By: Denis Droppa

Introducing a new brand into a conservative and badge-conscious market isn’t easy, as Infiniti has discovered with its low-key sales performance since being launched in South Africa two years ago.

But Nissan’s luxury division is hoping for slightly better volumes with the launch of its new Q50, a sedan pitched into the cut-throat medium-executive segment against rivals like the BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. That’s a tough market to crack but the Q50 is hoping to do it with a dash of high tech, glamour and practicality.

On the first two counts the car has plenty to offer, if not so much the third.

At 4.78 metres long the Q50 is claimed to be the largest car in its segment, although quite where that length goes is uncertain as this Infiniti isn’t overly-endowed with cabin room. Rear passengers will sit comfortably only if the front occupants are quite considerate about moving their own seats forward, while the cargo hold just doesn’t look as if it will hold the claimed 500 litres of luggage (400 litres in the hybrid model which has batteries in the boot floor). No spare tyre’s available, and the car employs runflats.

The glamour part is well taken care of however, with coupé-like curves that make the Q50 easy on the eye and give it a distinctive presence on the road. The cockpit is similarly well-styled, with high-class interior trimmings befitting a car that has a starting pricetag of R399 000.

STEER-BY-WIRE

Technology-wise the Q50’s trump card is a steer-by-wire system called Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), which is claimed to give the car the most responsive steering in its class. Like its rivals the Q50 also comes with various crash-prevention systems such as lane-keeping, intelligent cruise control, blind spot warning and automatic braking, along with stability control and a raft of airbags.

One of the most connected cars in its segment, this Infiniti is equipped with a customisable multimedia system called InTouch which can do anything from streaming your phone’s music via Bluetooth, to reading out your emails to you.

Later this year the new Infiniti Q50 will also become available with a 2-litre turbo petrol engine, but for now it’s sold with a choice of two power units: a 125kW/400Nm 2.2-litre turbodiesel, and a hybrid that combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined output of 261kW and 546Nm. All versions are rear wheel driven, with the hybrid optionally also available as all-wheel drive. Six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmissions are on offer.

THREE GRADES, MANY OPTIONS

There are three grades of trim available on the car - standard, Premium and Sport - along with a raft of extra-cost options if your budget is healthy.

The base model comes with features like cloth/leather seats, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, tyre pressure monitoring, and the InTouch multimedia system with two touch screens.

Higher-end features such as leather upholstery and electrically operated seats become available as you move up into the more expensive models, but navigation for now isn’t available in any variant - it will only become an option later in the year.

NEAT ROAD HOLDING

The top-of-the-range Q50S Hybrid comes with sports suspension and brakes, along with Active Lane Control and Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS). I drove this version on the media launch held in KZN earlier this week, and what stood out was its hearty power and smooth delivery, along with very neat roadholding that made it a true sports sedan.

The fancy computer-controlled steering was good at filtering out bumps and preventing the wheel from bucking around in your hands, but I wasn’t overly impressed with its artificial feel in the corners.

The brakes were over-sharp too, and here perhaps one Sebastian Vettel, who is Infiniti’s Director of Performance and helped tweak the car’s dynamics, was thinking too much of F1 racing instead of real-world driving.

That said, the Q50 feels solidly built and refined, and from this point of view the Japanese executive car makes a worthy rival to the German triumvirate.

Infiniti currently has four dealers in South Africa, with plans to extend it to ten eventually.

PRICING

Q50 2.2 tdi - R399 000

Q50 2.2 tdi Premium - R429 000

Q50 2.2 tdi Sport - R474 000

Q50 Hybrid rwd - R559 000

Q50 Hybrid awd - R584 000