The Infiniti Q50 Hybrid looks very promising. It has few direct rivals beyond the BMW 3 Series Active Hybrid, which the Infiniti betters with a lot more power from its 3.5 V6 petrol-electric powertrain and a lower list price – if slightly poorer efficiency.
Rear-wheel drive (four-wheel drive is a £1635 option), sports suspension and a seven-speed automatic gearbox are standard, as is the world’s first steering system to connect the front wheels to the steering wheel electronically rather than by a mechanical rack. Infiniti calls this Direct Active Steer, and it offers separate settings for weight and response, with three levels of each.
What’s the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid like to drive?
It’s fun, but it’s no corner-craving sports saloon.
The rear-wheel-drive model we tested offers properly exhilarating straight-line performance, but it’s a heavy car that suffers quite a bit of body lean in bends, making the Q50 feel more cumbersome than you might hope.
For all its futuristic novelty, the steering is a disappointment. It varies from having a meaty but easy-going weight and quite slow response, right up to near track-car-like resistance and speed. Most buyers will stick with the default mid-range settings, but ultimately it always feels disconcertingly artificial.
The brakes are little better, suffering from an inconsistent response and spongy pedal feel that makes the Q50 tricky to drive smoothly around town.
The powertrain is very refined, and when the petrol motor is running it emits a distant, pleasingly rorty exhaust note. There’s a subtle vibration when the V6 cuts in, but the Q50 runs on electric power alone for long periods at low speed and often when coasting at higher speeds. The gearbox (with its conveniently large paddle shifters) changes gear quickly enough when needed, and is smooth the rest of the time. It's a shame there's lots of tyre noise at higher speeds, but this is still a quiet car.
Ride quality is a let-down, though. Not helped by standard 19-inch alloys and run-flat tyres, the firm suspension makes the car thump and jitter around on poor urban roads, and it doesn't settle even on the motorway.
What’s the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid like inside?
The cabin is dominated by the two standard colour touch-screens. At first, the sheer size of the screen area and the variety of ways you can control them both can seem a touch overwhelming. There's a rotary dial and voice control, and you can press the screens themselves.
It’s also less than ideal that the glossy, high-definition screen shows up fingerprints, reflects daylight very easily and can be slow to respond.
However, while it is never a simple system to navigate, the standard online connectivity it offers is impressive and can show your Facebook and Twitter feeds.
What is less impressive is that you must spend a whopping £1920 to add sat-nav, which runs on the upper screen. Even more surprising is that a DAB radio is available only as part of a £2760 multimedia pack, which also gets you sat-nav and a 14-speaker Bose sound system upgrade. A 'TuneIn' radio app is available, but relies on your mobile phone's internet connection.
The broad, leather seats are comfortable and have a good range of adjustment, although some tall drivers may wish they dropped a little lower. Otherwise, the materials around the cabin feel classy, and the climate control and radio buttons that frame the screens are well damped and easy to fathom at a glance.
Besides the overpriced navigation and digital radio, equipment levels on the Hybrid are lavish. It has electrically adjustable, heated front seats with memory function, keyless entry, adaptive LED headlights, a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors, as well as Bluetooth and a USB socket that gives you full control of your MP3 player through the car’s stereo system.
Rear passenger space in the Q50 is very decent, if no better than in most rivals. Two tall adults will be comfortable and will have plenty of room, although three will be a bit of a squeeze. The boot has a substantial 500-litre capacity, but is an odd inverted-T shape that narrows sharply towards the rear seats, which split and fold as standard.
Should I buy one?
If you want a performance petrol saloon, the Infiniti Q50 hybrid has obvious appeal. It looks great, sounds good, has some impressive gadgets as standard and has lower company car costs than the similarly-powered, non-hybrid rivals, such as the BMW 335i.
Unfortunately, the ride is too firm and the Infiniti isn’t anywhere near as fun to drive as most of those same rivals, and to private buyers the Q50 will be painfully expensive to run when you factor in very poor resale values.
Though not direct competitors, one of the high-performance diesel alternatives, such as the sublime and vastly more affordable BMW 330d, would be better to drive and easier to live with.
What Car? says...
Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
Infiniti Q50 Hybrid
Engine size 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric hybrid
Price from £40,000
Torque 403lb ft
0-62mph 5.1 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 45.6mpg