Infiniti’s range-topping answer to the German duo of the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class does not come cheap – at least not this one we’ve been driving. Meet the 2014 Infiniti Q50 S Hybrid: 3.5-litre V6, 68PS electric motor, all the tech you could ask for on a spec-sheet, and a RM398,800 price tag that’s far from easy to swallow.
Typically, the fully-imported (CBU) from Japan Q50S Hybrid joins a segment led largely by the BMW F30 3 Series and the all-new Mercedes-Benz W205 C-Class. But because of the specific nature of this beast (it’s a hybrid), it’s only fair to square it off against the likes of the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 (RM538,800), and the Lexus IS 300h (RM383,300) – only in another review (maybe one for the Q50 2.0t), would it be directly fair to rope in the popular BMW 320i/ 328i and the Mercedes-Benz C200/ C250.
As tested more than a year ago, the F30 ActiveHybrid 3 is a great bit of kit: ridiculously quick, equipped to the brim, and indefinitely a proper modern BMW. Sadly, being an imported vehicle, the AH3 no longer warrants receiving the government’s (NAP 2014) import and excise duty exemptions for hybrids it once enjoyed, which skyrockets its price to RM140k more than the Infiniti in review.
The Lexus IS 300h (RM383,300) on the other hand, while priced very similarly to the Q50S Hybrid, is no match for the Infiniti’s 3.5-litre V6 (IS 300h has a 2.5-litre engine + hybrid power). And apart from being a well-engineered vehicle with great sales and service support, comparisons aren’t all that fair when you put the Q50S’s 364hp and 546Nm of torque against the IS 300h’s 178hp and 221Nm.
Driving a 2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid:
In a segment largely dominated by more affordable variants of the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Q50 has its work cut out for itself where driving matters. As mentioned, tabled in this variant are a 3.5-litre V6 engine assisted by a 68PS electric motor (a.k.a. the Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid), which send a total system output of 364hp and 546Nm to the rear wheels. What that translates to is a 5.1-seond sprint to 100km/h: just where the BMW 335i modestly claims a 5.2s time.
PERFORMANCE: In the real world, yes, there’s a very refreshing surge of power when you stamp the throttle, and the seven-speed torque converter automatic gets you up to speed hassle-free. Speaking of which, the transmission is fitted with a Driver-adaptive learning algorithm, which tries to understand your driving habits and adjusts its shift patterns accordingly.
How you use all of this is of course up to you, with there being five driving modes for you to choose from, one of which being a customisable “individual” mode: throttle response, gear shifts and steering weight can be sharpened or eased up as you wish – the suspension isn’t adaptive, but being the sportier 'S' model, you do get a sports suspension, beefier brakes with better tyres (Dunlop SP Sport Maxx run flats).
RIDE & HANDLING: For comfort and refinement, you may quantify being better off in a 3 Series, but only in negligible amounts you wouldn’t think twice about on a daily basis. The all-new W205 C-Class is in a bit of a league of its own for comfort driving, being the freshest thing out of the oven.
Where handling matters, attacking a few corners in the Q50 quickly reveals how good a chassis there is under the Q50: the car isn’t unsettled easily, offering lots of mechanical grip to appease our courage on public roads. At the same time, it also unearthed something we didn’t quite like about the Q50S Hybrid, and that’s the Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) system, which as we’ve found out, has a bit of a mind of its own.
STEER BY WIRE: DAS is the world’s first ‘steer-by-wire’ system in automotive application that completely disconnects the steering wheel from any physical attachment to the front wheels. Now, there are upsides to having such a thing, like never having to deal with any sudden steering jolts or vibrations as you go over road imperfections, but on the flipside, it doesn’t leave much room for the confidence to drive hard. Worse still, when the front wheels turn and the steering wheel doesn’t follow – yes, that happens quite a bit if you leave the Active Lane Control switched on. We’ll let your imagination draw further conclusions to that.
Where weight is concerned, DAS does well to simulate the sensations, but weight alone is never enough to give you the “go faster” confidence, especially when in the back of your mind you know that there’s nothing but an ECU and an electronically-controlled actuator determining your driving direction, at whatever speed you dare. This writer, at least, isn’t quite ready to move away from a rack and pinion arrangement.
Taking advantage of the pinion-less steering, Infiniti has bundled in its Active Lane Control feature, which effectively prevents you from unintentionally straying across lanes by using a lane-detection camera mounted on the windscreen to “see” road markings, and then tells the DAS system to correct wheel direction accordingly. Brilliant idea, akin to something you’d find in the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but the fact that the system willingly changes the direction of the front wheels without any effect on the angle of the steering wheel, doesn’t feel right.
Another aspect that didn’t feel “right” to us about the Q50 was its counter-intuitive and constant changing of the brake pedal weightiness: at times, there’s a lot of resistance from the pedal, other times, it softens up and makes you really dig in to find the brakes. Understanding that the system is to pre-empt your driving needs, the constantly changing resistance makes smooth driving nearly impossible to achieve, and is a huge discomfort for passengers who have to deal with the accidental over-braking. It’s equally discouraging to have experienced the brake pedal losing all resistance when I pulled up to my house to park – thankfully, we managed to react quick enough to prevent hitting something ahead.
Living with a 2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid:
We like the look of the Q50. Yes, its curves are a bit unusual at first, but it grows on you and everyone else around it: something we observed over the course of our loan period. Inside, however, the Q50 has a lot of obvious catching up to do if it’s going to command any attention at RM398,800.
The eight-inch LCD screen up top is there to keep a driver’s eyes high-up and closer to the road, serving up displays such as the surround-view monitor when parking, basic audio displays, etc. The lower seven-inch display is a touchscreen unit, and lets you fully utilise the car’s infotainment and drive functions: select driver modes, view performance meters, customise audio settings etc. If we’re honest, the entire audio stack functions well enough (ergonomics, touch responsiveness) and features a quality BOSE audio system which are all quite impressive stuff.
On the bright side, the seats are very good, in the sense that they function beyond being plainly comfortable – they also provide very good lateral support, in tune with the car’s sporty ambitions. The center console and door cards have a good share of compartments and cup holders, which are positioned very well to suit even my larger six-foot proportions.
No complaints in the space department up front, but taller rear passengers may have to contend with a tall transmission tunnel for legroom. The opening of the boot is wide enough to swallow most of what you typically expect to fit in there, but there isn’t much depth because of the lithium-ion traction battery that’s parked just over the rear axle.
Verdict: So here’s what we think…
Cards on the table now, and we appreciate the 2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid as a showcase of many modern driving and safety systems. It stands out with a very unique design, and is in our minds a worthy alternative to the class-standard 3 Series and C-Class.
The Q50S Hybrid and its sporty additions is a showcase for some great ideas, but its execution isn’t as refined as you would have it in some of its European rivals. The more affordable and practical Q50 2.0t GT and 2.0t GT Premium are likely the more sensible options (at least until we get to try them), especially in a part of the world where nearly no time (or money) is spent on a car for its Active Lane Control, Direct Adaptive Steering, or hybrid power (unless of course it’s awarded special excise duty exemptions which purely slash prices).