2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 First Drive Review – All About the Power, but at What Price?
Power and performance. Luxury and emotion. Balance and elegance. These are the seductive adjectives experts in automotive marketing insist can be found in a company’s newest offering, especially in the premium sports sedan segment.
After spending time on the back roads of Tennessee with the revised-for-2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400, is the marketing hype true? Does it really deliver all the desirable adjectives you’d like in your premium sports sedan offering?
In a word, no.
Before we delve too deep, there’s a note to be made about this particular First Drive. All Q50 testers were top-trim Red Sport 400s. This Q50 is the only variant with 400 horsepower under the hood, while all others make do with 300 or less. This isn’t the volume model most people will buy. If you go check out a Q50 and it’s not a Red Sport 400, it won’t feel like the car that’s outlined below. With that said, read on for some basic facts before we dive into the review.
For 2018, new trim levels appear, for a total of six. The Q50 ranges from $34,200 for a base 2.0t, up to $51,000 for a Red Sport 400. My Red Sport 400 example had nearly all option boxes checked except for all-wheel drive, and totaled just over $59,000 including destination.
Walking up to the Q50 for the first time, I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely bowled over. The sparkling white paint looks nice, but the dark wheels and optional carbon fiber mirror caps and spoiler takes some getting used to.
Throughout the day the Q50’s looks grew on me. It’s cohesive and the lines generally make sense to the eye — or mine, anyway. The white paint here is much less aggressive than the Dynamic Red, an extra cost option. Infiniti’s signature design kink at the rear of the greenhouse appears toned down when compared to the automaker’s crossover offerings, and that’s just fine by me.
All angles say “sport,” and the wider stance in the rear is noticeable if you’re paying close attention. I did like the lower valance between the exhausts, which is color-keyed on Sport and Red Sport 400 models.
The grille is very nearly vertical, adding quite a sharp edge to the front end when viewed from the side.
The trunk closes with a reassuring sound — a trait I always notice. Its doors made a similar “clunk” upon closure, though the pull action and the door handle itself felt downmarket. The handles are plastic, and simply do not feel substantial in the hand. Call me nitpicky, but there isn’t a good linear or solid return action when the handle retracts after pulling. A chintzy, plasticky sound feels unwelcome here. But the door’s open, so let’s step inside.
The Q50 Red Sport 400’s interior differentiates itself nicely from other models. You’ll first notice the contrast stitching threaded throughout the cabin — it’s red, naturally, on all Red Sport models, regardless of exterior color. For 2018, the Q50’s interior comes only in black, though Infiniti plans to introduce additional colors the following model year. The nicely padded door armrest proved comfortable over a long drive.
Quilted leather seats are available only on the Red Sport 400, coupled with power side bolsters — another top-trim exclusive — that ensures the seat feels like it’s tailored specifically for the driver. Leather, which abounds in this cabin, is soft, with a thick but slightly rubbery feel to it. I’d put the quality marker right at “good.”
Dark, aluminum-look plastic trim appears on the doors, though the main-event door and center stack trim is a diamond-print, aluminum-look material. Plastic, once again.
One feature missing from the interior was present even in cars like the Q50’s predecessor, the G37, and as the temperature headed into the low 90s, its disappearance became apparent. There are no ventilated seats in the Q50 (or Q60, for that matter) at any trim level. It’s a serious luxury oversight.
Front legroom is good, and sitting behind a six-foot driver isn’t an issue for those of average-or-lower height, though the center rear seat is punishment born of Transmission Tunnel Hell. Headroom however, is another matter. For drivers and passengers over about 6’2″, contortions are necessary to fit into the Q50.
Trunk volume is 13.5 cubic feet. A rival Lexus IS has 10.8 cubes, with the Audi S4 boasting 13. A competitive cargo area for the class, and Infiniti furnished it with handy straps for folding the rear seatback. And look, unobtrusive struts for the trunklid!
The Infiniti InTouch system serves as the foundation for climate, radio, and navigation functions, and is reasonably simple to use. Redundant physical button functions flank either side of the screen for climate control. Unfortunately, there’s a lag between button presses (when selecting temperature, for example), meaning the change in temperature displayed on the dual screens lacks synchronization. There is no Apple CarPlay, for the record. Throughout, menu items are large and well-marked, and easy to navigate.
Power. We have to talk about power first, as the Q50 Red Sport 400 shines in this regard. As the current owner of a 2009 Infiniti equipped with the VQ35 engine, I can also attest to having experience with VQ37-equipped vehicles. This new VR-series 3.0-liter V6 feels smoother and more refined, emitting a far more pleasing engine note than either of those engines ever did. Even middling throttle applications garner an immediate and firm response from this engine. As well, the twin-turbo V6 displayed no noticeable turbo lag or turbo whine — just noticeable gobs of torque. At no point did any situation arise where power wasn’t sufficient.
