The numbers are good, the manner of its delivery rather less so
For people who want a compact sporting saloon but are either unable or choose not to go the whole hog, there is a strong seam of competitors below the likes of the BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C63, Audi RS4 so on. Compared with vaunted stablemates, these cars are more tepid than hot, but still boast 3-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder engines putting out an average of 350bhp or so.
To their number we must now add the Infiniti Q50. But it doesn’t have 350bhp, it is just one short of 400bhp, directed to the rear wheels alone through a seven-speed paddle-shift transmission.
You may still be struggling to recognise Nissan’s luxury brand and it’s true that this marque, confected to steal sales in the US for precisely the same reasons that Toyota and Honda launched Lexus and Acura, has struggled to reach critical mass over here with cars designed for over there. But surely this quite attractive, competitively priced Q50 with its class-leading power should make some headway?
The problem is it tries to put you off before you’ve even pressed the start button. The interior is awful and would be so even if its predominately German rivals were not so conspicuously good in this area. There is no sense of luxury here, no sense of style, no sense that this really is anything more than a quick Nissan.
But then it tries to win you over. The brand-new engine is lovely: smooth, quite tuneful and commendably responsive over a wide rev range. It feels very civilised, as does the ride quality which is firm but deftly damped. It’s practical too: rear room is nothing special but you can say that of any car in this class. But it has a big boot and a huge fuel tank, which remain rarities.
And then it goes and spoils it. For all its power, sleek stance and fat tyres, this is not a car for driving fast. The biggest culprit is the unpleasant electronic steering which provides precious little detail of road conditions, but you notice also that the car doesn’t seem as quick as you’d expect from a small car with a notably powerful engine. Drive it really fast and it feels rather cumbersome too.
A look at the spec sheet reveals why: this might be the fastest car in the class, but it’s also the weightiest, heavier than the BMW 340i by more than 200kg and significantly heftier than the Merc C43, despite the latter having four-wheel-drive hardware. So you’ll not be surprised to learn that it has also convincingly the worst fuel thirst and the highest CO2 output.
In the face of this, a smooth engine and sophisticated ride is not enough, nor close to it. If you’re going to take on the establishment you need to be not just as good as those you wish to rival, but better in order to make up for the fact that no one knows who you are. Seen this way it is impossible to conclude other than that, once more, Infiniti has underestimated the size of the hill it seeks to climb.
Engine 3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbocharged
Power [email protected]
Torque 350lb [email protected]
Transmission seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power to weight 220bhp per tonne
Top speed 155mph