the Garage

LONGER BURN

Ė LC

We find a cruising speed and focus on the cabin of this Japanese luxo-rocket

AUSSIES ARE in love according to Francois Bancon, Infinitiís global product boss. ďFor many reasons,Ē he said to MOTOR at the Melbourne F1, ď[Australia] is probably one of the last countries in the world where people love to drive Ė they love power, they love the Ďprimitiveí part of the drive. Itís a significant market, because people love cars.Ē

We do. And itís clear Bancon understands Australians also love a bargain. Because the Q50 Red Sport, at $79,990, is priced well clear of anything else with close to 298kW, 475Nm, and a luxury focus. The Jaguar XE S, Audiís S4, and Mercedes-AMGís C43 are all around $100K.

Yet, last month I punted the Infiniti through some corners and I didnít enjoy the experience. Its steer-by wire steering was vague, its tyres didnít grip, and its suspension could never keep its weight settled. There was power, heaps of it, but that doesnít fully satisfy the Ďprimitiveí feeling we crave from fast cars. It left me confused with Banconís thorough understanding of our automotive psyche.

It sent me in search of the bright side of this long termer, or some love, so to speak, to cure the blues it gave me in the corners. Some solid highway time was pencilled in as the fix, which would give me time to meditate on driving without throttle steer or trail braking.

On the highway you feel like you could definitely live with the Infiniti as a day-to-day cruiser. Its ride, for one, is plush with plenty of suspension travel. Yes, a lack of body-control (at least in standard mode) means the car takes a while to settle, but it gives the carís primary ride more compliance than those Dunlop run-flats deserve.

Brake-pedal feel is good, too; itís full of feedback and power. Meanwhile, the Infinitiís headlights are great. The spread of light is long, bright, and low to the ground, perfect for approaching cars without intimidating them.

The Q50ís power is fearsome. That twin-turbo six always seems on call Ė if you can get the throttle input right Ė and rushes into its power band almost instantly with minimal lag. In standard mode, 80-120km/h vanishes in 3.2sec.

The interiorís a mixed bag. Thereís generous leather splashed around, with semi-aniline dead cow under your rump, and metal speaker covers to make it feel fancy enough at this price.

On the other hand, the foot-operated park brake, Windows 2000-esque LCD in the dash and sat-nav, and fat horn button hint the five-year-old interiorís getting on a bit. Ergonomics, however, donít age. And the Infiniti acquits itself well in this regard. Thereís plenty of room between the seat and door for your hands to adjust the controls, while everything is within easy reach and easily spotted.

Functionality is not as simple, though, as itís difficult to know what controls what. The top-screen seems dedicated to navigation, but will display HVAC stuff. Meanwhile, the bottom screen, seemingly dedicated to everything else, can program sat-nav.

I like that its (adaptive) cruise control displays your set speed on the dash and the central LCD has a digital speed readout. I donít like that it can hunt around your set velocity and you canít set cruise if a carís within the maximum radar distance until you decrease it.

The BOSE sound system packs almost as many features as speakers (16!) and thumps with clarity. Itís not the last word on power, or fullness, but itís worth a good song. You donít get any botchy engine noise through the speakers at cruising speeds in standard mode, either. When up-it some colleagues rue the artificial engine note, but I canít really tell itís fake. I like it.

Seat-wise the hip-point puts me too close to the roof, and Iím only 178cm, however, the new seat foam is serene. The lack of bolster means theyíre bigbloke friendly, too. Which sort of sums up the carís vibe: itís a comfy cruiser thatís big on punch, and sprinkled with pinches of luxury.

Next month, itís time to say goodbye. Before it goes, weíll be asking the public what they think of our Infiniti at a glance. Letís see if it can make a lasting mark.

Ė LC

ONE

BOSE noise-cancelling tech canít neutralise road noise completely Ė thatíd be weird Ė but does means you rarely need to crank the volume with speed

TWO

The car rides nicely, but buttery dampers mean you have to really nurse it over big speed bumps. Otherwise the front will bottom out Ė ouch

THREE

Peering through the standard sunroof looks onto a comfortable, ergonomicallysound cabin that is nonetheless ageing and a bit confusing

