The promise of improved performance and tree-hugging fuel economy has made turbocharged engines all the rage in luxury cars. Despite the often failure of those boosted motors to meet their lofty, published fuel economy ratings in the real world, forced induction has a significant — and positive — impact on performance.
It seems Infiniti had gotten the memo.
This segment is split with the Cadillac ATS 3.6 and Lexus IS350 holding membership in the naturally aspirated camp and the BMW 340i and Audi S4 leading forced induction team. The naturally aspirated group requires 5.4 seconds on average to hit highway speeds, while the boosted bunch drops to the 4.8-4.9 second range. Infiniti’s Q50, in naturally aspirated guise, splits the difference by running to 60 miles per hour in 5.05 seconds in our previous test, but that wasn’t good enough for the brand often called “the Japanese BMW.” So Infiniti’s engineers went back to the drawing board and created an all new engine lineup for 2016 — and they tweaked the steer-by-wire system while they were at it.
Styled after Infiniti’s Essence concept, the Q50’s exterior combines sleek, flowing lines with an enormous maw and angry LED headlamps. I don’t think it’s as aggressive as the ATS or as refined as the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but it’s far more distinctive than the 3 Series and A4 and less controversial than the IS350 F-Sport.
The Q50 wears the best interior that Infiniti has ever made. While no hands have rubbed silver dust into the Q50’s optional maple trim (as in the Q70), this cabin is easily one of the best in the segment. The new C-Class still wears the interior design and workmanship crown, but the compact Infiniti climbs up the luxury ladder to a place above the Acura TLX and a small notch above the BMW 3-Series.
Thanks to the Q50’s generous exterior dimensions, we have rear seats with more legroom than any of the compact luxury sedans. Unfortunately, like many sexy sedans, rear headroom suffers due to the car’s slammed side profile.
If you were hoping for a large trunk, you’ll be disappointed. The Q50’s trunk holds just 13.5 cubic feet, only a hair bigger than the Mercedes CLA.
The Q50 is the first Infiniti to receive its new two-screen InTouch infotainment system, which uses both 8-inch and 7-inch touchscreen LCDs. Like the last generation Infiniti systems, you can also control most of the system’s functions via a joystick-like button on the steering wheel. But wait! There’s more! Infiniti also includes a new navigation control wheel in the center console behind the shifter a la iDrive and MMI. This gives the driver three different input methods to choose from. However, not all features can be accessed via the steering wheel control or the control wheel, and some options will need to be touched.
Some passengers were truly and permanently perplexed by the two-screen layout, but I adjusted to the software quickly. While this sounds similar to Acura’s two-screen system, Infiniti’s solution is better thought out and both screens are touch-enabled rather than just one. Acura’s advertised goal was to allow you to keep the top screen for navigation while you used the lower screen to play with your audio device, but that’s only half true as the top screen is needed to perform a large number of audio functions. In the Infiniti, the function overlap between the screens is large, so you can browse your media device and perform other select operations via either screen. This level of choice seems to be what confuses some shoppers. I have never seen a car infotainment interface that has so many ways of doing the same task. On the flip side, by the second day, I settled into the system, preferring to ignore the controller in the console and use a combination of steering wheel controls and the lower touchscreen.
Now let’s talk engines. 2016 kills the familiar 3.7-liter V6 in favor of three all-new turbocharged engines. The first is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that’s related to the engine in the Mercedes CLA. Infiniti has tweaked the design and manufactures it at the Nissan/Infiniti engine plant in Tennessee. Producing 208 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque, this engine is targeted at the BMW 320i, and not the 328i as you might have expected.
Our tester had Infiniti’s new VR-series V6. Based off the old VQ engine and the engine that powers the GT-R, the new 3.0-liter twin-turbo mill shares very little with anything else at Nissan or Infiniti. For the moment, there will be two different tunes: one producing 300 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet, the second (and the one we all care about) cranks out 400 ponies and 350 pounds-feet of twist. Infiniti is still offering the 360-horsepower Q50 hybrid, which now slots between the two twin-turbo engines instead of sitting at the top of the chart. All four engines are mated to a seven-speed automatic and all can be equipped with all-wheel drive.
