Stealth tactics: Infiniti ups its game with the Q50
The Infiniti Q50 epitomises automotive stealth. The classically proportioned sports saloon will only merit a second glance from those in the know, but this subtlety and simplicity is very much in the car's favour. The Q50 is pitched at the business motorist who feels they're too left field for a German cliché and perhaps not traditional enough for a Jaguar. And although Infiniti is a sub-division of Nissan, the marque has a global, middle-of-everywhere name that effectively flattens any lingering issues one might have about class, culture and the relative values of one country's cars over another.
Infiniti began life as division aimed only at the US, following hot on the heels of Honda's Acura and Toyota's Lexus divisions. For a decade or so it was content to re-badge and beef up existing Nissan designs, but in the last five years Infiniti has upped its game, reinvigorated its design department and set its sights on matching the best the German market has to offer. Since 2008 it's been tackling the Europeans in their own marketplace.
Look a little harder at the Q50's lines and you'll see some intriguing details. Infiniti now has its own London-based design studio and is keen to capitalise on a run of stunning concept cars such as the recent Q80 that have promised much but haven't (yet) translated into proper production models. What the company has carried over is a flair for sculpted surfaces, deployed with far more aplomb than the rather brutal slash-and-pinch approach taken by rivals Lexus, for example.
The company also has a talent for high-tech interior design. The Q50 comes with a full quota of semi-autonomous technology, although we're now in a strange hinterland when each and every car one drives has differing levels of 'safety'-focused sensor-driven abilities. The Q50's bag of tricks certainly keep you on your toes, with lane control that can never quite decide if it wants to be a subtle guiding hand or an authoritarian control freak and automatic braking in traffic that doesn't evolve naturally into a 'traffic follow' function as you might expect. It's not time to cede total control just yet.
The car squeezes decent if not outstanding performance from its 2-litre engine, although the 'sports saloon' appellation is perhaps a little over-stretched. That could change if a conceptual variant of the Q50 makes it to market. The Q50 Eau Rouge shoehorns the extremely powerful V6 from Nissan's extremely powerful GT-R into the engine bay. The result, we're told, transforms the character and prowess of this essentially decent but rather anonymous saloon. If it ever goes on sale, the Eau Rouge might make for a more seductive Q50, but at the expense of that stealthy image.