Toyota, the largest motor company in the world, has already tried and failed to enter the European premium market with its Lexus brand and, after 23 years, has spent a great deal of money to achieve just 0.2 per cent European market share, and a slightly better 0.4 per cent in Britain. Lexus has 93 dealers and Infiniti currently just six.
Since its launch in Britain in 2008, Infiniti’s progress has been glacial, with 2013 full year sales at a mere 386, down 27 per cent on 2012.
The Japanese are brilliant production engineers, but one of their secrets is to keep the model ranges simple, with the minimum of options. As an example, there are just eight versions of the Q50 and 12 options against 43 A4s and 91 options – and these Audi figures are just for the saloon. The BMW 3 Series has even more versions: 398 and page upon page of options.
In the Q50, Infiniti offers just two engines and two transmissions, whereas Audi’s A4 has a choice of eight engines, BMW offers 10, and both list three transmissions.
Unlike the Americans and Japanese, European premium buyers like to customise their cars, so the likes of Lexus and Infiniti are always going to struggle against this customer choice.
Hopefully the new Q50 will at least begin to put Infiniti on the map by actually putting it on the choice list of similar-sized rivals: A4, 3 Series BMW, C-Class Mercedes-Benz, Lexus IS and possibly Volvo S60.
One way Infiniti could compete with the Germans is by upping the level of equipment so that even the base cars would have everything included. This would also make the cars more attractive on used forecourts as customers would know that everything was supplied and they wouldn’t have to search for a German fitted with the particular bits they wanted.
Surprisingly the Q50 has less equipment than the equivalent A4, lacking both satellite navigation and DAB radio which really are essential in this class of car.
The great advantage of the Q50 is that it is different to the Germans and certainly the styling seems to go down well with press and customers alike. Like all Infiniti models, it has tremendous road presence and although it is only 80 mm longer than an A4 it seems much bigger, like an A6 competitor. While I could understand Audi selling its 5-cylinder diesel to Volvo as it became obsolete, I am always amazed when manufacturers sell current components to their deadly rivals. Mercedes-Benz supply their excellent 2-litre diesel and manual and automatic gearbox to Infiniti for the Q50 and these are the making of the car. The Merc diesel is particularly economical and clean, beating both A4 and 3 Series equivalents.
The Q50’s diesel is a little down on power against the A4, but this is not noticeable on the road, the Infiniti having ample performance. The engine is quite noticeable on start-up and at tickover, but settles to a very quiet cruise. The Q50 is very comfortable with well laid out controls and the quality, fit and finish is well up to Audi standards.
The car steers well, with good weight, is stable in cross winds and offers a good ride quality. There is little roll on bends, while it has neutral handling and firm brakes.
Hopefully, Infiniti will confirm production of the Q50 Eau Rouge shown at both Detroit and Geneva Motor Shows. It has a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 churning out an RS 6-baiting 568 PS with 600 Nm of torque, a 7-speed automatic gearbox and allwheel drive. This is enough for a sub four second 0-60 mph dash and a maximum near 180 mph. That really would attract attention to the brand.
Another Q50 announcement at Geneva was the introduction later this year of a 2-litre, 214 PS petrol engine, but that will not make much difference to European sales.
If I were a company car user–chooser, I think I would go for the Infiniti rather than the A4 because it would be more economical, probably more reliable and would not carry any image baggage. Unfortunately my decision would have a cost as, according to trade guide CAP Monitor, the Infiniti would cost £1,854 more to run over three years and 60,000 miles.
|Car||Audi A4 2.0 TDI SE Technik B8||Infiniti Q50d Premium|
|Engine||1968 cc, 4-cyl||2143 cc, 4-cyl|
|Max power||177 PS||170 PS|
|Max torque||380 nm||400 Nm|
|0-62 mph||8.2 sec||8.5 sec|
|Top speed||143 mph||144 mph|
|CO2||120 g/km||114 g/km|