Car reviews - Infiniti - Q50 - 2.0t
Punchy 2.0-litre Daimler engine, realistic fuel economy, handsome styling, high-quality cabin, comfortable ride, value for money, it's not one of the usual suspects
Room for improvement
Generic cabin design, love it or hate it Direct Adaptive Steering, it's not one of the usual suspects
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13 Nov 2014
NO-ONE could argue that launching a new brand in the world's most competitive new-car market is easy, but try relaunching a brand that had a presence here in the early 1990s with one overpriced and underwhelming offering.
Well here we are again and the Infiniti brand of the 2010s, thankfully, looks nothing like it did 20 years ago.
The Japanese luxury marque had big ambitions for the Australian market when it launched in 2012, but those ambitions involve long-term, sustainable growth, rather than early sales success.
Lucky, because it hasn't exactly made its presence felt in the ultra-competitive luxury market where the Germans – Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi – rule the premium roost, while others, including fellow Japanese brand Lexus and Swedish car-maker Volvo, also do quite well.
In January, Infiniti launched the Q50 sedan as its pitch against the top-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Lexus IS, but the lack of a petrol powertrain has hurt its chances to eat into the sales of its rivals.
Infiniti has remedied this by introducing the 2.0t variant which is powered by the same Daimler-sourced 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine from the all-new Benz C-Class, and as about 60 per cent of sales in the mid-size luxury segment go to petrol-powered models, it should give the Q50 a much-needed lift.
Available in three trim levels, the Q50 2.0t starts at $50,900, plus on-road costs, for the base GT, lifting to $56,900 for the mid-spec S and $60,500 in S Premium guise.
The pricing gives the new contender a bit of an advantage over its more established rivals, but it could be argued that Infiniti had to do that to give it a fighting chance.
For your hard earned, you get standard gear in the GT that includes leather-fronted seating with electric front seats, a smart key with enhanced memory, dual-screen display, sat-nav, 17-inch alloys, climate control and DAB+ digital radio among other niceties.
There is no way to differentiate the 2.0t from the diesel or hybrid variants and the cabin remains much the same as well.
The GT's seats are supportive and offer surprising levels of comfort over longer drives and our test car featured a gorgeous two-tone light-grey/dark-grey leather-fronted trim that was the pick out of the other single-tone offerings.
There is a general feeling of quality to the cabin, however, it is fairly generic and while Infiniti will likely take some time to develop its own brand identity and a familiarity to its interiors, it simply doesn't feel that special.
There is no mistaking the cabin of an Audi, BMW, Benz or even a Lexus these days, but with the Infiniti there is this feeling that you could be sitting in anything and not know who the manufacturer is.
Hard plastics on the dash, the awkward-looking dual-screen display that consumes most of the centre stack and some controls that feel like they are from the Nissan parts bin probably don't help.
The interior of the 2.0t is not poorly executed – it offers decent levels of comfort, functionality and luxury touches – it just can't match its rivals.
There seems to be nothing that distinguishes the cabin of the GT and the S Premium, aside from the addition of extra features, including a standard sunroof. Most of the other standard goodies in the top-spec 2.0t are active safety features such as lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and an around-view monitor.
While it didn't take much to set off the lane departure warning, the chime was at least less painful on the ears than some other unnecessarily noisy systems we have encountered.
Under the bonnet of the Q50, Daimler's 2.0-litre turbo-petrol pumps out 155kW/350Nm – the same output as the Mercedes-Benz C250 – and while performance figures differ between the two in favour of the Benz, the Infiniti is no slouch and offers plenty of up and go from a standing start.
The 0-100km/h dash time of 7.3 seconds is 0.6 seconds off the pace of the C250, but the Merc is also lighter, so naturally has an advantage. This is more than enough pull off the mark and buyers keen on a quicker Q50 can stump up the extra cash for the $67,900 3.5 Hybrid that races from 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds.
Accelerating hard produces a bit of noise from the turbo donk, but cruising on the highway or around town highlighted the Infiniti's hushed cabin.
While all 2.0t trims offer the same powertrain, only the S and S Premium feature Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) system which significantly changes the drive experience of the car.
The GT features regular hydraulic electric power steering which is sharp, direct and is weighted slightly on the heavier side, while the DAS in the two higher-grade variants is difficult to get used to.
The weighting, particularly in Sport mode, is quite heavy and in a straight line there is a stiffness to the steering and there is, unsurprisingly, a real disconnect from the road.
Infiniti claims it makes for a smoother driving experience and eliminates vibration, but it would take a while to adapt to and is a matter of personal taste.
Interestingly, the advantages of the DAS system became a lot clearer when the Q50 was put through its paces on a slalom. Compared with the regular steering in the GT, the DAS-equipped variants felt more dynamically capable and the steering was far more responsive.
But the Q50 is about more than its technologically advanced steering system.
The 2.0t offers a comfortable ride with a independent double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension set up that makes for smooth going over most corrugations.
The larger 19-inch hoops on the S Premium made for a slightly harsher ride than the GT that is fitted with 17s, but it wasn't a deal-breaker.
When pushed into bends, the Q50 behaved itself and remained relatively composed, although there was some skipping over looser surfaces.
Fuel economy is rated at 7.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle and we managed a respectable figure of 7.6L/100km after a day's driving in country and city.
After a day of driving through Victoria's countryside in both the GT and S Premium, we think the base GT is the pick of the 2.0t range, thanks to its ever so slightly smoother ride, more traditional steering set up and value advantage over the almost $10,000 more expensive S Premium.
Anyone who has narrowed their luxury sedan search down to the usual suspects should open their minds a little and check out the Q50 2.0t because they might be pleasantly surprised.
It may not have a famous badge on the front, but its offers far better value for money than most rivals, a comfortable ride, solid straight-line performance, high quality if unoriginal interior and handsome styling.
Infiniti's move into the mainstream just got a big boost.
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