The Mercedes-powered Q50 signals a new chapter for Infiniti

The new Infiniti Q50 Sport combines German performance with Japanese reliability.
The new Infiniti Q50 Sport combines German performance with Japanese reliability.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
The new Infiniti Q50 Sport combines German performance with Japanese reliability.
The new Infiniti Q50 Sport combines German performance with Japanese reliability.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG

Infiniti, the luxury arm of Nissan Motor, has never quite enjoyed the same level of success as Toyota's Lexus.

Several factors are to blame. First and foremost, the manufacturer did not have a proper strategy when it launched the brand here back in the 1990s (a bit like Cadillac). Soon, the brand went away, with hardly any cars sold.

Then, when it returned three years ago (long after Lexus has established a strong presence), its line-up seemed tailored for the US market. The models had huge engines (such as the 5-litre FX50), American-centric styling and driving dynamics best suited to long, straight roads.

Also, the level of fit and finish, while commendable, were a tad lower than what folks here have come to expect of luxury marques.

The new Infiniti Q50 changes all that. The car's single strongest proposition is this: a luxury sedan with German performance and Japanese reliability.

The Q50 is equipped with a tax- friendly and punchy 2-litre turbo engine and efficient seven-speed transmission - both from Mercedes-Benz. In fact, the drivetrain is the same as the one found in the new Mercedes C250.

But the Japanese car is physically bigger all around. Most importantly, its wheelbase is longer, which translates to more interior space. Its boot boasts

510 litres of space - sizeably bigger than the C-class' 480-litre trunk, which is good news to golf-mad Singaporeans.

Besides sheer space, the Q50 is attractive for another important reason: it is finally up to scratch in its build quality. True, its keyless system still requires an unsightly rubber button on the door handle and its drink holders are not lined with soft mats. But all the other parts and surfaces your eyes and hands come into contact with would make a German meister craftsman proud.

The design of the car is a lot more what non-Americans are used to. It is quite a handsome devil, with styling cues you might recognise in a BMW, Jaguar, Audi and Lexus.

My favourite visual feature is its metallic mesh grille, which looks as aggressive and expensive as something on a million- dollar Bentley.

With its generous dimensions and low-slung stance, the Q50 is a sleek and statuesque piece of eye candy that stands out in traffic.

It has substance to go with the form too. Built on a new architecture that will spawn other Infiniti models, it exudes a quiet confidence that escapes previous Infiniti cars. The chassis puts to good use what its Mercedes heart is capable of.

We are talking about more than 200 horses and, more importantly, 350Nm of torque from just 1,250rpm.

This allows the Q50 to sprint from standstill to 100kmh in 7.2 seconds. On paper, that is slightly more than what the C250 clocks, but anyone behind the wheel of the Infiniti is unlikely to say they wish it had more oomph.

Most times, the car's default normal driving mode is sufficient. But if you feel like you have had a blah day at work and need a shot of adrenaline, flick a small switch near the gear lever to activate Sport mode.

Immediately, revs pile up high with such urgency and raucousness that you forget momentarily that you are in a respectable four-door executive sedan that will seat five quite comfortably.

Gear changes are quick, with minimal loss of revs, and the steering - which is ordinarily feathery light - becomes somewhat heftier.

There is no quarrel with how the suspension copes with changes in the road surface. Ditto changes in direction that might unsettle other sedans of its stature and perceived temperament.

Drive it hard and the Q50 feels quite at ease, even though a slightly firmer and communicative steering might have made it more engaging in the long run.

Road noise is another element that could be impoved, perhaps with better insulation. That would have muted some superfluous engine noise too. As much as any driving enthusiast will appreciate the eagerness of the 2-litre turbo, it does not have a soundtrack worth writing home about.

The Q50 is suitably equipped to do battle in the premium segment. You get rich and soft leather upholstery that extends to the steering wheel, memory seats with comfort access function, all-round camera system, navigation and an infotainment system with a slew of mobile apps. Not all the apps can be used here, but the one that reads out your phone text messages is useful.

There is also a battery of digital meters, including those that chart acceleration and cornering g-forces that folks who have driven Renault's RS racers will find familiar.

If you have never considered an Infiniti, you have far fewer reasons not to now.