LOADED: The new Q50 comes with plenty of hi-tech toys.
LOADED: The new Q50 comes with plenty of hi-tech toys. Contributed

Infiniti's compact Q50 takes the battle to the luxury elite

STARTING from scratch is no easy task.

Just ask Infiniti, the luxury arm of Nissan, which is attempting to claw into the prestige sector.

Since launching in Australia about two years ago the progress has been slow.

More than 300 vehicles were shifted last year via three dealerships nationwide - located in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Expansion plans are gaining momentum but breaking into a competitive realm where Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW have a stranglehold is the battle facing Infiniti.

Pivotal in taking the fight to the big guns is the compact Q50, the bread-and-butter sector within luxury realms.

The pitch from Infiniti is prestige with value-for-money inclusions and we tested the range-topping models in both diesel and hybrid guises.

Comfort

Take a look around a hotel lobby and there is the explanation for Infiniti's interior design. People sit heads down analysing tablets and smartphones of all persuasions, and the two main screens within the Q50 cabin are testament to modern lifestyles.

The touch-screens offer easy use and a touch of class, complemented by wave lines and soft-touch materials.

Gaining access to various functions is made easier by large buttons on either side of the screen, and the driver has large instruments which offer clarity and quick access to vital information.

Leather trim is of high quality and the seats are cushy with impressive levels of support.

Four adults are the best fit, getting three across the rear pew can be done but legroom is impeded by the transmission tunnel.

Taller folk may also find headroom limited.

On the road

Two powertrains offer distinctly different experiences.

Without doubt, the more powerful, all-wheel drive hybrid is the pick. It stands head and shoulders above its oiler sibling - that $10,000-odd extra is money well spent.

Able to sprint from standstill to 100kmh in just above five seconds the hybrid is quick considering it's pushing 1800kg in kerb weight.

All-wheel drive and a more sporting suspension setup add further elements of confidence where rapid changes in direction are welcomed. Supporting the driving experience is Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steering system, where selecting "Sport" mode delivers a far heavier and more responsive feel.

The electronic unit was really likeable when partnered with the hybrid for its accurate turn-in and instantaneous response, although we couldn't say the same about the diesel.

In contrast, the oil-burner lacked the same intuition, while the engine was noisy, lacked class and felt clumsy. The diesel actually stalled twice when reversing on separate occasions.

Despite being a compact offering the Q50 can also feel unwieldy in tight confines. The turning circle could be tighter, and we found on a few occasions that a three-point turn was required when other vehicles of this size would comfortably manage a U-turn.

What do you get?

All Q50s come with some nice gear, including the givens like alloys, Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio streaming, sat nav, electric adjustable front seats, dual zone climate controlled air con, automatic wipers and lights, leather trim and keyless entry with push button start.

Yet S Premium models have the lot, including a 14 speaker Bose stereo, sunroof and a large suite of safety equipment including radar cruise control, lane departure and blind spot warning, rear collision warning, around view monitor, predictive forward collision warning and emergency braking.

Other options

Big competition comes from the Lexus IS (from $56,500), Audi A4 (from $55,000), BMW 3 Series (from $52,800) and the just-released Mercedes-Benz C-Class (from $60,900).

Running costs

Our drives proved fuel consumption was consistent with the official figures, with the diesel and hybrid variants achieving about six litres for every 100km - aided by some easy highway travels.

Servicing prices are capped, although intervals are short at six months when most other luxury marques are at least annual. Nissan has started to move on this and we'd expect Infiniti to follow suit and extend its maintenance timeframes.

Insurance costs shouldn't be too outrageous, although it might need shopping around, while the brand's future value is yet to be determined as a newcomer here.

Practicality

Storage is reasonable, although an extra space in the console would be handy for the key and smartphones.

The USB and auxiliary ports are in the console bin.

There is a pair of cup holders in the centre console and a spot in each door pocket for a bottle. Another pair of cup holders can be found in the fold-down arm-rest.

Boot area is generous, while dropping the seat backs improves cargo space although there is a narrow space between the wheel arches.

We managed to fit in a bike without its front wheel with some maneuvering.

Rear seats can't drop in the hybrid models due to the battery storage.

Funky factor

There is no doubting the Q50 has the looks befitting the prestige class. It's regal with a sporting edge, featuring some nice bonnet bulges and unique creases in profile.

The lowdown

Infiniti came to Australia with a long-term plan. Establishing a new brand in the world's most competitive automotive sector can't be done overnight - just ask Opel which disappeared after it found the going too tough.

To be successful in the luxury niche it's vital to have a solid player in this segment. Infiniti has that with the Q50; it's a quiet and composed performer, albeit the diesel needs some attention before meeting prestige expectations.

The hybrid is an excellent offering, athletic, plush and our pick of the Q50 bunch.

 

What matters most

What we liked: Nimble hybrid is fun to drive, classy interior design with cool touch-screens.

What we'd like to see: More refined diesel engine, tighter turning circle.

Warranty and servicing: Backed by a four year 100,000km warranty with roadside assist. Petrol hybrid intervals are 10,000km or six months. Diesels are annually or 25,000km. Average price for petrol is $512 each service for six years.



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