The first and most important thing to know: the Red Sport 400 is not an Infiniti M3, although I suspect many will see it as a discount alternative. The 300-horsepower V6 is designed to compete with the C300, IS350 and ATS 3.6. The 400 horsepower V6 slots between the 340i and the M3 in terms of power. The main reason this isn’t an M3-type competitor: aside from cooling changes, the Q50 remains essentially unchanged. You won’t find massive six-piston brakes, carbon fiber body parts, sheetmetal changes, or interior upgrades. Opting for the Red Sport 400 just gives you the more powerful engine and the same sport brake setup as last year.
Because Infiniti doesn’t tweak the body, 245/40R19 front and 265/35R19 rear tires are all that will fit under its fenders. The stock Dunlop tires are less grippy than the Pilot Super Sports you’ll find in some of the competition, and this makes the Q50 an extremely lively sedan — with massive wheel spin — once the turbos start spooling at around 2,500 rpm. You’d better have a firm grip on the steering wheel.
To be clear, the Q50 certainly handles well. The chassis is balanced and it’s a solid match for the 340i comparably equipped. It’s just that handling doesn’t live between the 340i and M3 in the same way as engine output.
The re-tuned direct adaptive steering (DAS) still has a “video game” like quality to it, but it’s more natural than before. In a corner, at even eight-tenths, you expect to get a slight hint of understeer. You may not even realize that your car is doing this because it’s so “normal.” The Q50, however, goes exactly where you point it, something that takes some getting used to. The main selling point continues to be the way the system can “filter out” cross winds, bumps and grooved pavement for reduced highway fatigue.
On the bright side, you can completely avoid DAS now if you want to since it is now a standalone option. However, Infiniti said you will likely have the dealer order you a Q50 if you want everything except DAS since it’s part of a standard set of options for the dealers. Opting out of DAS does not get you ye olde G35’s hydraulic rack, but instead an all new, rack mounted, electric-assist system that’s no better or worse than what we find in the Lexus or Cadillac.
When pushed in the corners, constant attention must be paid to the throttle. Not only can you steer with your right foot, the Q50 is eager to be steered with the loud pedal. This is the biggest difference between the BMW 340i, which seems reluctant to play hooligan, and the Q50, which seeks it out. Thankfully, the electronic safety systems are quick on their feet and Sport+ lets you have about as much fun as you should in a five-seat family sedan.
Infiniti’s seven-speed auto has been reprogrammed for 2016, but the shifts are still not as quick and crisp as the ZF eight-speed in the BMW and Audi. Because of the transmission’s programming and the massive wheel spin during our impromptu performance tests, the fastest 0-60 time we could get out of the Red Sport was 4.8 seconds. That time is in line with a BMW 340i with its automatic. The difference is that the BMW had no wheel slip at all, meaning 4.8 is “all she’s got,” I suspect the AWD version of the Red Sport will shave 3/10ths off the time. By the time the 1/4 mile is finished, the Infiniti is nearly a half second ahead of the BMW.
Pricing has yet to be announced, but you should expect the Q50 to maintain its historical value position. I expect the 2.0t trim to start round the same $32,000 price point as the 320i while delivering similar performance. The 300-horsepower tune is likely going to start somewhere between the BMW 328i ($38,350) and 340i ($45,800). Infiniti said the 400-horsepower Red Sport 400 will start “under $50,000” and be “well equipped in the mid-fifties.” My translation here is that the Red Sport will run from $49,999 to just under $60,000, where the ATS-V starts.
The BMW 340i will feel more refined, more polished and will handle better from the factory if you check the box for the premium summer tires — but the Q50 is quite simply more fun. The stock choice and abundant low-end power combined with a stability control program that’ll let you get a little sideways before stepping in made me giggle like a 12-year-old schoolgirl. (Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.) While the BMW is buttoned down in appearance and manner, the Q50 is eager and just a little insane. And that’s how I like my cars. If you wax poetic about your first Infiniti G sedan, this is the replacement.
Performance data as tested
0-30 mph: 2.25 seconds (massive wheel slip)
0-60 mph: 4.8 seconds
0-100 mph: 10.78 seconds
1/4 mile: 12.85 seconds @ 113.0 mph