2016 Infiniti Q50 2.0t AWD Review - Four-Door Sports Car
2016 Infiniti Q50 2.0t Premium AWD
In 1988, Nissan released the third-generation Maxima with a bold tagline — “Four-Door Sports Car.” A year later, American TV viewers were introduced to Nissan’s Infiniti brand with commercials that showed a pond.
You win some, you lose some.
That Maxima was indeed a brilliant car. And Nissan finally decided that showing luxury cars was a good way to sell luxury cars. That said, part of me wishes the Infiniti brand had failed, as the Q50 might now be a Maxima. Certainly, I don’t wish anyone at Infiniti to lose their jobs, but I have a love for the Maxima that is unfulfilled by the current model. I never expected to find my ideal sports sedan wearing an Infiniti badge.
The styling of the Q50 hasn’t changed much since it replaced the well-loved G sedan in 2013. As such, the sedan blended in traffic and parking lots without turning many heads. The Hagane Blue paint didn’t help — it’s attractive, but not memorable. Still, familiarity hasn’t eroded market share (according to GoodCarBadCar.net), as the Infiniti has moved into third place in sales behind the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 series.
Infiniti hasn’t followed the traditional, conservative lines long used by its German rivals, as the Q50 is a bit bulbous, with rounded, flowing lines. The character line over the rear wheel wells adds some definition and visual aggressiveness to the rear quarter view. The standard seventeen inch wheels do look small, considering the bulk above the wheel well.
BMW has sparked one trend within Infiniti — the introduction of a “signature” C-pillar. The Bavarians have a “Hofmeister Kink.” Nissan’s premium division refers to their pillar treatment as a “Crescent-Cut”. The chrome strip surrounding the crescent is, unfortunately, a fingerprint magnet, placed exactly where my kids grasp the door to close it.
Those kids found plenty of room in the spacious Q50, though a third rear-seat passenger would be less comfortable due to the tall driveshaft tunnel dividing the floor. Furthermore, your six-foot-four author is quite comfortable as a rear-seat passenger in the Infiniti, even while performing the time-honored sit-behind-oneself maneuver. Leg, head, and shoulder room are plentiful, both fore and aft.
The stone-colored leatherette upholstery was sturdy and comfortable, though not completely convincing as a leather substitute. Thankfully, the seats were stellar, with plenty of adjustment range — I’m one who tends to vary his driving position on long trips, and the ease of maneuvering from a church pew to a lounge chair is remarkable.
I am aware that I’m likely a minority among luxury sedan drivers, but I will occasionally use the manual shift mode on an automatic transmission when so equipped. For me, the shift lever in the Q50 was not ideally placed — it was a bit rearward of my preferred position. This is likely due to the dual infotainment screens requiring plenty of real estate, but it’s only an issue when driving aggressively.
I’m happy to report that the transmission connected to that shifter is a real torque converter seven-speed automatic, rather than the CVT attached to most Nissans. While the newest iteration of Nissan’s Xtronic transmission was impressive in my testing, the immediate response of the traditional transmission is still superior in enthusiastic driving. When sport mode is selected, the Infiniti will hold a lower gear rather than upshifting, making attacking twisty backroads much more enjoyable.
The engine hanging off the front of the transmission isn’t quite as enthusiastic. Rather than the familiar Nissan V6 that has powered all prior Q50s and the G35/37 series before, this 2.0t model has, logically, a two liter turbocharged four cylinder. Designed by Mercedes-Benz and built in Tennessee by Nissan, it’s the same powerplant used in the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250. With 208 horsepower and 258 pounds-foot of torque, it’s a stretch to compare it to the 300-plus hp found in its V6-equipped predecessors and stablemates. The engine note is coarse, especially at idle where the direct-injection clatter can be heard clearly when the windows are down.
My tester was also equipped with all-wheel drive, though I can’t say I’d have noticed if it weren’t for the badge. My most taxing drive was on a dew-covered road in southern Ohio’s Hocking Hills, and the Q50 never felt anything but planted, even while attacking switchbacks at the top of second gear. I’m sure I’d appreciate the extra traction come January.
