusting the steering for you if the car’s cameras notice you’re leaving the centre of the lane without indicating. On the motorway, the active lane technology takes some getting used to. The inputs are gentle – it’s meant to feel as if the car is “magnetised to the lane” – but it doesn’t take over completely.
It looks decent – sporty and conventionally elegant from the front and sides, though less so at the rear. Its bow tie grille design and slightly aggressive face don’t detract from the fact it looks quite conservative.
The cabin is a little disappointing, lacking the materials and stylishness of a Lexus or an Audi. The dual touchscreens – one for navigation and one for the in-car infotainment system – is unusual and seems like a good idea, until you realise the quality and feel of one of them far outshines that of the other. It would appear the man who ordered one dashboard display screen didn’t work in the same room as the man that ordered the other, or even talked to him at the coffee machine. It’s no deal-breaker but it is a shame and degrades the experience of what is a very decent competitor in this market.
On the road the Q50S is refined and comfortable, with little road, tyre or wind noise, although it doesn’t really begin to feel exciting until you switch it into Sport mode. The shift in character feels fundamental. Under acceleration the V6 engine sounds sporty and dramatic, if a little artificial.
Still, I worry that the Infiniti is trying too hard to do too much. I’m unconvinced about the necessity of some of these technologies, however innovative they may be.
Unless you absolutely must drive something none of your workmates are driving, this Infiniti is an intriguing distraction rather than a must-have. You may, like me, prefer more conventional rivals.
THE FACTS: INFINITI Q50S HYBRID
0-62MPH: 5.1 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 144g/km
MPG COMBINED: 45.6mpg
DESIGN Three Stars
PERFORMANCE Three Stars
PRACTICALITY Two Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Two Stars