Infiniti claims its Q50 Red Sport is among the very best driver’s cars in the compact luxury class, boasting a power output in excess of the BMW 340i and Mercedes-AMG C 43 - two lofty targets to take aim at.
Even the Red Sport tag is evocative, calling to mind connotations of Italian thoroughbred supercars, the ‘red mist’ that takes control of human senses at the most emotionally pivotal moments, and a tip of the hat to Infiniti’s Nissan GT-R powered Eau Rouge concept from 2014.
But the Q50 Red Sport isn’t quite that car. Nor is it the equal of the BMW and Mercedes-Benz models that it hopes to latch onto and earn it some kind of cachet as the newcomer in the premium sedan market.
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium sedan
Price: $79,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 298kW/475Nm 3.0 litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 9.2 l/100km | Tested: 9.8 l/100km
As the new flagship of the Q50 range, the recently introduced Red Sport certainly possesses the numbers required to tackle some of Europe’s finest sports sedans.
A 3.0 litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine spins out a prodigious 298kW of power and 475Nm of torque, and coupled to a seven-speed automatic with rear wheel drive it offers the performance pedigree to go into battle against the luxury sedan competition.
It’s also a high-tech beast, with the world’s first fully drive-by-wire steering system that removes the physical connection between the steering wheel and the front tyres, giving greater adjustability, customisable ratios and weighting settings via an electronic steering system which no other automaker has yet attempted.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, power adjustable front seats and steering column, sunroof, keyless entry and start, 5.0-inch TFT instrument cluster display, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers
- Infotainment: Dual screen infotainment featuring 8.0-inch upper and 7.0-inch lower touchscreens, 14-speaker Bose audio, interior noise cancelling, DAB+ radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and Aux inputs.
- Options Fitted: Stone leather trim (no cost option)
- Cargo Volume: 500 litres expandable via 60:40 split fold rear seats
Steering isn’t the only high-tech aspect of the Q50. On the inside a dual-touchscreen system in the centre console gives a tech-savvy and premium feel, eradicating button-clutter and opening up new ways to interact with functions like navigation and audio.
But as the sporty flagship of the range the Q50 Red Sport fails to deliver the crucial points of difference that prestige buyers will be looking for. The Red Sport does feature ‘sports seats’ up front with adjustable bolstering and a slightly more sculpted shape, but they’re the same as you’ll find in the Q50 S Premium models which can be had with a lowly four-cylinder diesel or petrol engine.
The optional Stone Leather trim of the car we tested didn’t do much for sporting intent either, feeling more sedate than the standard Graphite leather trim might - but again, both options are the same as found in the rest of the Q50 range.
But the fundamentals, like driving position, comfort, and spaciousness are all up to scratch. The Q50 feels just right from behind the electrically adjustable steering wheel, and passengers were complimentary of the available space and long-range comfort in both the front and outboard rear seats.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 298kW/475Nm 3.0 litre twin turbo V6
- Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Four-piston calipers, 355mm front discs, two-piston calipers, 350mm rear discs
- Steering: Direct Adaptive Steering, electrically assisted and controlled
With 298kW on tap, the Q50 3.0t Red Sport is a heaving beast - in fact it’s the most powerful sedan in its class before stepping into specially-developed ‘division’ variants from AMG or M, although some of its competition surpass it for torque.
The 3.0 litre V6 engine features twin turbochargers with a turbine speed sensor to allow more accurate boost control, weight-saving spay bore-liners, and integrated exhaust manifolds to shortened gas paths that increase responsiveness and reduce turbo lag.
The Infiniti Q50 also features a comprehensive list of electronic safety systems, including predictive forward collision warning, lane departure warning and prevention, intelligent cruise control, and direct adaptive steering. While that sounds great, it seems that the driving purity which the cracking engine promises is eroded by the electronic safety net.
While some cars work beautifully with their safety systems, the Infiniti feels hampered by its assist programs, with acceleration that becomes soft, steering that feels unnatural, and autonomous braking that’s almost afraid of its own shadow.
As a result, to tap into the Q50 Red Sport’s potential I found myself switching off the very controls that are there to make the Q50 a safer vehicle - that’s a real shame, as the Q50 should feel brawny no matter what the mode.
But, with the electronic insulation stripped away the engine feels freer, and more lively, with the Q50 Red Sport revealing a rapid, snarling engine and lively rear end that would otherwise be hidden away.
The updated Direct Adaptive Steering 2 system in the Q50 still does without a physical connection to the front wheels, but has been updated compared to the first generation system. In essence it operates like a steering wheel in a videogame but filters out the feel and feedback of a traditional system.
Ride quality on Infiniti’s adaptive Dynamic Digital Suspension tries its best to straddle the line between sport and comfort, and in most driving situations the Q50 rides out big dips and bumps on the open road but trips over sharp bumps around town, sending the shock wave into the cabin.
Brake hardware feel up to the task, there’s a strong initial reaction with even a light to mid-way application of the pedal, but really stand on the brakes and the Q50 Red Sport washes off pace with ruthless efficiency
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - the Q50 range scored 35.76 out of 37 possible points from crash test data obtained by Euro NCAP in 2014.
Safety Features: Six airbags (dual front, front side, and curtain) front seatbelt pretensioners with load-limiters, intelligent cruise control with speed limiter, front and rear park sensors, 360 degree camera, lane departure warning and prevention, forward emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, and ISOFIX child seat anchorage points.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: The Q50 range features 12 month/15,000km service intervals (whichever occurs first), with capped price servicing available though Infiniti's autorised service network.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Often quoted by other manufacturers as a handling benchmark, the BMW 3 Series has set the tone for the segment, with agile and engaging handling and, in the case of the 340i, a powerful and highly entertaining turbocharged straight-six engine.
It isn’t the full-noise V8 AMG, but the C 43 combines a powerful twin-turbo V6, all wheel drive grip, and a generous serving of torque at almost any engine speed, plus Mercedes-Benz really delivers prestige with its well-fitted interior.
Audi is preparing to launch a new S4 in Australia with more power and torque than before, which is sure to be a good thing as even a standard A4 provides entertaining handling and excelling ride comfort. Couple that with Audi’s premium interior and the S4 is sure to be a hit.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
On a dollars-per-kilowatt basis the Q50 Red Sport obliterates just about anything else in its segment - in fact the only way you can get more for less is by turning to a Holden Commodore SS, but obviously some of the luxury and technology goes missing in the process.
The Q50 range is resolutely prestige, and should be held in the same esteem as Lexus as the very least if not BMW or Mercedes-Benz. It should also appeal to buyers that want to stand out from the pack.
Unfortunately, because the Red Sport model looks so much like all other members of the Q50 range, it doesn’t stand out enough, and that alone might be an issue for customers who’d normally take their vehicle with an M Sport or AMG Line styling package.
At its heart the Q50 is a willing sports sedan, but the internla battle between its performance and safety systems gives it a fragmented feel. With a little more clarity the Q50 Red Sport would be a top driver's car, but until Infiniti reaches that point the Q50 plays at being a value buy far better than its attempts to be an appealing high-performance sedan.
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