Infiniti is the premium brand of Nissan, just as Lexus is to Toyota. It was launched in 1989 coming to Europe in 2008. Production was first based in Japan and the USA, the latter being a big market with a big influence on the type of vehicles it builds. USA customers have accounted for 60,000 of Infiniti’s 101,220 global sales for the first six months of this year, a 30% increase over the same period last year. China is the second largest market this year with 14,000 sales in the same period.
Infiniti plans to achieve 500,000 annual global sales by the end of this decade due to the expansion of their model range by 60%. So far this year the new Q50 sports saloon has accounted for half of all Infiniti’s global sales.
In the UK the brand is still in its fledgling state with just nine Infiniti Centres but a tenth is under construction in Newcastle. However the name Infinity will have a much higher profile soon in the UK when the brand starts building their compact car Q30 range at the Nissan Plant in Sunderland. As part of the push for global sales another Infiniti Plant is being built in China.
For us in the UK Infiniti is probably better known for its role as title sponsor and vehicle performance partner of Red Bull F1 Racing. Apart from the new Q50 the current Infiniti range consists of the Q60 Coupe and Cabriolet models, the Q70 saloon and the QX50 and QX70 medium and large SUV 4x4s.
With a limited range of relatively expensive models and a small dealer network growth of sales of Infiniti cars in the UK have been very low, just 232 in 2010, 382 in 2011, 530 in 2012 and only 386 in 2013. But for the first seven months of this year sales have improved by 34% with 357 registrations already due mainly to the arrival of the Q50 executive D-segment range of saloons with diesel and petrol-hybrid power options. The Q50 sports saloon range has allowed them to become more effective in the company car and business user-chooser markets rather than predominately retail customers.
A new 2.0-litre, 211PS, four-cylinder, lightweight turbocharged petrol engine, built in Tennessee USA by the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler for the Mercedes C-Class, is joining the Q50 line-up soon. A high performance Eau Rouge 3.8-litre V6 568PS prototype version has been displayed at various shows and motoring events and takes its name from the famous F1 Spa circuit.
Until the arrival of the 2.0-litre petrol models the Q50 range is predominately powered by just the 2.2-litre, 170PS turbodiesel engine with rear wheel drive but there are the 3.6-litre, 364PS petrol/electric hybrid versions, one rear wheel drive the other all-wheel drive. There is the choice of SE, Premium, Sport, S Hybrid, and predominately for business users Executive and Premium Executive specification levels. Hybrid versions use an automatic transmission; diesel models offer a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes. Prices range from £27,950 to £41,815.
My Infiniti experience was with the current best selling Q50 model, the 2.2D Auto Premium priced at £31,900. It is an alternative to the volume selling BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the VW Passat (CC) and Volvo S60 so exclusivity could be the major appeal of the Infiniti Q50.
The four door Q50 Saloon with its coupe side profile styling powered by a 2.2-litre, 170PS (168bhp) turbodiesel engine and seven-speed auto gearbox, both with Mercedes-Benz connections, will appeal to high mileage users who like to travel in some luxury and comfort.
The engine sets no new standards in this executive sector, in fact it is still only Euro 5 compliant so it will soon need updates to meet next year’s Euro 6 emission regulations. It is quiet once underway but grumbles audibly on cold start-up. With 168bhp, but more importantly a high torque output of 400Nm (295lb ft) from 1,600rpm, it offers linear and responsive performance right through its rev range smoothly delivered to the rear wheels through the seven-speed auto gearbox. Occasionally the gearchanges felt on the slow side as we have become used to the snappier performance from modern twin-clutch automatics.
Top speed is 143mph and the zero to 62mph acceleration time is 8.5 seconds, a shade slower than most of its competitors. In common with the completion the Q50 has a driving mode selector where Snow, Standard, Sport and Personal settings can be applied to the car’s performance. Standard was best I felt.
Its fuel economy and tax gathering CO2 emissions set no new standards in its class either. The Q50’s diesel engine will officially return 58.9mpg in the Combined Cycle and on my test covering town, country and motorway driving the real-life figure was 46.3mpg, no too shabby given the cars relatively heavy 1,750kg weight for today’s standards, significantly more than its main competitors. With regard to emissions the official figure is 124g/km which means £0 cost VED road tax for the First Year rate ad then £110 for Year Two onwards, both more than the BMW 320d and Merc C220 CDI. For company car users this means a Benefit-in-Kind tax rating of 20%, Again more than the 18% of the BMW/Merc and Volvo S60 competition but the same as the Audi A4 2.0TDI auto and 2% less than the VW Passat (CC) 2.0 TDI.
As for ride comfort, yes it impresses in that department and felt well balanced with its front engine and rear wheel drive layout. But the road noise intrusion for a car of this perceived quality was too high due in part I suspect to the optional larger 18-inch wheels fitted to my test car. With the American’s reputation for liking a quiet and comfortable ride from their sedans, the USA is Infiniti’s best selling market, I suspect the standard 17-inch wheels will be better but both are fitted with run-flat tyres for Europe so that could be the issue.
Breaking away from the European hard-edged styling lines, the Q50 is big, bold but more curvaceous, more passive but still imposing and classy to some extent and an alternative to the rep-mobile image which the BMW 3-Series/Audi A4 has inherited to some extent.
Inside the classy upmarket theme continues with a comprehensive array of specification. With the Premium spec it has most of the main functions including comfy leather upholstered seats, roomy in the front but slightly short of legroom in the rear and the centre passenger will have to put up with the transmission tunnel intrusion. The twin cockpit fascia design includes twin touchscreens, numerous controls and switches look a bit too much ‘gadgetry’. Sometimes less is actually more.
But not included as standard is sat-nav, even for this grade of model. That function comes as part of a £2,760 Multimedia pack and the Safety Shield pack with intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, predictive forward collision function and distance control assist are part of another £2,080 option. Checking the spec list I found my £31,900 test car had nearly £10,000 worth of options. Looking to be different from buying or leasing one of the mainstream premium German brand models offers no price advantage for the Q50 – but what price rarity value?
MILESTONES: Infiniti Q50 2.2D Automatic Premium 4-door saloon. Price: £31,900 (£41,580 as tested). Engine/transmission: 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder, in-line, turbodiesel, 168bhp, 295lb ft of torque from 1,600rpm, 7-speed automatic, rear wheel drive. Performance: 143mph, 0-62mph 8.5 seconds, 58.9mpg (46.3mpg on test), CO2 124g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £110 Year Two onwards, BIK company car tax 20%. Insurance group: 40. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,800mm, W 1,820mm, H 1,445mm, boot 500-litres. For: Fills an important gap in the Infiniti model range for growing the brand’s global sales potential, plenty of standard specification but still with plenty of options to suit your budget, comfortable front interior, an alternative to mainstream German premium brands. Against: Very small UK dealer network, diesel engine is not yet Euro 6 compliant, noisy engine on cold start-up, road noise intrusion, not the lowest of running costs in this premium sector, not as dynamic to drive as a BMW 320 for instance. Miles better news agency