What is it?
With the brains and brawn of Nissan behind it, Infiniti has always had the potential, on paper at least, to be a class-leading manufacturer. However, despite maintaining its presence in the UK for over eight years, Infiniti has categorically failed to make an impact in the premium car sector – I mean, when was the last time you saw one in the wild? Exactly.
Ultimately, Nissan’s luxury sub-brand has long been in need of something special; a car to lure buyers away from the diverse range of accomplished, but in most cases, rather staid European competitors. Something, Infiniti hopes, its new range-topping Q50 3.0t will be able to achieve.
On first inspection, things are off to a positive start, thanks to some handsome exterior styling. Granted, the gaping grill and swooping lines won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but next to our long term BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 it’s undoubtedly a striking design. And unlike previous Q50s, it’s no longer all show and no go.
Under the bonnet sits an all-new 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine, a motor belonging to the new VR family that replaces Nissan’s highly regarded VX engine, as used by the 370Z, among others. With a new direct injection system and revised turbochargers, the high-output version (the Middle-East gets a restricted unit) certainly doesn’t want for power, delivering 395bhp at 6,400 rpm and 350lb ft of torque between 1,600-5,200rpm.
Our car’s power is sent to the rear wheels (a four-wheel driver version is available) through a seven-speed automatic gearbox and Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering system: its world-first ‘by-wire’ fully electronic steering setup, now in its second generation, allegedly provides smoother and more responsive directional handling.
What’s it like?
It doesn’t take long to discover that Infiniti’s all-new turbocharged six-cylinder is something truly special. Flex your right foot and with minimal lag from the turbos a solid surge of thrust rapidly emerges, overwhelming the rear tyres’ at anything below 50mph. Consequently, we found ourselves using a gear higher than usual, revelling in the engine’s prodigious levels of torque.
That’s not to say it won’t rev when asked. If you can get it hooked up (made all the more difficult thanks to the absence of a proper limited-slip differential) the V6 pulls strongly through the entirety of the rev-range, building to a R35 GT-R-like crescendo at 7000rpm. It’s a genuine monster of a powerplant, and feels every bit as characterful as comparable offerings from BMW and Mercedes.
That said, despite the impressive tractability of the engine, it’s hard not to become frustrated with the hesitancy of the seven-speed gearbox. Left in standard mode it hunts around and shows a general reluctance to drop down when driving in town. Optional magnesium flappy paddles allow for greater control over the ‘box, but even in Sport Plus shifts are slow and haphazard.
The Q60’s 19in alloy wheels and standard-fit run-flat tyres contribute to a firmer ride than most of its rivals, but the digital dynamic suspension does a commendable job of taking the sting out of larger intrusions. Surprisingly, the chassis also improves as your speed increases, demonstrating good body control, a predictable balance and reasonable levels of adhesion.
It’s a setup that would be all the more enjoyable if not for Infiniti’s newly revised ‘DAS’ active steering set-up. Essentially, the system removes the direct connection between steering wheel and steered axle for what its maker claims is smoother steering. However, smoother does not necessarily equal better, as we quickly found out.
Regardless of the surface, be it pothole-ridden city streets or rutted B-roads, the system provides virtually no feedback through the rim. Now, we admit, most electric steering systems currently on the market offer limited communication, but what sets the Infiniti unit apart as a truly flawed system is the changeable torque loads transmitted through the wheel. When driving fast, the ‘mock’ feedback feels simply unpredictable and robs the driver of any real confidence. Not ideal in a range-topping sports saloon.
Should I buy one?
The Q50 3.0t is a curious proposition. It has a characterful engine, an adjustable chassis and striking aesthetics. But, once again, Infiniti has managed to miss the mark.
For a car approaching £50,000, the ageing infotainment system, flimsy switchgear and lack of rear headroom looks embarrassingly poor next to the impeccable quality of the German contenders. And the hesitant transmission and needlessly complicated steering corrupt what is otherwise a dynamically composed car.
We’d love to recommend it as a leftfield alternative to the straight-laced German mainstream, but it would need to be a much better drive to get our vote.
2016 Infiniti Q50 3.0t Sport Tech
Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £45,970; Engine 6 cyls, 2997cc, petrol; Power 395bhp at 6,400rpm Torque 350lb ft at 1600-5,200rpm Gearbox Seven-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1813kg; 0-62mph 5.1secs; Top speed 155mph; Economy 31.0 (combined); CO2/tax band 206g/km, 37% Rivals BMW 340i M Sport Saloon; Mercedes-AMG C 43
What is it?