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Driven: Q50 sedan to put Infiniti Australia on the map

New player: Infiniti's new Q50 is aimed at the Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series.

Infinti says its growth starts now, with the Q50 mid-sized sedan priced from $52k

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Infiniti logo5 Feb 2014

INFINITI this week launched the Q50 mid-sized sedan in Australia, the car its fledgling local output is relying on to substantially boost its “unsustainable” sales levels.

Featuring a more global design unlike its otherwise largely US-oriented fleet, the rear- or all-wheel-drive sports sedan packs a Mercedes-Benz turbo-diesel engine or a potent petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain under the bonnet.

It also undercuts rivals with a starting price of $51,900 plus on-road costs, and offers both more engine power and levels of standard equipment for the price.

In the fourth quarter of this year, Infiniti will broaden the range with an entry level 2.0-litre turbo-petrol version – the engine is again sourced from Daimler under a global alliance – likely priced below $50,000.

Infiniti claims the Q50 comes with a number of segment-first technologies, the most interesting of which is Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), a steer-by-wire system that replaces the steering rack with three ECU modules (there’s a mechanical fail-safe) to eliminate kickback.

Adding the Q50 to its local range is a crucial step for the Nissan-owned luxury car-maker because it gives it a presence in the largest-volume premium segment in the country.

The company sold just 304 of its ageing US-oriented G37, FX and M models in 2013, from an East Coast network of just three dealers. Since launching in September 2012, the brand has barely made a dent against much more established rivals as it seeks to build brand awareness.

But Infiniti and Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Peter Jones said at this week’s launch that the Q50 would mark something of a turning point for brand here.

"We don’t talk about projections, but if we weren't significantly lifting our numbers with this car there’d be an issue for us," he said.

This echoes comments made to GoAuto at this year’s Detroit motor show by Infiniti’s global president Johan de Nysschen, who said the company needed more Euro-styled cars in Australia to overcome meagre local sales that were “obviously not sustainable”.

“The numbers we’re selling today are not the numbers we’re going to be selling in the years to come,” said Mr Jones. “This Q50... is where our growth begins.”“Johan said we needed more models designed for the global market not just for the US, the Q50 is the first of these. There will be more coming over the coming years, we’re adding to this step-by-step.”

The first of these new additions will be the Mercedes A-Class-based Q30 small hatchback in 2016, followed shortly after by the QX30 soft-roader version. By this time, Infiniti will also have new dealers in Perth, and potentially Adelaide and the Gold Coast.

The Q50’s $52k starting price applies to the GT powered by a Daimler-sourced 125kW/400Nm 2.1-litre turbo-diesel engine. The price compares very favourably to base models from principal rivals, all of which are powered by small petrol engines with less torque and inferior fuel economy.

Infiniti claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.2 litres per 100km.

These include the Audi A4 1.8 TFSI ($55,500), BMW 316i ($52,300), Lexus IS250 ($55,900) and Mercedes-Benz C200 ($59,900). Infiniti will also offer a sharpened drive-away price of $55,990 between February and April, to stimulate early interest.

The diesel engine is also available in ‘S’ and ‘S Premium’ specification, priced from $57,900 and $61,900 respectively. In all three grades, power is sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission.

The performance-leader, as with the larger M model, is the petrol-electric Q50 hybrid, which kicks off in ‘S’ grade at $67,900 climbing to $73,900 for the ‘S Premium’ with AWD – the only Q50 to come with a four-paw drivetrain.

The 268kW/546Nm V6 petrol/electric combination returns 6.8 litres per 100km in two-wheel drive layout, rising to 7.2L/100km when all four wheels are driven.

The rear-drive version can also hustle from 0-100km/h in 5.1secs. Both the engine and motor have their own clutches.

The entry diesel GT comes with standard features including 17-inch wheels, dual touchscreen displays on the centre fascia, satellite-navigation with traffic updates, DAB+ digital radio, LED headlights with daytime runners, Bluetooth audio and phone, Active Noise Control, leather seats and keyless start with memory function.

An ‘enhancement pack’ adds a sunroof and 18-inch wheels for an extra $3000.

All Q50s also come with a drive mode selector with four settings – Standard, Snow, Sport and Personal – which allows the driver to tweak steering weight and transmission behaviour.

The ‘S’ adds 18-inch wheels on the diesel and 19s on the hybrid, the DAS system with active lane control, magnesium paddle-shifters, a 14-speaker Bose stereo, sunroof and a different front bumper. In addition, the hybrid also gets bigger brakes with energy regeneration, plus firmer suspension.

The range-topping ‘S Premium’ adds 19s on the diesel version, radar-guided cruise control with autonomous braking at low speeds, a blind-spot monitor, a back-up collision radar that brakes the car when backing out of a blind car space if it detects a car coming from perpendicular angle, and active front lights with automatic high-beam.

The Q50 rides on a four-wheel independent suspension that makes extensive use of aluminium to reduce weight.

2014 Infiniti Q50 pricing*
2.2d GT (a)$51,900
2.2d S (a)$57,900
2.2d S Premium (a)$61,900
Hybrid S (a)$67,900
Hybrid S Premium (a)$73,900
*Excludes on-road costs.

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