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 a scant 9.4 cubic feet. A rival Lexus IS has 10.8 cubes, with the Audi S4 boasting 13. So we’ve got a small trunk here, though at least 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.
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