Q50 3.5 AWD S hybrid: To Infiniti and beyond
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Remarkably, there are several new car brands launching in New Zealand this year.
Perhaps the most familiar nameplate however, will be Infiniti. What may be less expected, is the variety of models on offer and the distributor's determination to offer buyers something different.
Firstly, Infiniti suggests you should forget what you think you know about the brand. Shorthand may suggest "flash Nissan", but the way the Nissan Renault Alliance looks upon its flagship luxury brand has evolved in recent years.
Headquartered in Hong Kong with a German boss, Infiniti has been operating separately from Nissan for three years now, New Zealand's newly arrived boss Tom Griffiths tells me.
"Infiniti is something of a fusion brand and is in a pretty interesting position," he says.
"It's a stand-alone manufacturer, but a part of the world's second-largest automotive manufacturing alliance. Increasingly, Infiniti is the technology leader in terms of the Renault Nissan Alliance; technology developed by Infiniti finds its way into other brand's products, not the other way around."
This role as "thought leader" for the Nissan Renault Alliance has seen several Infiniti-led projects come to fruition that, says Griffiths, are designed to rethink the way people use cars.
One such project doesn't even involve the car. Rather, Infiniti has developed an e-bike that owners stow in their boots (where the bike charges on an integrated docking station), then uses it to commute the last few kilometres into the central city after parking their Infinitis on the city fringe.
Griffiths says that Infiniti wants to take the active lead with new ideas around car ownership, starting with the early adopters they're pitching to here.
"We'd like to see an Infiniti Q50 sedan owner, for example, who has selected that particular model for a specific reason, be able to swap into an SUV for a weekend away skiing, or perhaps if he or she needed to tow something; the idea being that they drop their Infiniti into their local dealership and swap into the other vehicle for the time required.
"The fact they've purchased a specific model of Infiniti shouldn't preclude them from experiencing the brand as a whole," he says.
As to the local range -- more of which we'll evaluate in the coming months -- Griffiths says that with a comprehensive range of body styles offered from the get-go (at time of writing the car company has been officially open for business for six weeks), there are plenty of options.
Naturally, as with other players in the current market, high hopes surround Infiniti's SUV models; especially the sleek mid-sizer QX70s, of which three grades are available, all sporting a 3.0-litre turbo diesel. There is also the big-daddy QX80 5.6 S available, boasting acres of room and a 298kW, 5.6-litre V8 petrol up front, although with that engine and a $155,990 price tag, this will be a more exclusive buy.
The hero model, suggests Griffiths, will be the Q60S coupe, although there's also the Q30 hatchback and QX30 crossover to come. Both are built in the UK and will no doubt find a larger audience than the coupe.
I spent a few days in Infiniti's flagship four-door sedan, the Q50 3.5 AWD S, that features a powerful 3.5-litre V6 paired with an Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid engine for total system output of 268kW.
The Q50 is driver-focused: supportive seats and a great driving position make this medium-sedan feel like a performance car.
It's a lively thing, too; hybrid oomph from stand-still means you pick up the pace quickly. There are some nice tech details in the cabin, including a dual-screen display, giving the driver a mix of "standard" touchscreen for the 14-speaker Bose audio system and satellite navigation, along with a second screen for heating and ventilation functions and Infiniti InTouch system, which offers a variety of apps and is linked to through the driver's mobile phone.
Infiniti was the originator of the 360-degree surround-view camera system (which mimics a bird's eye-view), so naturally that technology is front and centre here.
Lexus' IS300h is an obvious rival for this car. It's cheaper and newer, having just been updated earlier this year.
But the Infiniti offers a lot more grunt from the V6 component of its hybridised powertrain (the Lexus has two less cylinders) and, of the two, probably offers a more engaging drive experience when pushed. Take the hybrid out of the equation, however, and pair a Lexus IS200t F Sport with an Infiniti Q50 2.0 T Premium, and that would be a much closer dynamic battle on the road.
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol (155kW) / 3.5-litre V6 with Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid (268kW, 546Nm)
Prices: $69,990 (Q50 2.0T GT) / $74,990 (Q50 2.0T GT with sunroof and 18” alloys) / $79,990 (Q50 2.0T S Premium) / $94,990 (Q50 3.5L AWD S Premium)
Pros: Equipment level, driving position, steering feel, petrol electric hybrid option
Cons: Early adopters face “Isn’t it just a Nissan?” inquisition