The 2014 Infiniti Q50 is the direct descendant, albeit two generations later, of the car I owned a decade ago. It is dimensionally about the same size, but it has gained more than 300 pounds of mass thanks to numerous safety upgrades and technical innovations. The additional weight is largely dismissed by a larger and more efficient powerplant that delivers an additional 68 horsepower, a welcome arrival, but the manual gearbox that charmed enthusiasts has been pushed out of the picture by a mandatory seven-speed automatic transmission.
As it has in the past, Infiniti touts its all-new Q50 as a luxury sport sedan worthy of the title. Decades ago, impressive performance statistics may have sealed the deal. Yet there is much more to the assignment today, as the model must offer premium appointments, sophistication and engaging driving dynamics if it's going to entice and capture the next-generation of young, premium buyers – much like the G35 did for me ten years ago.
Infiniti launched its all-new Q50 sedan at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. The beautifully styled four-door successor to the G37 visually complemented the rest of the automaker's lineup and broke new technological ground with InTouch, a next-generation Human Machine Interface (HMI), and Direct Adaptive Steering and Active Lane Control, an innovative electronic steer-by-wire system that essentially eliminated the mechanical link between the steering wheel and the tires, a breakthrough that offered semi-autonomous driving capabilities.
Autoblog Executive Editor Chris Paukert took our First Drive of the new Infiniti last August. He considered it "well priced, attractive and fun-to-drive if you don't bring along the high-tech nannies" – his last reference was to the slew of driver's aids that Infiniti had loaded on its launch vehicles, albeit at the expense of the driver's engagement.
There are seven different models in the Q50 lineup, but the two sportiest versions wear an S on their decklid badge.
There are seven different models in the Q50 lineup, but the two sportiest versions wear an S on their decklid badge. The scripted red letter indicates a premium model fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels, high-performance brakes, 10-way sport seats, sport-tuned suspension, magnesium paddle shifters and a unique front fascia – there are two versions because the Q50S is offered in both rear- and all-wheel drive. A hybrid model, also with the 3.5-liter V6, is also newly available, but I didn't get time with that car.
An automotive enthusiasts' special model would likely mechanically mirror my Q50S 3.7 test car. The rear-wheel drive Moonlight White sedan arrived with a base price of $43,200 (plus $905 destination) and equipped with just four options: Cargo Package ($180), Spare Tire Package ($200), Navigation Package ($1,400) and the Illuminated Kick Plates ($400). The bottom line on the Monroney was $46,285 – very reasonable when its long list of standard equipment is taken into account. A quick glance into its well-appointed cabin reveals Graphite Leather and Kacchu-style aluminum trim. This means the four-door is missing the Deluxe Touring Package ($3,100), which includes the aforementioned Direct Adaptive Steering (it's only offered with maple wood accents).
Few will find fault with the Q50's front seats – the eight-way adjustable driver's throne provided plenty of support for my frame in all the proper places. The seats in the Q50S are upgraded with a manual thigh extension, which benefits tall drivers, but oddly, that portion is not heated (most others in the industry heat the whole lower cushion). Second-row passengers will be equally as comfortable, as the seats are supportive and occupants enjoy fresh air from a center climate control outlet (lacking temperature adjustment) and a decent amount of legroom. Owners will really appreciate Infiniti's very effective rear floor mat, which continues to be a long one-piece unit that wraps over the tunnel on the floor, as its design prevents debris from sliding under the matt. Overall, the cabin is bright and airy, and outward visibility is a strength.
Few will find fault with the Q50's front seats – the eight-way adjustable driver's throne provided plenty of support.
The Q50 cockpit wraps around the driver, who sits in front of a three-spoke multi-function steering wheel with magnesium paddle shifters mounted on its backside. There are countless small buttons to master, but they are placed in logical locations and easy to reach. Ergonomically, there is a lot going on, but it doesn't take long to become accustomed to the control layout. The new infotainment system, however, may be another matter.
Infiniti is most proud of its new InTouch system, which essentially splits vehicle and infotainment functions between two color digital screens. The upper screen is used for traditional navigation and car setup duties, while the lower screen controls audio, climate control and connectivity. The two screens are not identical. Instead, the upper screen is slightly recessed with a matte finish, while the lower screen is flush with a glossy finish – and it captures fingerprints galore. Unfortunately, operating InTouch effectively involves a learning curve. While the system would benefit from some refinement and improved functionality (many of its screens appear downright frivolous), it shows promise.
