The Infiniti Q50 occupies a very interesting space in the automotive market. As an entry-level luxury sport sedan not made in Deutschland—or made elsewhere by a company based in Deutschland—it's in many ways unhindered by the need to compete directly with the established kings of lederhosen. Infiniti would be thrilled to poach some Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW business—and their advertising suggests it explicitly, portraying Mercedes and BMW buyers as standard-issue, dead-eyed automatons. But, it's hard to imagine that anyone at Infiniti plans to dominate any segment in the near-term. There's a lot of bluster, and Infiniti execs talk about competing all the time. But Infiniti, Acura and Lexus have been talking about cracking the luxury-car glass ceiling for decades.
To be clear, that's not because Infiniti doesn't build good cars. It does. It's probably not even because the company has never built a best-in-segment car. It hasn't. It might be because no one is quite sure what the Infiniti brand stands for in the post-Jonathan Pryce era. As Infiniti knows, no car buyer cares more about prestige-lifestyle branding than a German-car buyer. So we've again arrived at a stage where Infiniti, after a rebranding of sorts, is supposed to show us how they'll compete with the Germans.
And of course, that's why Infiniti hired known German Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull and 19-year Audi veteran Johan de Nysschen. And that's why Nissan's luxury brand changed its naming conventions to a new one based on two of the most intriguing and exotic letters in the English-speaking world: Q and X. And that's why we have a new Q50.
We'll be brief as far as describing the visual aspects of the Q50S Hybrid we recently tested—it can be fairly assumed our art people have seen fit to include some kind of illustration on this page. It's a nice-looking car, aggressive and with flanks that go a long way toward making it appear lithe and agile.
By now, you know that modern photography makes every car's interior look gorgeous. In reality, the Q50's is on par with Cadillac and BMW, but it's not quite on the level of Audi's best. It's definitely different, but it doesn't quite cross over into what we'd consider special. Overall quality is what you'd expect of a car in this segment—very good.
Around town, under all-electric power, the car is Prius quiet. There's also that great rolling torque feeling only an electric motor can provide. This is, however, a sport sedan, and the “sport” isn't coming from the electric motor, but from a 3.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle version of Nissan's tried-and-true VQ V6. Non-hybrid Q50s get a 3.7-liter V6 making 328 hp. The 3.5-liter gas engine here makes 302 hp, but the hybrid is more powerful overall, as the gas and electric motor combine for 360 hp total. It should be noted that nonhybrid Q50s are lighter than their hybrid counterparts. All Q50s sport a seven-speed automatic. We'd prefer a manual.
Infiniti says its new hybrid hits 60 mph in a touch more than five seconds. Although we weren't able to time the sprint, five seconds sounds about right. That's pretty impressive when you consider we observed fuel-economy numbers in the 30-mpg range over a weekend.
The car, however, does have some issues, enough to keep it from entering the top tier of entry-level luxury cars. The regenerative braking system needs work. You'll get used to it, but it's definitely an on/off type feeling. Speaking of braking: If you slam the brakes, you'll feel the weight of the battery trying to bring the rear end around until the stability control intervenes. It never gets scary, and as long as you have faith in the electronics, it can actually be kind of fun.
Electronic steering is still in its infancy. No automaker is really doing it well and absolutely none do it perfectly, including Infiniti. This is one of the more artificial-feeling, oddly weighted steering systems on the market. It's been recalled for cold-weather issues, and Infiniti has acknowledged it needs work. An improved system would go a long way toward making the Q50 more fun to drive.
All that said, Infiniti does seem committed to making itself into a legitimate player in the sporty luxury-car market. The Q50 is a good-looking car, and it clearly has potential. But the gap between being a few issues short of truly competitive and competing is huge, and it can only be bridged with time, talent and development money. The Germans are looking a bit vulnerable lately. We'll see if Infiniti's commitment lasts long enough to get it where it wants to be.
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