I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury division, badly needed a game changer added to its lineup. In recent years, its products have generally been good, but seem to lack in character and don’t really stand out in any meaningful way. It feels like not much has been happening with the brand recently – it could be safely ignored with no fear of missing out on anything that truly captivates.
With the arrival of the Q50, however, those days are over. This car is the exciting new entry the brand has needed in order to reinvigorate itself, and if it is indeed a sign of things to come, better days are ahead for Infiniti.
From the moment it was unveiled at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit (a reveal I witnessed in person), the Q50 has carried with it a palpable sense of anticipation – this is a car I couldn’t wait to drive, although I’d have to wait a few months to do so.
By the time I got my hands on a Q50 press vehicle, it was at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY) TestFest program in late October. As luck would have it, the car was in a category of vehicles (Luxury Car over $50,000) I was evaluating for PRN Ignition.
My time in the Q50 at TestFest was short (about 45 minutes), but it was enough to make a positive impression. The Hybrid tester I drove was comfortable and refined, with an abundance of power and sharp styling.
As good as that experience was I knew I would need more time to properly evaluate this car, and about a month later, an opportunity presented itself to drive one for a week. This time around I’d be driving a 3.7 AWD Premium model, a mid-range trim that is likely to be a volume seller in the lineup.
There can be little doubt that the decision to rid itself of the aging lines and styling cues of the G37 was a wise decision by Infiniti – the Q50’s exterior lines are fluidic, but also sleek and muscular. It’s attractive from all angles, but is most striking when viewed from the front, either head on or in three-quarter profile. The creased and angled headlamps frame a wide open-mouth grille with a large Infiniti badge in the centre, creating a far more serious, performance-oriented presence than its predecessor.
Inside the cabin, the Q50 delivers the kind of sensory experience one would expect in a modern luxury car. The leather-trimmed surfaces that greet occupants at just about every turn (seats, steering wheel, shift knob, door inserts, console cover, etc.) possess the appearance and feel of quality, and the stitching used on several pieces is a nice detail touch. Hard plastics have been generally kept at bay, and where they have been used – such as in the centre console – they have a nice piano black finish. Same goes for chrome and metal-ish looking bits, which pop up on the steering wheel and gear shift knob, but otherwise keep a low profile.
From an appearance perspective, the Q50 interior looks great. The design of the dash and the centre stack exudes a simple elegance with a minimal amount of clutter. Switches and buttons are easy to locate and easy to use. Infiniti wisely chose to eschew a thin-film transistor display in favour of good old fashioned round whiteface gauges which work perfectly. The soft blue backlighting, which changes colour depending on which driving mode is in use (ie- red for Sport).
As mentioned earlier, the Q50 is heavy on technology and much of it revolves around the dazzling centre stack that employs two huge LCD/VGA touch screens, an 8-inch upper unit and 7-inch one below that work together as part of Infiniti’s InTouch infotainment system. Without spending all available space on this feature, I’ll summarize by saying the system is quite complex and features a whole host of tools and apps for things like navigation, music and car diagnostics among others. It also has the ability to sync up with a driver’s smartphone and has full Bluetooth integration, which worked quite well when I used it. Same goes for the navigation and satellite radio.
I should mention that I only scratched the surface of what this system can do, but can safely say it is the most impressive one I’ve tested in a production car. Two notes about InTouch before moving on. First, if you really want to dive deep into its capabilities, make sure the car is parked because it can be quite distracting. Secondly, kudos to Infiniti for keeping the climate controls separate and using hard buttons to govern their operation.
On the road
With aesthetics out of the way, it’s time to get down to the meat of this story: driving impressions.
The Q50 is powered by the 3.7-litre V6 variant in Nissan’s venerable VQ engine series. This unit is an aluminum powerplant with continuously variable valve timing control (CVTCS) and variable valve event and lift (VVEL), a technology developed in-house by Nissan and first introduced on the G37 Coupe for the 2008 model year.
Despite not being a new engine, the 3.7 still produces decent power numbers that may not be prodigious, but are impressive nevertheless. With 328 horsepower and 269 lb-ft. under my right foot, I am able to hustle the Q50 past posted speed limits in a hurry. I can’t personally verify the claim of 0-100 km/h in approximately 5.4 seconds, but based on my experience, it seems about right.
Pure straight-line speed aside, the Q50 is a pleasure to drive. Mated to a smooth shifting 7-speed automatic (the only transmission available) and all-wheel drive, my tester delivers a pleasing driving experience. Power delivery is smooth and precise and the V6 engine goes about its business with a minimal amount of fuss. Interior noise is suitably supressed, but one is still able to hear a pleasing growl when the throttle is stabbed. Peak torque arrives at a relatively late 5,200 rpm, but accessing the bulk of it is dead simple so getting off the line or passing that lumbering dump truck on the highway is accomplished with ease.
The handling also proves to be quite poised. The freezing, slushy rain I encountered a couple of times during my test didn’t both the Q50 in the slightest. With the driving mode selector switched to Snow (Sport, Standard and Eco make up the other factory settings, plus owners can create their own), the slightly reduced throttle response kept my tester on the straight and narrow, without a single white-knuckle moment.
Given my predilection for performance, the setting I made the most use of was Sport. The revised throttle mapping and transmission shift points really unleash the bulk of the Q50’s performance potential. The manual shift mode and active rev matching, which I also made use of, didn’t hurt either.
Because I was unable to test the Q50 on a closed course, there isn’t too much I can say about the car’s much ballyhooed Direct Adaptive Steering system – which is designed to respond faster than a mechanical system through independent control of tire angle and steering inputs – aside from the fact that I found it to be precise and it provided good feedback and road feel, and the adjustability is great. Did it have much of an impact on my driving experiences? No, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t under different circumstances.
I was, however, able to get a feel for the Active Lane Control which did impress. Not only did it adjust the car’s direction based on the proximity of surrounding vehicles, but it also regulated its speed based on the traffic in front. The level of intervention the system operates with can be adjusted based on driver preference, or can be turned off entirely.
Working with a sophisticated camera-based, lane detection system, Active Lane Control is capable of making corrections – some of which can be rather dramatic – in steering, acceleration and braking, and can even adjust for crosswinds and road imperfections. I like the technology and think it will become more prevalent throughout the industry in the years ahead, but it does have a hint of ‘big brother’ intrusiveness at times. It’s not a feature I would use all the time, and I suspect many Q50 owners will feel the same way.
There’s a lot to like about the Infiniti Q50, and automotive critics seem to agree. It’s the winner of AJAC’s Best New Luxury Car Award (over $50,000) for 2014, and has also been awarded both of AJAC’s technology awards, for its Direct Adaptive Steering and Predictive Forward Collision Warning technologies.
Beyond the accolades, the Q50 strikes a near ideal balance between style, performance, technology and value. I am unable to think of anything I really didn’t like – it’s priced right, comes equipped with an impressive array of technology and, with seven different models to choose from, offers plenty of options for prospective buyers.
Most importantly for me, however, it is a great car to drive and with the recent unveiling of the Eau Rouge Concept (essentially a production-ready, high-performance model just waiting to be greenlit) at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, there appears to be plenty of room to expand its performance envelope.
Bottom line, the Infiniti brand needed new a new lease on life, and with the Q50 it now has one.