Trust me, I’m not daft, I understand most things, with the exception of the Higgs boson and how the Large Hadron Collider works. When it comes to cars, I admit I don’t fully appreciate how an internal combustion engine does such a magnificent job or how a satnav can work out a route and renavigate in a fraction of a second. Now though, I realise that some cars are simply cleverer than me or from a negative perspective maybe it’s that they’ve become too smart for their own good.
Let’s take the brand new sports saloon, the Q50, from Nissan’s upmarket partner Infiniti and in this case the hybrid version which combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with a 50KW electric motor. This partnership allows good economy and low emissions without compromising performance and of course the idea is incorporated in the hybrid versions of other brands.
But what this baby has is the world’s first steer-by-wire direct adaptive steering system, moving away from the conventional mechanical procedure. The result is a remarkably smooth drive where the digital connection filters out any negative feedback such as road vibration and leaves the driver to focus on what’s described as “pure” steering with greater response.
That’s not all. It also has the world’s first Active Lane Control setting which goes further than simply warning a driver if they stray over a white line – it reads the road ahead and actually controls the steering unless the driver intervenes. That, and all the rest of the technological shenanigans, is controlled in one big digital environment which manifests itself through double touchscreens which dominate the centre of the dash.
If ever there was a clear example of how much the automotive world has developed in the last few decades, it is this car.
Infiniti defines it as the very latest in “intuitive technology” but I found it complex to get my head round when it comes to the vast array of settings and options available to the driver. I’m actually concerned that it might be too clever and creates a danger of taking away from the driver the full responsibility of being in control of the car. Is there not a risk that some drivers might become complacent and think that whatever happens, however little attention they pay, the car will sort it out and keep them safe?
Driving the Q50 for just a day left me feeling that I had only begun to explore what Infiniti disturbingly call “The Brain” at the heart of this car. In reality, an owner would work their way through the vast menu – a breathtaking 96 settings across ten functions – and recognise and select the settings which suit their style of driving but for someone like me dipping into the cockpit, it is a formidable challenge.
What is more easy to appreciate is the superb performance. The Direct Response technology is what Infiniti describe as “the new turbo for petrol engines”. Where a turbo makes an engine work harder, this hybrid power system makes the engine work smarter. The figures back this up. The electric helping hand gives the Q50 a place among the leaders of high-performance sports saloons and it is actually faster from a standing start than the Infiniti M35h, which is currently listed in the Guinness World Records as the world’s fastest accelerating hybrid car.
For the traditionalists, there’s also a 2.2-litre diesel version developed in collaboration with Mercedes engineers and there’s also the option of four wheel drive. This is the first of the renamed Infiniti Q range and is the flagship of the reorganised company which now has more autonomy from Nissan and operates from its new headquarters in Hong Kong.
Away from all the technology it’s also a stunner on the looks front, seeming to combine some of the best features of BMW’s 5 Series at the back end and more seductive than some of the flowing lines of the Lexus equivalent.
There still aren’t many Infinitis on Scotland’s roads – for the moment there’s only one dealership, in Glasgow, serving the whole country, although it offers pick-up and delivery around the country for scheduled maintenance. The name is probably best known through the partnership with the Red Bull Formula One racing team and the sparkling success of Sebastian Vettel, who also has the role of Infiniti’s director of performance.
The Q50 is an impressive package that will lead the company’s fight against the dominance of the German brands and increase sales from the current sub-200,000 to around 600,000 within the next decade, some of the production coming from Sunderland. This car is very clever and those behind it are certainly not daft either.
CAR Infiniti Q50S 3.5 V6 hybrid
PRICE £40,000 (£42,960 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 155 mph; 0-62 mph 5.1 secs
MPG (combined) 46
CO2 EMISSIONS 144g/km