The Q50 Eau Rouge is Infiniti’s rapid four-door retort to the Audi RS6, BMW M5, Jaguar XF-R and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. First unveiled as a so-called concept at the Detroit motor show back in January, the four-wheel-drive performance sedan runs a modified engine from no less a car than the mighty Nissan GT-R. The Eau Rouge is the brainchild of former Infiniti president Johan de Nysschen, now running Cadillac.
The Eau Rouge was originally a styling model to test public reaction to plans to take Infiniti into the performance arena. It was developed with Red Bull Racing; Infiniti sponsors the Austrian F1 team and the Q50 Eau Rouge is now being considered for low-volume production. Ongoing feasibility studies aim to place it in North American showrooms in limited volumes by 2016.
U.K.-based Ray Mallock Ltd. is developing the mechanical package; its road-car department has been charged with both early engineering and testing before the expected greenlight.
The starting point for the fastest-ever production-based Infiniti is the standard Q50, although the changes run deep, obvious the moment you see the Eau Rouge up close. Infiniti’s designers gave it some visual aggression to match its extended performance potential.
The front end has a new carbon-fiber bumper and an F1-inspired carbon-fiber twin-plane splitter, differentiating it from the standard Q50. The fenders are beefed up to accommodate the wider tracks, and there are extravagant sills incorporating extractor ducts for the front wheelhouses to reduce pressure buildup at speed and provide added front-brake cooling.
Out back is a new carbon-fiber bumper housing a central LED stop light from Red Bull Racing’s RB9 F1 car and two large stainless-steel tail pipes. The unique trunk lid increases downforce without resorting to a separate spoiler. Further aerodynamic developments Infiniti says are coming include another, larger trunk lid for even more downforce, as well as additional panels to smooth under-body airflow.
Eau Rouge interior
The Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge borrows its interior from the Q50.
To provide the Q50 Eau Rouge with necessary firepower to challenge the abovementioned studs, Infiniti’s engineering brain trust looked beyond the standard Q50 S’s 3.7-liter V6. “We considered using a powered-up version of the Q50 S engine but, after an initial investigation by our engineers, decided it didn’t provide the necessary scope to deliver the sort of power and torque we were looking to provide the car,” says Mallock engineer Tom Snowball.
So the Skyline GT-R’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 sits under hood, tuned with its own mapping for a stout 552 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. At the moment, the all-wheel-drive car uses a modified Infiniti six-speed automatic -- if only for lack of any suitable alternative.
Earlier plans to use the Skyline GT-R’s faster-shifting six-speed dual-clutch were ditched due to packaging concerns; Infiniti wants the Q50 Eau Rouge to retain sufficient rear-seat room. The company says the dual-clutch would have compromised that.
Underneath the steel, aluminum and carbon-fiber skin is a largely unique chassis. Among the many changes is a 3.9-inch increase in front and rear track widths. Combined with a 0.6-inch lower ride height front and 0.8-inch rear, the Eau Rouge has a more planted stance than the standard Q50.
Further changes include lightweight components, larger antiroll bars front and rear, firmer springs and dampers, and 20-inch wheels shod with sticky 225/35 profile Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires.
What is it like to drive?
A handful of laps around the Millbrook test facility’s Hill Circuit in England reveals the Eau Rouge is already far more than just a mere collection of ideas thrown at a concept designed to look good on a motor-show stand. Rather, it is a functioning prototype engineered to a level making it advanced enough for production consideration.
The engine really steals the show, serving up 224 hp and 173 lb-ft more than the standard Q50 S’ turbocharged 3.7-liter V6. The Eau Rouge is seriously quick, enough to tussle with RS6, M5, XF-R and E63 AMG.
Eau Rouge engine
The Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge borrows its engine from the Nissan GT-R.
Infiniti’s in-house performance targets are a 0-62-mph time “less than 4.0 seconds” and top speed “pegged at 180 mph.” With a four-wheel-drive system providing impressive traction off the line, peg the throttle and it launches with bravado and delivers huge on-boost, in-gear shove.
The 4,023-pound curb weight makes the one and only prototype in existence above Infiniti’s 3,968-pound target, partly because it retains a steel roof and glass sunroof. The production car will have a carbon roof. The Eau Rouge isn’t quite as quick nor aggressive in character as the GT-R, but that’s not Infiniti’s aim. It seeks a more refined driving experience.
Inevitably, though, there’s work to be done before you could describe it as being showroom ready. Throttle response is tardy at the lower end of the rev range, for example.
The chassis tuning feels good, though, if flinging it around Millbrook is any guide. The steering is direct, quick and nicely weighted. Turn-in is enthusiastic and with quite a bit of initial front end bite, it manages to carry an impressive amount of speed to the apex.
Infiniti has tuned the four-wheel-drive system for a nominal 50:50 drive split front to rear for neutral handling. In high-speed corners it’s impressive. Taut damping and antiroll bars (32mm front, 20mm rear) mean good body control and those sticky Pirellis provide plenty of grip.
There’s a touch of understeer in tight corners and the stability control can kick in when you push hard at the exit. Still, given the customer base Infiniti intends to pitch the car to, it is probably the right way to go.
Development work is underway to determine whether the car needs a slightly more rearward drive bias or maybe advanced mapping to speed splitting drive between the front and rear axles as grip levels vary. A final decision hasn’t been made.
Ray Mallock Ltd. is still sorting the springs and bushings. Four-time F1 champ Sebastian Vettel has given feedback on the overall setup. The Q50 Eau Rouge prototype doesn’t much like low frequency bumps, and the front end is particularly sensitive to changing surfaces. But these should be ironed out, or at least minimized, for production.
Do I want one?
It is still early for this special Q50 but potential is clear. As an engineering mule it is already a tempting proposition. The mission now is to further refine its driveline, sharpen responses and pare weight. If and when Infiniti big shots give it a definitive green light it’s going to take at least another 14 months before we see it in showrooms.
So the vital ingredients are there. Now all it needs is someone with the rank and daring to make it happen. Over to you Infiniti …
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