Every move Infiniti makes with its Q50 medium sedan is a crucially important one. As the Japanese brand’s best-selling model the Q50 is the car that defines Infiniti.
The Q50 sells in a bustling market segment, already occupied by Lexus, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi. Gaining customer attention is no easy task and so far Infiniti has struggled to build even one full percentage point of Australia’s prestige market share.
That’s not the same elsewhere though, like in the USA where the brand owns almost 7 percent of luxury car sales. What can infiniti do to turn the tables? This subtle but badly needed update to the Q50 goes part of the way to pushing the relative newcomer forward.
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium sedan
Price: $79,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 298kW/475Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 9.3 l/100km
Infiniti has touched on the entire Q50 range as part of the 2018 update, sharpening its styling while bringing a subtly revised interior.
The brand dropped its diesel engine option, but still leaves a broad choice of four powerplants on the table for prospective customers who can choose between four and six-cylinder propulsion.
Entry-level variants priced from $54,990 plus on-road costs bring a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine with 155kW of power, while environmentally-conscious customers might be tempted to spend a little more to get hold of a $73,400 hybrid model that blends a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 with an electric motor and battery pack to bring 268kW of green grunt.
Performance-minded motorists will gravitate toward twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 models that bring 224kW for $70,400 or 298kW of power for $79,990 plus on-road costs.
All four versions drive the rear wheels through seven-speed automatic transmissions, though the hybrid is available with all-wheel-drive.
- Standard Equipment: Semi-aniline leather trim with red contrast stitching, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat (8-way passenger), electrically adjustable steering column, sunroof, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, adaptive LED headlights, auto wipers and lights, aluminium interior decor, rear boot spoiler, sports exhaust tips, 19-inch alloy wheels,
- Infotainment: Dual screen infotainment with 8.0-inch display and 7.0-inch touchscreen, 16-speaker Bose audio, interior noise cancelling, CD player, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and Aux inputs.
- Cargo Volume: 500 litres
Although the entire Q50 range benefits from subtle upgrades, the flagship Q50 Red Sport gains the biggest changes including performance-minded additions like 19-inch wheels, a sports body kit, dual exhausts, red-painter brake calipers, rear LED lights and an upgraded steering wheel and gear lever.
The new machine looks good to our eyes, bringing a purposeful stance and attractive lines that suit its role as an executive performance car.
The Red Sport’s interior also has plenty going for it, with black semi-aniline leather trim highlighted by red stitching and diamond-quilted seat bolsters that hint at the car’s performance potential - much better than the basic beige of earlier versions.
While stacked infotainment screens in the centre console take a little time to master (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available), the Q50’s 16-speaker Bose stereo brings plenty of wallop at no additional cost.
As befitting its position in the prestige carpark the Q50 Red Sport includes a 360-degree camera, lane keeping assistance and active cruise control, but a foot-operated parking brake is an annoying anachronism in its segment.
Infiniti’s new steering wheel makes up for that somewhat, bringing a nicely sculpted tiller with shift paddles moved from a fixed position on the steering column (pinched from the Nissan GT-R) to a more conventional setup mounted to the back of the wheel.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol, 298kW @6400rpm, 475Nm @5200rpm
- Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, multi-link independent rear, Dynamic Digital Suspension adaptive dampers
- Brakes: Four-piston calipers, 355mm front discs, two-piston calipers, 350mm rear discs
- Steering: Direct Adaptive Steering, electrically assisted and controlled
Heading out on the road, steering is not a strong point for the Q50, which persists with Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering system that does not use a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and front tyres.
The “steer by wire” relationship instead interprets driver inputs in a similar fashion to the steering wheels used in racing simulators, translating driver effort into movement at the front wheels.
Infiniti says the advantages of such a system are that it makes for better-integrated driver aids such as lane keeping assistance, as well as the ability for motorists to customise their car’s steering effort and ratio - how hard you have to twist the steering wheel, and how far you turn it.
Pitched as a rival to driver-focused executive sedans such as the Audi S4, BMW 340i or Mercedes-AMG C43, the Q50 doesn’t deliver the sort of engagement you might expect from a performance sedan.
That steering system actively filters feedback out of the steering, robbing information about the road surface and front tyre behaviour from your fingertips. It can feel quite disconcerting at times – and that’s before you encounter odd clicking and resistance when using all of the available steering lock during low speed manoeuvring.
The steering’s digital approximation of how a sports sedan should feel carries through to entirely unconvincing engine sounds played through the stereo in the car’s sports modes.
Infiniti’s machine lacks the fizzy organic connection offered by its best rivals, and that lack of feel from the front end can make it difficult to judge exactly what’s happening underneath you.
Its suspension is little better – stiff-walled run-flat tyres and multi-mode Dynamic Digital Suspension result in a ride that feels brittle over broken surfaces.
The Q50’s Red Sport’s saving grace is its engine, which offers more straight-line shove than any prestige car at this price. Taking a moment to spin the turbos up, the motor gathers pace before rushing toward its redline, sometimes flaring into wheelspin at the top of its tacho.
Reasonably planted in dry conditions, the Red Sport should be treated with caution in the wet, as that peaky motor, unintuitive steering and liberal stability control system can result in the tail swinging well out of line.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Individual. That’s the best way to describe the Infiniti Q50.
Although elements of the car are clearly driven by segment trends, the Japanese luxury maker has also tried very hard to sway buyers with interesting technologies that competitors can’t match.
Is that the right approach to take? Driving enthusiasts may not think so thanks to oddly disconnected Direct Adaptive Steering that takes the joy out of an enthusiastic drive, but tech-fans and earlier adopters are sure to be overjoyed with the wealth of alternative systems packed in.
That’s promising for a prestige car company that needs all the help it can get to convince Europhiles to step inside an Infiniti showroom, but it may not be enough to keep them there long enough to sign on the dotted line.
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