Infiniti Q50 Sport Diesel
I must admit that when I first saw Infiniti's initial local line-up back in 2012, I didn't envision them selling more than a handful of them a month.
Interesting, luxurious and solidly made they certainly were, but with a rather limited line-up positioned north of the R600 000 mark, and perhaps a bit too close to rivals, Infiniti would need to do a lot of work to poach buyers from their familiar premium choices.
Fast forward two years and Infiniti still has a lot of work to do in that respect, but the Q50 is proof that Nissan's luxury division is making confident steps in the right direction. Earlier this year we tested the hybrid version, which was impressive enough in its own right but hardly positioned in the mainstream.
That job belongs to the 2.1-litre turbodiesel model and its 2-litre turbopetrol cousin. The diesel starts at R410 000, versus R458 000 for the BMW 320d and R459 000 for the Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI, and the latter also donated its engine to the Infiniti but more on that later.
Infiniti hasn't been too stingy on specification and even the base model comes with a dual touch-screen infotainment system linked to a reverse camera and multi-function steering wheel, dual-zone climate control with advanced filtering, cruise control, keyless entry and pushbutton start as well as 17-inch alloys. The only thing you're really missing here is leather seats, which you'll get on the R440 000 automatic-gearbox Premium model.
I tested the even more 'premium' Sport version that commands R487 000 of your hard-earned, but pampers you with powered sports seats and steering wheel, intelligent key with memory functions, tyre pressure monitoring and heated exterior mirrors. The Sport part of the equation comes in the form of 18-inch alloys, 'sport' front bumper, LED headlights and aluminium cabin trim.
CABIN’S SPORTY BUT TIGHT
Now that we've walked through the range without getting too lost, let's step inside.
First impressions are good enough as you sink into the cabin. While there's no real wow factor here, it is neatly designed, solidly made and the surface materials all pass for premium grade. The cabin edges wrap around you to create a sporty cockpit-like feel, although the rear quarters are perhaps a bit too claustrophobic for comfort. Back seat legroom is a bit tighter than is the class norm.
Infiniti's 'InTouch' infotainment system is a geek's delight, but simple tasks like tuning in a radio station take quite a bit of fumbling around for the uninitiated user.
On the road, the Mercedes-sourced 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine pretty much does what it says on the box, the 125kW/400Nm oil burner delivering ample grunt and the seven-speed autobox keeping the procedure smooth. I did find it a tad noisy, but I'm really nitpicking here.
The ride quality is comfortable on everyday surfaces, but the set-up is on the firmer side of the equation, meaning you'll need to slow down to crawling speeds traverse speed humps comfortably.
The Q50 diesel is available optionally with Infiniti's 'steer-by-wire' system, which sounds a bit scary but the company does assure us that it is backed up by a conventional mechanical linkage that comes into play if the electronic back-ups fail.
The proposed benefits of this system is that it frees the steering from vibration and improves responsiveness, while also allowing you to tailor the response and weighting to your liking. The end result? Yes it is pleasantly direct and responsive, but then so are the conventional steering systems you get in the 3 Series.
Also, at full lock at parking speeds it suddenly gives you a disconnected feeling of the kind you'd expect if the steering wheel was about to fall off. It felt a rather creepy, but only because I wasn't used to it.
Infiniti's Q50 has its fair share of plusses and minuses, but overall it is a solid and sporty-looking new rear-wheel drive contender that also undercuts its rivals in price - particularly if you stick to the more basic grades. It's not about to surge ahead of its rivals, but is well worth a test drive if you're looking for something a little different.
Infiniti Q50 Sport Diesel
Engine: 2143cc, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 125kW @ 4200rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1600-2800rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 8.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 231km/h
Consumption (claimed): 5.0 litres per 100km
Price: R487 000
Warranty: Three-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km