It’s fresh, it’s different – but is that enough to sway buyers?
Imagine you are Nissan and own a premium brand that’s quite big in America but microscopic in Europe: what do you do? Do you try and beat BMW at its own game and risk almost inevitably being portrayed as a me-too pretender, or do you do something completely different and risk irrelevance instead?
With Infiniti and its new Q50, Nissan has chosen the latter path. In price and positioning it’s a clear rival for a BMW 3-series, but in its execution it is a world apart. For while the BMW is angular on the outside and minimalist inside, the Q50 is curvaceous without and complex almost to the point of clutter within. While BMW leads with almost old-school mechanical engineering, Infiniti wants you to focus on its car’s bewildering technological capabilities.
None of which is more befuddling than the fact that the car is available with steering that has no mechanical connection between the wheel you hold and those that turn the car. Actually that’s not quite true because if this first steer-by-wire system to make it into production fails, a mechanical system automatically kicks in; but the rest of the time the only reason the front wheels turn when you turn the steering wheel is because a computer told them to.
In theory the advantages are many: kickback and friction are eliminated, the steering can have any ratio it likes and you can programme different weight and response profiles too. What it cannot do is provide any real sense of connection to the road, save that which it can digitally and none too realistically synthesise. I drove cars with and without it and massively preferred the fusty old standard system.
The rest of the car is good, but not good enough. You’ll think it handles well right until the moment you drive a 3-series, and while the borrowed Mercedes diesel engine has a reasonable specification, it is beaten on every count from acceleration to economy by the BMW.
I admire Infiniti for having a go and if for some reason you’re averse to owning a 3-series (or an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-class) and wish instead to drive something interesting, attractive and different, there is something to be said for the Q50. But for everyone else, I’m afraid the Germans just do it better. I think the Q50 will sell in greater numbers than other Infinitis thanks to its competitive diesel engine, but Infiniti’s dream of rivalling the best in Europe seems set to remain just that for a while yet.
Engine: 2.2 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 168bhp @ 3200rpm
Torque: 295lb ft @ 1600rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 143mph