A fresh model from a relatively new brand in Australia, the Infiniti Q50 is set to challenge the establishment, namely the BMW 3 series, Mercedes C-Class, Lexus IS and Audi A4.
And to help, Infiniti has equipped the Q50 with some innovative world-first technologies, including a clever steer-by-wire system, along with a host of safety and driver aids.
On a recent driver experience in Melbourne, we got behind the wheel to try it out, and, more importantly, take a closer look at the technology on-board.
For those who don’t know Infiniti, the car company launched in 1989, and essentially serves as the luxury platform for Nissan, similar to how Lexus is Toyota’s luxury brand. Infiniti has been in Australia since September 2012 and has dealers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with more cities due to open this year.
There’s little doubt that the 4 door luxury sedan segment is very competitive, so the Q50 really does need to set itself apart.
And it does – this is apparent in terms of its muscular and stylish outward appearance, but there’s even more to be found on the inside.
On the Engine front, variants range from a 2.2 litre diesel 4 cylinder, with a petrol 4 version on the way.
However, it’s the Hybrid model that really shines, because unlike most Hybrids, this one is actually quick – very quick in fact.
Thanks to the 3.5 litre 268kW V6, mated to a 50Kw electric motor, the Hybrid Q50 hits zero to 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds. And there’s plenty of in-gear performance too, so you’ll certainly never be short of urge on this front.
Consumption is rated at 6.8 l/100km on the rear wheel drive model – there’s an all-wheel-drive version too – and CO2 emissions of 159g/km. On our spirited drive test, the Q50 averaged 7.4 l/100.
The jewel in the Q50’s crown, at least from a technological point of view, has to be its ‘Direct Adaptive Steering’ (DAS).
Now, you may have heard that many cars these days are ‘drive-by-wire’, which means that when you press the accelerator pedal, there’s no actual mechanical connection to the engine – the pedal is more like a ‘switch’, and the throttle position is converted to electrical signals and sent to the engine by ‘wire’.
This is the same sort of idea with Direct Adaptive Steering, where the driver’s inputs are sent to a trio of electrical control units, which then direct a high-response actuator in the steering rack to move the wheels.
So why is Infiniti’s DAS a good thing?
Since there’s no mechanical connection to the wheels, for one thing, you won’t feel bumps from potholes or washboard surfaces on gravel roads through the steering wheel.
This provides more precise steering control since the steering wheel stays completely still while the wheels might be bouncing or moving from left to right. When testing, the steering was very stable, especially while driving on a rough dirt road, and meant no input corrections were needed to compensate for the bumps.
Also, from a performance point of view, by eliminating the mechanical linkage from the system, steering is even more responsive since there’s no latency caused by the differentials and gears.
The steering still provides the right kind of ‘feel’ for hard cornering, with the help of a camera that tracks the car’s motion relative to tyre and steering wheel positions, and will let the driver know what’s going on at road level by sending feedback to the steering wheel.
Another benefit of Direct Adaptive Steering is that it’s customisable, so if you want a heavy or light feeling, or a fast or slow ratio, you can have it at the touch of a button.
There are up to four presets and a custom mode set aside, including our favourite, the Sport setting, which has a very heavy ‘go kart’ feel with a very quick ratio.
And for those worried that a complete ‘steer by wire’ system is just a little to reliant on technology to be safe, Infiniti has clearly taken this very seriously, with triple control units in case one fails, and there is still a back-up mechanical linkage connecting the steering wheel to the steering rack, which is separated by a clutch that will engage if the electronic system fails.
The electronic nature of the steering system also lends nicely to other driver aids including Active Lane Control.
This will search for cues that the car is in a lane, such as road edges or painted lines, and will present an audible warning as well as gently guide you back to the middle of your lane if you’re drifting out of it. In use, the system worked quite well and detected lane edges both on a busy dual-carriage Melbourne motorway and on a single lane, quiet country road.
Thanks to tablets and smartphones, touchscreens are just about everywhere, even in cars.
The Infiniti Q50 takes this one step further with dual touch screens – there’s a seven inch on the bottom and an eight inch positioned above.
Called InTouch, the dual screen setup reduces clutter and provides a familiar swipe and tap interface to the car’s entertainment, communications, navigation and climate control systems.
The touch screens also provide access to in-car apps, which can be selected via the Infiniti Q50 companion iOS and Android smartphone apps. Facebook and Google Maps are supported, so it’s easy to send directions from a Facebook contact or Google Maps to the navigation system, and Gmail and other apps are expected to be arriving in March.
For setting up the car just the way you like it, the Q50’s i-Keys take note of a number of favourite settings including driving positions, such as seat, steering column and exterior mirrors, and you can store your preferred temperature, navigation routes, communication, entertainment and information preferences.
The Q50 has a very long list of safely and accident prevention technologies, collected under an umbrella called ‘Safety Shield’.
This includes smart and handy aids such as auto-dipping and ‘cornering’ headlights, adaptive cruise control for matching the car’s speed to the vehicle in front, and Blind Spot Detection stops you from changing lanes while a car is hiding out of view of your mirrors.
There’s also an Around View Monitor, which displays multiple angles of your vehicle using cameras at the front, rear and side to assist with low speed parking and manoeuvring.
The radar assisted Forward Emergency Braking will stop the Q50 before it rear-ends the car in front, but, in a word’s first, Infiniti’s Predictive Forward Collision Warning anticipates a potential collision by watching the car ahead of the car directly in front of you. It does this by bouncing radar beneath the car in front to the car ahead of it, and analyses the situation to gaining valuable reaction time should a possible collision situation arise.
Infiniti isn’t just concerned about what’s coming ahead of you either.
The Q50’s Backup Collision Intervention system will not only tell you if there’s something in your path while reversing, it also detects and automatically brakes the vehicle if something comes into your path from the left or right.
So for example, while backing out of a parking space, the system will brake for you if a moving car crosses your path.
Although Infiniti was careful not to say that the system could also brake for something as small as a child or even a pet 100 percent of the time, it is still another line of defence that might even save lives, not to mention prevent a collision or two.
All up, after spending a day with the Q50, we were very impressed.
Not only for the plethora driver, engine, cockpit and safety technologies available (there were plenty more that we didn’t even have time to mention), but also for the car’s on-road performance, luxury packaging and aesthetics. And there’s one other thing we liked – the price.
Given that Infiniti is a challenger brand in Australia, the pricing needed to be very sharp to help convince traditional luxury car buyers to give it a try.
Starting at $51,900, the ‘GT’ 2.2l diesel model is a good $5K less than its competitors. For the Hybrid, prices start at $67,900 for the S model, and $73,900 for the S Premium AWD version.
From our experience with it, the Q50 is definitely worth taking for a test drive, and at the very least, if you’re a gadget nut, it’s worth checking out for the tech alone.