The mechanical formula for making a G35... err... Q50 hasn't changed much over the past decade. The automaker's FM platform (still shared with the Nissan 370Z and Infiniti QX70, among others) is mated to a VQ-family engine. Suspension is independent all around, with a double-wishbone setup used up front and a multi-link system design hanging out back. There are disc brakes at all four corners, with sportier models boasting four-piston calipers in the nose and two-piston units in the rear. Forged 19-inch wheels, wearing summer tires, complete the recipe.
The naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 under the sedan's lightweight aluminum hood is a carryover from its predecessor.
The naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 under the sedan's lightweight aluminum hood is a carryover from its predecessor. The familiar VQ-family (VQ37VHR) six-cylinder is shared across the Q50 lineup (the only exception is the Q50 Hybrid), and is rated at 328 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. Also standard is the seven-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. Even with a 3,675-pound curb weight (slightly more than 55 percent of the mass is over the front wheels), the Q50S is quick. With its accelerator mashed to the floor, the sedan will sprint to the 60 mph benchmark in just over five seconds.
Pressing the start/stop button fires up the VQ, but its unmistakable raspy exhaust note has been significantly muted. Thanks to a much more isolated cabin and new exhaust tuning, the engine settles down to a muffled purr with only a hint of a rumble from the tailpipes. The previous G-Series models at idle seems to encourage you to get driving, but the new Q50 didn't appear as eager – it patiently waits until you're ready to depart.
Purists will miss the manual gearbox, but Infiniti's engineers have done a splendid job tailoring the automatic transmission to this vehicle. Launched from a standstill, the four-door hurries off the line without any hesitation. Most others in the industry have moved to forced induction, but the naturally aspirated V6 is a throwback to when engines liked to spin to a stratospheric redline (the VQ taps out at a dizzying 7,500 rpm). There is no sport mode on the gearshift lever, but the transmission may be manually shifted and the engine gleefully blips its throttle before downshifts. Most of time, though, it's just as well to simply spin the console-mounted Drive Mode selector to its aggressive 'Sport' position and let the computer shift.
Many consider the hydraulically assisted steering to be the better choice in terms of feedback and reduced complexity.
Vehicles without the Direct Adaptive Steering arrive with traditional hydraulically assisted steering – many consider it the better choice in terms of feedback and reduced complexity. Even though the standard steering feels a bit light a first (use the Drive Mode rotary to stiffen things up), communication through the leather-wrapped wheel is good. It's not what I'd call razor sharp, but it's accurate and easy to place a tire on a precise spot on the pavement.
The Q50S is a splendid companion on the highway and it effortlessly ticks off the miles when allowed to stretch its legs. Wind, tire and exhaust noise is subdued, and there is plenty of passing power – even with a full complement of passengers on board. The automaker also offers a Technology Package ($3,200) with Intelligent Cruise Control and Active Lane Control that reduces the driver's workload significantly (too much?), but it wasn't fitted to my test car.
Thankfully, this isn't a single-mission sedan – the Infiniti performs equally as well when the road turns twisty. Under more challenging conditions, the Q50's wide stance, sticky tires and good chassis balance allows it to effortlessly weave through Southern California's canyons. Throttle response from the V6 is immediate, requiring only minimal throttle skills to adjust the car's trajectory (defeat the stability control and oversteer is just a punch of the accelerator away). The big brakes are strong, initial bite after pedal application is exceptional and the sedan tracks well, even under panic applications. Despite a moderately aggressive workout, the Q50 emerged hardly panting.
But something still seems to be missing – the emotional connection. The new Q50S can't make me smile.
Something still seems to be missing – the emotional connection. The new Q50S can't make me smile.
Creating a driver-centric bond between human and machine is required in this sport sedan segment. And its prime competitors, quickly identified as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Lexus IS, all strive to involve the driver first and then toss in a fair share of the obligatory luxury and technical innovation. But Infiniti's recipe, as evident with its new sedan, seems to be just the opposite. Even stripped of its optional questionable steer-by-wire wizardry, the Q50's new mission seems to focus on driver isolation.
The Q50S has evolved into a genuine world-class luxury sedan, materializing as a much better car than the G37 ever was. But its heavy polish and refinement have stolen much of its sporty appeal. The third-generation Infiniti has unquestionably matured – but likely at the expense of its original youthful demographic.