► Under-the-radar exec with 400bhp!
► Livewire V6 thrust, RWD chassis
► Good enough to bother C43 buyers?
Here’s a million-dollar question for you. What looks like an entirely forgettable Japanese compact saloon, slides like a Lotus 49 on part-worns and packs an M3-bothering engine for £10k less? Well, since the name at the top of the page has already ruined this little game, I’ll just come clean and tell you it’s the Infiniti Q50, when fitted with Infiniti’s riotous twin-turbo 3.0-litre six.
Previously the Q50 quietly pretended to take the fight to the Germans while actually cowering in its trench wishing it didn’t look quite so dull, or have quite such odd steering. But it was revised for 2016, making its European debut in Mk2 form at the 2016 Geneva show, and should now make a better fist of things thanks to second-generation Direct Adaptive Steering and the all-important 3.0-litre V6 engine, a likeably nuclear tech-fest set to serve in the Nissan 370Z’s successor.
Tell me about the Infiniti Q50’s engine
It’s a twin-turbo V6 able to flood the rear axle with 400bhp and 350lb ft of torque on demand. Despite the forced induction, the Infiniti engine has a nicely traditional more-revs-for-more-power delivery. Instead of stocking the lower end of the rev range with masses of torque (as the current M3/M4 does, making it tricky in the wet and unrewarding to rev out), Infiniti has taken a leaf from Ferrari’s book and engineered-in the turbo-derived meat of the thrust where you want it, north of 4500rpm (the redline’s at 7000rpm, and the crank is pretty keen to get there almost all of the time). This may be accident rather than design, but it’s good news nonetheless.
The result is a really likeable powerplant. Bimble along in near-silence, the well-mannered seven-speed auto shuffling through its gears like a wet-nosed hedgehog in dry leaves or… Or prod the drive mode controller through to Sport, pull the lever to the right for manual shifting, and wring the thing out.
Revs climb, speed builds and then, just shy of 5000rpm, the engine goes nuts, raging for the rev limiter like a possessed hairdryer and spinning up the poor, long-suffering rear Dunlops with ease. Find traction and whole convoys of slower traffic are passed without a second thought, and you find yourself giggling like a dog with a stolen sausage.
Can the chassis cope?
Yes and no. It’d be unfair to say it can’t cope, but it’s been a long time since I drove anything this exciting. Certainly, the chassis can’t provide the grip to neuter 400bhp delivered through a single axle but then show me one that can. And why would you want to? Leave the stabilisers on and you’ll be just fine, whatever the weather and however blunt your inputs, but you’ll tire of the strobing yellow lights on the dash. Knock them off and the thing’s only really tricky and unpredictable when you try to blend big throttle, damp tarmac and a lumpy surface.
The rest of the time the Infiniti’s just fantastic. You don’t give the front tyres a second thought, focussing instead on the rears and how much you’re asking of them with lateral load. Then you simply spoon in as much power as you think you might reasonably expect to get away with, plus a little, and finish the corner to the sound of gently fizzing Dunlops (245/40 19 Sport Maxxs). Soon you’re immersed in a riotous driving experience, marred only by the ponderous auto gearbox, which feels painfully slow after, say, a Golf R’s DSG.
Throughout these shenanigans the engine is your willing partner in crime. Because its heft is all power rather than torque it’s predictable and controllable, unlike, say, the torque-laden F80 BMW M3. And it makes the Q50 feel mighty fast, despite its tubby 1813kg kerb weight.
Steering and ride feel resolutely 1990s, which sounds like trash-talk but is actually a compliment. The car bobs down the road like a hot Primera, with great visibility thanks to its un-trendy slim window pillars, a nicely un-trendy thin-rimmed steering wheel that suits the car to a tee (the steering remains light and numb but it’s usefully quick and less baffling than before), a fantastic driving position and a sporty, nuggety ride that’s neither M-Sport crashy nor magic-carpet plush, but sits between the two feeling really rather good: refined enough when you’re on duty, nicely communicative and honest when you’re in a hurry.
Sounds like the best car currently on sale!
That’s not quite the case… Exterior and interior styling are, to these eyes at least, insipid – one reason (others include mallow-soft residuals and the oddness of the badge) legions of buyers won’t even consider the Q50 as they head to Mercedes for a C43. The Q60 coupe is quite a looker but with more doors, less conviction and fewer curves, the Q50 is staid by comparison. It’s a nicely compact car, and certainly a handy size on UK B-roads, but the downside is a conspicuous lack of interior space – rear legroom is cramped behind a 6ft driver.
The dash is an odd mix of the very traditional – actual clocks for the speedo and rev counter; a lot of beige – and hi-tech, with two screens (a lower touchscreen and an upper display for the nav) and myriad gadgets including auto high beam, intelligent cruise, lane assist and a mighty 14-speaker Bose premium audio system, all of which are standard on the Q50 Sport Tech.
An intriguing mix of forgettable car and excellent engine, the Q50 3.0 Sport Tech would make an extremely brave choice. Nevertheless, at £45,970 the Infiniti looks a little bit like good value. The mightiest non-M 3-series, the 340i, may be £5k cheaper but it can’t hold a candle the Q50’s sheer speed, being nearly 80bhp down and nearly half a second slower 0-62mph. An M3 is £10k more expensive, faster but arguably less funny.
Stiffest competition comes from the Mercedes-AMG C43; lighter (1690kg vs 1813kg), quicker to 62mph (4.7sec) despite less power and possessing of a lot more kerb appeal.
So the Q50 isn’t the car to tempt to you into an Infiniti. But if some quirk of fate puts you in one, you’ll enjoy yourself much more than you expected to.
More Infiniti reviews by CAR magazine