The compact sport luxury sedan market is highly sought after and has many players from around the world. The Infiniti Q50’s competitors include the Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the Volvo S60.
The Q50 was originally supposed to be the successor to Infiniti’s highly successful G37 sports sedan. However strong sales for the G37 prompted the management to rethink that decision and the Q50 was sold alongside the G37 for a short period of time.
A Little History
Nissan vehicles have always had a special place in my heart. A few weeks before I was born (in Singapore), my father purchased his first brand new car. A full-loaded Nissan Bluebird sedan (aka the Maxima in North America) complete with brown velour upholstery and a then-cutting edge audio system complete with a cassette player.
30 years later as I picked up my press car, I was struck by the similarities of the Q50 3.7 Premium AWD sedan and my father’s Nissan Bluebird. Coincidentally, both of them were similar in colour. But fast forward 3 decades and the Infiniti’s gleaming new paint scheme is now whimsically dubbed “Chestnut Brown” versus just plain-old brown.
With Infiniti’s history being littered with past identities, it’s nice to see the brand develop into today’s line-up with cohesive/unique design elements and sheet metal that is no longer shared with any Nissan vehicles.
To my eyes, this highly anticipated successor to the G37 looks much more handsome and muscular than its predecessor. With its tasteful curves, angles and bulges, the once-stylish G37 seems well past its best by date by comparison.
The most striking change is the hunkered-down stance that reaffirms the Q50’s status as a sport sedan, particularly when it is fitted with the Sport package’s 19” wheels.
Compared to the G37, the Q50 has grown in almost all dimensions. It sits lower, is about 2” wider, and is slightly longer despite riding on the same 112.2-inch wheelbase. 17” wheels with Bridgestone run-flat all-season tires are standard equipment on my Premium AWD model, while the optional Sport package provides 19” wheels with all-season or Dunlop summer tires.
Out front, the Q50 is fitted with standard equipment LED headlamps and LED foglamps. They’re one of the best LED units I’ve tested, largely thanks to a wide and even beam pattern combined with a lightning fast active cornering lighting system.
Out back, the signature Infiniti rear door “kink” not only looks distinctive but unexpectedly carves out additional space in the C-pillar for rear passengers to get in and out of the cabin easier.
To compete with others in its class, the Q50 has a few clever tricks up its sleeve.
A new driver-centric layout will delight those who like to spend time behind the wheel, and the premium soft touch materials feel a grade above the G37. The subtle grain on the wood trim, the plush leather upholstery and even the quilted stitched patterns on the door panels impressed me.
Total interior volume is up by 3 cubic feet to 102 cubic feet, resulting in a bit more front head and shoulder room when comparing the Q50 to its predecessor.
The front seats are superbly comfortable and Sport package equipped models also include power adjustable lateral seat bolsters.
Out back, rear passengers will find more commodious rear seats and legroom than other sedans in this class. The only knock is a high centre floor tunnel which impinges upon legroom for the centre rear passenger.
Trunk volume is unchanged, at 13.5 cubic feet, and the rear seatbacks easily fold down to create a nearly flat surface. But because both the trunk opening and the space leading to the passenger compartment from the trunk aren’t particularly big, loading long objects are a bit cumbersome.
Infiniti InTouch system
Being a bit of a tech geek, I was drawn to Infiniti’s InTouch communication system with its massive dual touchscreen displays (8” upper, 7” lower).
Thankfully Infiniti also includes a few hard-buttons to the side of and under the lower touchscreen for the main functions.
While the setup is not quite as impressive as the Tesla Model S and its 17” display, the dual LCD screens come close. Without integrating both of these versatile touchscreens, the driver would be faced with a bad case of button clutter to control the many vehicle functions.
Overall, the InTouch system proved easy-to-use and to navigate with some practice. Aside from some dated-looking GPS navigation screen graphics, I found the dual screen system more intuitive than Honda/Acura’s similar dual screen arrangement.
On-screen buttons were where I expected them to be, and the touchscreens were very responsive. The only slight confusion was when some functions appeared on both screens and not others. Once you get used to it though, it’s a non-issue.
The Infiniti drive mode selector on the centre console also features a quick way to set the Q50 for the proper road conditions. The settings range from Snow, Eco, Standard, Sport and Personal settings.
The Personal settings are part of the Infiniti InTuition system, which is an advanced customizable way to create unique settings for engine and steering settings (when equipped with optional Infiniti Direct Adaptive Steering).
