This year's Infiniti Q50 is a whole new beast

BY Paul Choi. Oct 07 04:00 am

Try saying this with a mouthful of marshmallows: 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 All-Wheel Drive. It is indeed an effort to say, but a car this powerful deserves an appropriately beefy moniker. While it looks just like last year’s Q50, make no mistake, this souped-up Q is an altogether different beast under the hood.

As you might’ve guessed by its name, the Q50 Red Sport delivers 400 horsepower. Yes, 400 horses from what is ostensibly an entry-level luxury sports sedan. It’s the highest output in this class. Seems like a little overkill, right? Wrong. This is exactly the kind of pull you need to haul the entire family and their things with effortless acceleration — and to have a little fun when you’ve got the car all to yourself on a Sunday afternoon.

As if taking a cue from its German rivals, Infiniti finally joins the downsizing movement by going all turbo in its Q50 lineup. The first engine is a 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder found in the base Q50 2.0T that makes 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A much more powerful 3.0-L twin-turbo V-6 is found in the mid-trim Q50 3.0T and Q50 3.0T Sport, which produces 300 hp and 295 lb-ft. Our top-line Q50 Red Sport 400 tester had an up-rated version of the twin-turbo 3.0-L engine. In this car, 400 hp is delivered at 6,400 r.p.m., and 350 lb-ft of torque is on tap from a low 1,600 r.p.m. to 5,200 r.p.m. All three models come standard with Infiniti’s Intelligent all-wheel-drive system.

The Red Sport’s mill is a significant improvement. Definitely, the biggest difference is in the torque delivery. More push is available early on and can continue to be tapped throughout a wider power range. This translates to blisteringly quick acceleration and effortless highway passing. Power is delivered through a smooth seven-speed automatic transmission equipped with column-mounted paddle shifters.

Another area Infiniti’s engineers have clearly worked on is the car’s Direct Adaptive Steering. It’s the industry’s first steer-by-wire system, meaning steering inputs are communicated entirely electronically, with no mechanical linkage between steering column and wheels (don’t worry, there is a mechanical backup just in case the electric system goes kaput).

The initial promise of the technology was that it would make steering easier by giving you the option of changing the feel of steering while blocking out the harsh effects of a particularly nasty road. But some drivers complained the steering felt numb and disconnected. This year, after some fine-tuning, the Q50’s steering feels more responsive and delivers ample communication from the road. Setting the steering to dynamic mode also ratchets up the weight when driving at higher speeds, while producing a lighter feel at lower speeds for easier manoeuvring.

Adding to the Q50’s customization theme is a choice of six driving modes that alter the steering feel, throttle response and suspension.

Drivers can select Winter for more traction in snowy conditions, Econ for maximum fuel savings, Standard for a balanced ride, Sport for a more spirited feel and Sport+ for the full stiff-suspension, throttled-out experience. A sixth mode, Personal, allows drivers to mix and match the steering and suspension options to suit their own tastes.

I kept the car mostly in Sport+ mode for understandable reasons. In this mode, the throttle was much quicker to respond to my right leg’s jabs and the ride, while stiff, felt most in tune with the road without being overly harsh.

With all that power to the wheels, the Q50 felt as if it wanted to stick its tail out in the corners, but the AWD system made sure to keep car and driver on the straight and narrow. Overall, for a car that tips the scales at 1,839 kilograms (99 kg heavier than last year’s model), there is minimal body roll and the ride feels taut. Road noise is also kept to a minimum inside the cabin, with only the growl of the twin-turbo V-6 emanating through the insulation when foot hits the pedal.

Visually, not much has changed in the Q50 this year. But that’s not a bad thing. The car’s sexy, coupe-like profile and muscular front end make it one of the best lookers in the segment. However, the Red Sport 400 does get some small cosmetic touches to differentiate it from the lesser Q50s in the lineup. These include special exhaust tips and four attractive 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.

Inside, the story is much the same as last year. But again, that’s not a bad thing, with fine soft-touch leather adorning the armrest, door panels and seats, and wood trim accenting the gear selector and centre stack.

Like last year, a high-tech dual LCD touch-screen infotainment setup takes up prominent real estate. While the system’s apps load faster and are more responsive this year, lag rears its ugly head when trying to activate some critical functions. For instance, trying to boot up the climate controls as soon as you turn on the car takes a couple of seconds as the system loads. Not a deal-breaker but annoying, especially when you want to cool or heat the cabin as quickly as possible. The lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support is also a disappointment.

On the plus side, the Q50’s front seats are very comfortable, with this trim offering power-adjustable side bolstering and manual thigh supports that will be welcomed by anyone taller than six feet. Rear-seat passengers, however, will have to put up with slightly cramped head and legroom. I was also not as impressed with the Q50’s dainty steering wheel. In a 400-hp sports sedan, I expect something meatier to hold onto.

While the base Q50 starts at $39,900 in Canada, the top-of-the-line Red Sport 400 edition starts at $54,600. Optioned with the $3,800 Technology Package, as our tester was, the price ratchets up to $60,680 after destination and a $285 fee for our tester’s metallic silver paint. It’s a fair chunk of change, but still $15,000 cheaper than a BMW M3, which makes similar power but is admittedly a much sportier sedan. For most people, the mid-range Q50 3.0T, which starts at $45,900, will be the logical choice. That said, the Red Sport 400 and the newly turbocharged Q50 lineup serves as Infiniti’s big gauntlet drop.

The company’s intentions are now clear: It wants to play with the big boys. Backed by its looks, tech, comfort and now the right motivation, the Q50 appears more than ready.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

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