ITíS A CRUISER THATíS BIG ON PUNCH, WITH PINCHES OF LUXURY

PROS and CONS

03 THINGS WE FELL FOR

1. Plush seats

2. Gun headlights

3. Brake feel

03 THINGS WE GOT SICK OF

1. Headroom

2. Foot brake

3. Sat-nav graphics

GETTING TO GRIPS

New rubber makes for a softer but more fun Focus RS

ONE OF THE most satisfying roads in the entire eastern half of Australia is only 103km as the crow flies from Melbourneís CBD. The Eildon-Jamieson Road, as itís unassumingly known, is about 2.5 hoursí drive from central Melbourne and itís a sleepy Sunday morning as we turn on to this treedin, 66km dream squiggle of mostly second- and third-gear, front-tyrekilling corners. Itís raining lightly, itís foggy, and stringy tree bark debris litters the road, sometimes looking like fallen branches. But weíre feeling good about things, because weíre in an allwheel drive hot hatch with advanced chassis electronics, a front limited-slip differential, oodles of turbocharged mid-range torque and weíve, err, removed the track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tyres.

Letís talk tyres (no, stay with me!) as they make a huge difference to the Focus RS driving and ownership experience. As our test car is the Limited Edition, it comes with standard 19-inch forged wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tyres. This package is also optional on the standard RS, but if you found yourself requiring a new set of boots then you might be glad to hear that a set of replacement Cup2s is actually, in our opinion, not the way to go for the road.

With the standard Cup2s nearing their treadwear indicators after admittedly quite a hard 9000km, we took Falken up on its offer to try the new FK510 ultra-high performance rubber on the 235/35 R19-shod RS. Although we only fitted the Falkens to review them, it proved an illuminating exercise in the context of the Focus RS itself, as well.

The difference in ride quality between the FK510s and Cup2s was instantly noticeable. Gone was the sensation that the RS was wearing inflatable versions of the rollers on Fred Flinstoneís footmobile, the hard edge replaced with a new, less punishing lower-speed suppleness. Weíre not saying the FK510s transformed the RS into a Mercedes-Maybach, but the ride was definitely improved, and the road noise quieter. And suddenly, we could imagine ourselves driving the RS to work and back everyday. This was a brand new thought.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with the Cup2s wanting a fairly high 41/38psi front/rear cold than any special merit on the FK510ís part, as any UHP tyre would presumably have the same effect.

And given the seats are still firm and the dampers only half work below 70km/h Ė meaning thereís still an element of you tolerating the ride at low speeds Ė the new tyres have us also wondering if the Focus RS works better on a UHP rather than Cup2 tyre when enjoying the car on the road. More grip doesnít automatically improve a car, and the Cup2 almost has too much for the RSís chassis on a twisty road, such that all youíre really doing is leaning into a huge, blunt wall of purchase and making it harder for yourself to experience the full talent of that brilliant RS all-wheel drive chassis.

As we found on a damp, treacherous, lonely Eildon-Jamieson Road (which is best included in an epic Victorian high-country multi-day driving tour), it seems less is more when it comes to grip in the RS Ė on the road, at least.

With a UHP tyre, the limit of the front tyres is more achievable, which is more exciting; the rear is livened up and more eager for a play. You can expend the available front grip such that you can feel the brake torque vectoring at work, and have more fun in the RS at lower speeds. (And presumably itís better for Drift Mode, although we honestly rarely get the urge to use it.)

And the RS is mega on this damp, twisty road. While in these somewhat sketchy conditions we are happy to leave the rear tyres alone and enjoy the front end instead, itís interesting as well to play a game of How Early Can I Pick Up The Throttle. Thereís a sweet spot Ė or curve Ė of throttle application that you can trace where the RS puts its power down and holds or even tightens its line, but get greedy and itís possible to push the front wide. Does the fitment of a front limited-slip differential make the LE feel a bit too Ďfront-drivení? Youíd have to drive it back-to-back with a normal RS to really notice, but possibly.

The RS is also underrated as a gadget for getting from one Aussie country town to another. The damping gets better the faster you go, lending the RS incredible high-speed stability for a hot hatch. It would feel very comfortable at 130km/h on a typical Aussie country road.

Our time with the Focus RS is almost up and the softer 19-inch UHP tyres have turned a fling into potential marriage material. Itís going to be hard to give it back.

ĖDC

MORE GRIP IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD THING, AND THE CUP2 HAS ALMOST TOO MUCH FOR THE RS CHASSIS

PROS and CONS

03 THINGS WEíRE 03 FALLING FOR

1. High-speed damping

2. That front end

3. Wet weather talent

03 THINGS WEíRE NOT FOND OF

1. Breathless top-end

2. Meh gearshift

3. Dated interior