So how does it drive?
The Q50 is powered by Nissan’s VQ-family 3.7-liter V6 with 328 hp and 269 pound-feet of torque. Engineers put a lot of effort into smoothing and isolating the engine with new intake and exhaust manifolds. The result is a powertrain that no longer feels ragged or coarse.
Acceleration from this engine is so strong that you might mistake it for a V8. The 7 speed automatic transmission is well calibrated to the engine’s power band and is able to skip gears when you need a quick burst of power to merge onto the highway. I did wish for steering wheel paddles (which are available in the Sport model) but otherwise felt that nothing else was lacking.
Ride quality is good but in premium trim it feels more luxury than sport. Don’t expect BMW 3-series levels of canyon carving fun. But the upside is that ride comfort is one of the Q50’s highlights. The suspension isolates bumpy pavement well without feeling wallowy.
My Q50 was also equipped with Infiniti’s fulltime Intelligent all-wheel-drive system which is able to actively transfer power from the wheels that slip to those that grip. But it is also a proactive system that can transfer power to prevent slippage in the first place. A rear-wheel bias also means a sportier feel and the system worked well in rainy Vancouver weather.
Look Ma, no steering linkage!
The Q50’s claim to fame is its brand new direct adaptive steering system. In fact, this is the first mass produced car to be steer-by-wire. In short, an electronic system steers the front wheels without a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front tires. There is a backup clutch in case things go awry but otherwise there is no traditional steering linkage.
To simplify my experience, it was bit like a driving simulator the first few times behind the wheel. But with an open mind and a few days of seat time, I really came to appreciate how responsive the system allows the car to be even during simple manoeuvres such as driving around my parkade.
Since the system allows the driver the ability to change the steering feel (heavy, normal, light) and the ratio (quick, standard, casual), it truly felt like a video game. My favourite combination was the normal steering feel/weight with the quick steering ratio. I didn’t like the heavy setting as it felt distinctly artificial.
Safety gadgets galore
Every Q50 comes standard with a long list of active and passive safety systems. As you would expect, ABS, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags are on this list. A rearview camera is standard on all Q50 trims. Infiniti’s Connection service includes roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle reporting and remote door unlocking.
But here’s where it gets interesting. The Q50’s available safety features (grouped in various packages) include a 360-degree surround view camera system, front and rear ultrasonic parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, blind spot/lane departure warning, and forward/back-up collision warning systems (which can automatically apply the brakes if a collision is deemed imminent).
There’s also Active Lane Control, which senses changing road surfaces or crosswinds and automatically adds minor steering corrections. The idea behind this system is that it reduces driver effort and therefore fatigue. This is as close to fully autonomous driving as we have come thus far and is even better than Acura’s similar system.
In the real world, here’s what all of this means. Push the safety shield button on the steering wheel and a green car-shaped symbol appears in the driver-information screen.
This means that that all driver-assistance systems are on. The InTouch system lets you configure what you want or don’t want to have on or how sensitive the system thresholds are before intervention. The implementation is refreshingly simple (with just one button to push) compared to many other vehicles in the market.
But my favourite high-tech driving gadget has got to be the Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW) system. It warns the driver of risks that may be obstructed from view. This latest generation system is so good that not only can it detect the relative velocity and distance of the vehicle directly ahead, but also of a vehicle traveling in front of that one.
In other words, it can see two cars in front of you and if necessary brake the Q50 to eliminate an accident from occurring in the first place. This is a truly a feature that can save lives or help to prevent injuries.
The Q50’s combination of technology, luxury and performance really signals a new direction for the Infiniti’s brand philosophy.
With a starting price of just $37,500 for the rear wheel drive Q50, Infiniti Canada has priced this car to sell well in the competitive Canadian luxury sport sedan segment. My 2014 Q50 3.7 AWD Premium came in at a price of $43,400 with $5,700 in extra options bringing the price to $49,100 before freight and PDI.
Adorned with a boatload of new safety gadgetry and advanced performance technology, the Q50 is a venerable threat to European sport sedans costing thousands more. And it needs to be this impressive because it has some steep competitors from the US and Japan as well.
But overall, the Q50 is a solid sports luxury sedan that brings a welcome and distinctive design to its class. And it’s certainly a Nissan Motors vehicle that my dad still approves of today!