Determined to become a major player in its class in Australia Infiniti has introduced a midsize model called Infiniti Q50. The ‘50’ indicates it’s similar in size to the BMW 5 Series and there’s little doubt Infiniti would like to tackle the big three German brands.

However, at this stage Lexus is Infiniti’s main competitor, both companies being Japanese, Nissan is Infiniti’s parent company, Toyota oversees Lexus.

Q50 signals a new lower-priced stage for Infiniti in Australia, starting at $51,990 (plus on-roads) it undercuts the Infiniti G series coupes and convertible that begin in the mid 60s, and the large M series sedans with prices running up from the high 70s.

Bold shapes are a feature of all Infiniti models and the Q50 is arguably the boldest to date. Infiniti Q50’s front has a series of curves, angles, flics and cutouts almost as numerous as those seen in Formula One cars. Infiniti is a major sponsor of the prime Red Bull F1 team – in which Aussie driver Daniel Ricciardo will debut this season – though it seems unlikely there has been any crossover between stylists.

The overall shape is of a sweeping coupe, with interesting sculpting in the areas of the front and rear guards that tie in nicely with the shapes of the lower sections of the doors.

Inside, the style isn’t quite as radical, but the neat arrangement of the major instruments works well and, even more importantly, is easy to read at a glance. Two screens, one above the other, sit in the centre area and are easy to read. However, they are touch screens and as with all of their type can lead to driver inattention as fingers wobble about due to car movement.

On sale now are a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 125 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque, and a petrol-electric hybrid with a V6 3.5-litre petrol engine combining with an electric motor to produce 268 kilowatts and an impressive 546 Newton metres. Coming towards the end of the year is a four-cylinder turbo-petrol unit.

Automatic transmissions sit behind each engine, with the unit in the hybrid having a more complex design than the others to give it additional modes.

Most models are driven by the rear wheels – as is only right in a car aimed at the sports sedan buyer – but the topline S Premium version of the hybrid has the added grip offered by all-wheel drive.

Fascinating new features include electric actuation of the steering system. We aren’t talking electric power assistance here, but of the rack being moved by actuators. The driver can select different levels of steering feel. The lowest cost version, the Q50 GT diesel doesn’t receive this.

Reverse out of a blind parking spot and the Infiniti not only advises if its cameras see pedestrians and/or vehicles about to cross your path, but also puts on the brakes.

Upper models get active headlights that do their own high to low beam and vice versa.

Around View gives a look at the car you’re parking or un-parking as though it was taken from a camera in a drone above you. Fascinating and one that’s worth asking to see demonstrated by your local dealer. But only if you live in Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney, because at this stage there are no others.

The front seats are large and support nicely. The rears aren’t particularly spacious, having legroom that’s about average for this class and headroom that may prove marginal for those who are a bit taller than average.

Boot size is good in all but the hybrid which suffers from the usual loss of space due to the fitment of large batteries. The hybrid also misses out on the fold-down backrests used on the others.

The different modes on the adaptive steering are definitely noticeable and can be customised. The feel is different to that of normal steering, but not to a great extent as most cars are already pretty good these days. There’s a more planted feel to the car that provides added security if you mistakenly take a bend far too fast.

Though the Red Bull F1 team may not have lent Infiniti its body stylists, lead driver Sebastian Vettel did take part in the development and fine tuning of the suspension and steering systems.

Active lane control is fitted, but didn’t work particularly well during the 300+ km drive program arranged by Infiniti for the media launch. So drivers will still have to think for themselves and pay attention at all times. As it should be…

Though we tend to think of hybrids as being built for economy, they can also be set up for power and grunt – and that’s exactly what Infiniti has given us. The electric motor provides instant response and has torque available from zero revs. Put your foot down to overtake quickly, or simply to have fun off the lights, and the Infiniti Q50 instantly feels alive. Zero to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds – we love it.

Ride comfort is good and noise reduction is excellent.

Infiniti is still struggling to make a name for itself in Australia. The Q50 costs significantly less than all other Infinitis to date, and will delight those who enjoy driving, not to mention those who love technology. It’s well worth adding to your shopping list of relatively affordable upmarket cars.

The complete Infiniti Q50 range is:
GT 2.2-litre diesel: $51,900 rrp ($55,000 driveaway until 30 April 2014)
S 2.2-litre diesel: $57,900 rrp ($64,197 driveaway)
S Premium 2.2-litre diesel: $61,900 rrp ($68,397 driveaway)
Hybrid S 3.5-litre petrol/electric: $67,900 rrp ($74,597 driveaway)
S Premium 3.5-litre petrol/electric: $73,900 rrp ($81,797 (driveaway)

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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