ALLOW me to introduce you to the Infiniti Q50. The what? Not heard of the model? Perhaps you don't even know the brand?
I'm sure the photos have caught your eye though: it's a lovely looking thing, isn't it? My neighbours thought the same as the Infiniti was parked on my driveway over the weekend, as a few of the curious ventured over for a chat to learn about the new car. To a man, all were mystified by the car's badge and I had to tell them the brand. "Ahh, so that's an Infiniti," was the common reply.
You see, many have heard of Infiniti, but most claim never to have seen one before. Not so surprising really as a mere 574 were sold in Australia in 2015 - only a few more than Maserati managed or about half as many as Citroen shifted last year. But it's a marque on the rise (sales were up over 30% last year), and is still finding its feet - and recognition in a crowded marketplace - since its introduction Down Under late in 2012.
If you didn't know, Infiniti is the luxury arm of Nissan, exactly like Lexus is to Toyota. The Americans have been receiving Infinitis since the 1980s, and typically buy over 100,000 annually. A few thousand go to Europe each year, China shifted over 40,000 in 2015 and we Aussies are starting to jump on board.
There are now nine Infiniti Centres (dealerships) nationally, and the current range includes a premium coupe (Q60), convertible (Q60 Convertible), sedans (Q50 and Q70), large SUV (QX70) and mighty SUV (QX80). And they're not standing still.
Hybrid technology is there for the Q50 and Q70; an all-new Q30 compact hatchback and QX30 compact SUV arrive later this year, as do an update for the Q50 sedan and an all-new Q60 sports coupe. Lots to keep up on then for a brand not many know about.
That's Infiniti's biggest challenge in Australia. Being recognised. It's not seeking huge sales however, with Infiniti executive Carlos Ghosn saying the brand is not about doing what everyone else is doing.
"It is not about copying traditional, conservative notions of luxury," he said. "We will not try to be all things to all people, but everything to some people. We have taken the calculated risks to differentiate our models from the predictable offerings that fill the premium car market."
So don't fancy a BMW, Benz, Audi or Lexus? Not even a Volvo or Jaguar? You want to be different? Infiniti could be the one for you, and certainly a visit to one of its showrooms - all metal-polished wood accents and kimono-inspired upholstery - gives you a special feeling of entering a rather exclusive club. It's the sort of buying experience many traditionalists will appreciate.
So what of this, our test Q50? The model is the brand's biggest seller by far in Australia with 305 sold last year, and I'm afraid the line-up doesn't get simpler when you start choosing your type of Q50. You can opt for a 2.2-litre diesel in GT, S or S Premium trim, or go a 3.5-litre petrol hybrid in "S" guise which has rear-wheel drive, or S Premium giving you all-wheel drive. You can't argue about breadth of choice.
We'll be running the flagship Q50 Hybrid S Premium for a few months to see how it stacks up, both as a standalone vehicle but of course, to discover how it goes against the established premium players already mentioned.
Our first full drive report will follow in a few weeks, but initial impressions suggest the Infiniti has a lot going for it. Unquestionably striking in exterior design, the cabin is also a technological treat high on comfort and toys.
Being the range-topper a comprehensive suite of safety systems sees beeping, flashing lights and even intervention to mop up any mistakes the car believes I'm making (I prefer to call it rapid lane changing and late braking), and by God this thing is quick, too.
The 3.5-litre V6 offers 225kW and 350Nm on its own, but an additional electric motor boosts total power to 268kW and torque up to a stonking 546Nm. Even with the car's heavier all-wheel-drive system, it will hit 100kmh in 5.4 seconds: that's quicker than a BMW 330i.
Fuel economy for the Q50 Hybrid is a quoted 7.2-litres/100km, but I'm already 1000km into my test and am averaging 6.5-litres/100km after a decent mix of highway and city duties. Drive these hybrids correctly and they reward with a very fair economy return it seems.
For the $73,400 asking price the Q50 Hybrid S Premium seems to be shaping up value-wise. It certainly stacks up against German rivals at this price point for performance and inclusions, and there has been something rather nice about having a car so few can identify.
Infiniti hopes the market will give its cars a chance, something I'm fascinated to do over the coming months of life with this striking premium alternative.
Model: Infiniti Q50 S Premium.
Details: Four-door all-wheel-drive premium small sedan hybrid.
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 with 50kW electric motor offering combined power of 268kW and torque of 546Nm.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with adaptive shift control.
Performance 0-100kmh: 5.4 seconds.
Bottom line: $73,400 before on-roads.