My test vehicle came fitted with the Premium Plus package, which includes Infiniti’s InTouch dual-screen infotainment and navigation system. Both screens are touch sensitive, and the top screen can also be controlled by a multifunction knob immediately aft of the shift lever. A simple rotation of the knob will zoom the navigation screen in or out. Entering destinations can be done via the knob, via the lower touchscreen, or by voice — which was simple and accurate to use. I’ve tried other voice recognition systems that haven’t responded kindly to my Ohio accent, but InTouch worked flawlessly.
Simple fan speed and temperature adjustments can be controlled by the dual columns of buttons flanking the center stack, but more granular changes require clicking through on the lower touch screen. Here, levels of seat heating can be refined, as well as personal settings based on the individual user’s preferences.
My biggest gripe about the Q50’s infotainment isn’t about how it works — it’s remarkably intuitive. My problem is the high-gloss lower screen — it attracts fingerprints like any touch screen, but is so glossy that it can reflect sunglare into the drivers’ eye. It’s a minor thing that most drivers won’t care about, but I notice and am bothered by little things like this.
Driving the Q50 is effortless. As one would expect from a car targeting a German driving experience, the Infiniti doesn’t completely insulate the driver, but deadens many of the harsher aspects of the road. Potholed roads were absorbed with a quiet thump rather than a cowl-rattling judder. There was a touch of tire noise, but nothing too severe.
The four cylinder did have one feature I disliked: the fuel saving start-stop system. While I appreciate the system — which worked seamlessly, restarting quickly at the slightest change in brake pedal pressure while stopped — the engine did not react well to being restarted. Rather, it was like waking Grandpa with an offer of coffee and pie between football games on Thanksgiving — the entire car shook with a grunt and a harrumph. Mercifully, the system can easily be disabled.
Besides my usual commuting on surface streets and the occasional interstate, I took the Q50 2.0t on an early-morning jaunt on the winding roads of southeastern Ohio. While these leafy roads are best appreciated with a ragtop and a five-speed manual, I took advantage of a rare child-free day (thanks, Mom!) and went for a drive.
I had to check several sources to verify, but the four-cylinder Q50 does not have the Direct Adaptive Steering (steer-by-wire) that many enthusiasts hate in higher-trim Q50s. Friends asked me what I thought of the steering, and I had no answers. Turns out I wasn’t missing anything. The electric/hydraulic rack in the 2.0t is reasonably communicative, though a bit numb at lower speeds. Still, I had no problems placing the big sedan in the corners.
I have to wonder about this car and who will buy it. The entry luxury market seems to be dominated by cars built to a lease figure, rather than a total MSRP. When I look at InfinitiUSA.com to price out various options, the Premium models like I drove are highlighted with lease prices of $279 and $299 per month, for rear-wheel and all-wheel drive respectively. At that price, buyers are likely to be recent grads looking to impress. These buyers should be content with the two-liter turbo engine, as the extra power of the V6 only means greater fuel consumption on the commute to the office.
As a guy who looks at cars for the long-term, however, I think of the second and third buyers — and I recall the many G35/G37 owners with highly-customized cars. I have to imagine there will be a booming secondary market for Q50 tuners in a few years, as the Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder has plenty of head room for performance. Heck, AMG is getting 375 hp out of this same basic powerplant in the GLA 45. Tuners should be able to do the same quite easily.
So I circle back to the four-door sports car. The Q50 2.0t is an excellent entry-level luxury car as is. The current Maxima is an expensive Altima with a funky roofline. I’d love to see a restyled Q in a Nissan showroom with some additional power and a manual transmission. There are plenty of options in the parts bin. Until that happens, I’ll have to wait for an off-lease Q50 and do it myself.
[Images: © 2016 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]
Infiniti provided the test vehicle for purposes of this review, as well as a tank of fuel.
Chris Tonn is the Large Editor at Large for Car Of The Day, a classic-car focused site highlighting cool and unusual finds.
Ffb13 on Feb 03, 2017
my lease in one of my cars is up. a 2013 maxima . after test driving and taking some home including s class,xjl portfolio jag,audi a8 and a6, and others ,i decided to purchase my maxima that i found to be more satisfying to drive and more fun than all the others ...i got the maxima when back in 2009 i went to a jag dealer to test drive the new jag. he was also a nissan dealer ,i test rode both and got a 09 maxima ,then when lease was up got this 2013 , to me one f the best cars sold in the usa and joins my 2000 saab aero 9.5 ,and lexus rc and gti and others ..all fun cars
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