The foundation for how this car feels, for better or worse, is via the drive mode selector switch located on the center console. I stuck to the Standard, Sport, and Sport+ settings. Standard mode netted me light, loose steering and a lazier throttle input, as well as a slower-reacting transmission. Sport+ made the steering heavier than needed, the throttle a bit angry at inputs, and downshifts excessively harsh. Sport mode was where I left things most of the time, and where I think the Q50 was designed to stay. Which brings us back to steering.
This is a drive-by-wire system called DAS or Direct Adaptive Steering. For 2018, Infiniti made improvements to the system after the last version was widely critiqued upon introduction. Perhaps a version 3.0 is in order, as the steering experience isn’t quite what you’d call desirable. Turn-in is sharp enough, and while I never had a problem placing the Q50 exactly where I wanted in a corner, the wheel feels entirely dead in your hands.
The wheel is not interested in sharing today.
Tires presented another problem. In a cabin free from wind noise and rattles, the tires make their presence known on all but the most perfect roads. All testers came fitted with 19-inch summer performance rubber, so I can only hope whichever all-season run-flats Infiniti chooses are quieter.
The white Q50 was one of two testers equipped with a new motorsports exhaust option, fitted at the port of entry, according to the build sheet. Unfortunately, while it does improve the audial experience when you’re accelerating by way of a nice growl, it also drones on endlessly in everyday driving conditions. As this is just an option, I won’t knock the overall experience. It bears mentioning that nobody with a regular-exhaust car wanted to swap after lunch.
Contrasting these prior complaints, I have none about ride quality. Firm and controlled, bumps don’t translate through harshly to the cabin or your seat, as is often the case when automakers design a sedan as a sports vehicle. The Q50 manages body roll quite well in sharp turns — it seems the Dynamic Digital Suspension carries out its job admirably.
Also comfortable are the seats, with firm and supportive bottom and back cushions. Following a day spent sitting in the driver and passenger seat for roughly five hours, I was still comfortable, with no stiffness or numbness. Well done there, Infiniti.
Braking action proved robust, bringing the heavy car to a halt in very short order. One gripe is the pedal’s touchiness, even after minimal travel, requiring some effort on the part of the driver to learn smooth braking. A little more pedal travel before serious brake force application would not go amiss. The first several stops for a new Q50 driver will likely give passengers a headache.
A final mechanical complaint concerns the transmission. The seven-speed automatic wants to be your friend. It wants to help you up and down the gears, and anticipate what you need. The problem, however, is the over-eager programming. While upshifts under hard acceleration are handled smoothly, the bad news comes when you desire to drive normally or slow down. Heading up a small incline and starting to lose speed, a very small depression of the accelerator will cause an immediate jump down two gears, resulting in too much acceleration. Some corners that would’ve been well handled by the suspension and tires were ruined when a downshift (or three) upset the vehicle’s balance and speed. Thus, I found myself on fun curvy back roads wishing for a straight highway where I could use that power.
Here’s where I have to bring this mixed bag of Japanese candies together. The Q50 Red Sport 400’s power is undeniable. The engine comes from a company which knows how to do V6 engines and put turbos on things. The Q50 is made well, in Japan, using good materials. But the lack of refinement in the transmission, NVH from the tires, and the dead steering are not really acceptable, especially so when you consider the model’s opposition. Infiniti is pitching this particular Q50 directly against the IS350 F-Sport and the Audi S4. Big luxury sport names there, and that’s a good thing. Aim high. The Red Sport 400 easily smashes its rivals in the power category, but needs more positive attributes added to the big positives of power and build quality.
Perhaps, though, there’s a different customer for this enthusiast model. The same conclusion kept creeping to mind: this Q50, in this trim and with 400 horsepower (and hundreds of additional pounds of weight over competitors), makes much more sense if you think of it as a Japanese muscle car. An alternative entry targeting the other kind of powerful sedan enthusiast. I just don’t know how many of those are out there.
[Images © Corey Lewis/The Truth About Cars]
Full disclosure: Infiniti provided travel to Nashville, as well as hotel accommodations and meals.
Cimarron typeR on Jul 27, 2017
I've owned a G37S 6mt, and driven the NA vq q50. I really do prefer the q50 appearance,interior etc. but dynamically it was a dud. I'm sure the turbo power would be nice , but I agree that I never really felt the g37 needed more power. I think the only hope now is Nissan finds a place for this powerplant in a 370z replacement w/ a 6mt
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