While Infiniti has been riding a wave of increased sales thanks to the QX30 small crossover and the sultry Q60 coupe, the Q50 sports sedan remains the brand’s core vehicle and biggest seller. Since its launch for the 2014 model year, Infiniti has expanded and advanced the Q50’s lineup with more engine options, improved performance, and upgraded luxury. For 2018, the Q50 receives a mild mid-cycle refresh, highlighted by slightly tweaked looks, rejiggered trim levels, and further refinement of the steering and the overall driving experience.
Harmonious blend of sporty and classy looks, refined power.
Lack of steering feel, the automatic transmission stumbles, active-safety features are optional.
Onward and Slightly Upward
The Q50 kicked off Infiniti’s Q-everything naming convention, and it’s now the first model to usher in a new trim-level nomenclature. What was formerly Base is now Pure, and what was Premium is now Luxe. The Sport trim continues, but there is a new Performance package available as an option that brings upgraded brakes, a firmer suspension, and a quicker steering ratio. The Red Sport 400 performance model stands as its own entity.
The engine lineup remains the same. The entry point is a 208-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, mid-level engines include a 300-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 and a 360-hp 3.5-liter V-6 hybrid, and the range-topper also uses the boosted 3.0-liter V-6, tuned to 400 horsepower. Every powertrain is linked to a seven-speed automatic transmission, with magnesium paddle shifters available on the 3.0t Sport and the Red Sport 400.
The Q50 remains one of the better values in the segment, with pricing of each version on par with or below those of their toughest competitors. The 2.0t Pure starts at $35,105, the 2.0t Luxe at $37,455, the 3.0t Luxe at $39,855, the 3.0t Sport at $41,555, the Hybrid Luxe at $51,505, and the Red Sport 400 at $51,905. All models are rear-wheel drive to start, with all-wheel drive a $2000 option that is available across the board. The aforementioned Performance package has a $1500 price tag, and the new factory performance exhaust costs $589 to $681 (plus installation) depending on whether mufflers are included.
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Spot the Difference
The Q50’s revised styling is so subtle that, at first glance, we thought we were gazing upon last year’s version. Up front, the bumper has been slightly reshaped, as has the grille and the daytime-running-light housings. The Luxe and the Pure have softer fascias intended to look more luxurious; the Sport and the Red Sport have edgier visuals that include integrated aero bits at the corners.
At the rear, there’s a new decklid, bumper, and taillights. The trunk swaps its lower chrome strip for a simple crease, the bumper no longer has reflectors, and the taillights adopt a more horizontal shape with LED lamps. The Sport models are further distinguished by black lower-bumper sections and contrasting body-color diffusers bracketed by special exhaust tips. The 2.0t and 3.0t Luxe models add a new 18-inch wheel design, while the 19-inchers on the Hybrid Luxe and the 3.0t Sport are new as well. The interior gets contrast stitching, a new steering wheel, a new shift lever, upgraded interior lighting, and an available 16-speaker Bose Performance Series audio system.
The only model available for us to drive was a fully optioned Red Sport 400. As one of the smallest luxury automakers in the game, Infiniti’s plan to gain market share largely rests on offering more power for the same or less money, and this car is the headliner. The Red Sport 400, which also packs 350 lb-ft of torque, offers more ponies than the BMW 340i, the Audi S4, and the Mercedes-AMG C43.
Code-named VR30, this powerplant is the successor to the brand’s long-standing VQ series, and it first appeared in the Q50 last year. The engine is the car’s biggest strength and boasts a host of technologies that aid in making it more powerful, more efficient, and more responsive. It features an exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head, liquid-to-air intercoolers, an electric motor on the valve-timing system, and a direct-injection system that delivers gasoline based on throttle position and engine speed. It also features a turbine speed sensor that allows for higher rpm and more boost—14.7 psi in the Red Sport compared with 9.5 psi in the lower-powered 3.0t Sport.
The result is snappy throttle response and virtually no turbo lag. The Q50 feels powerful because it is, and the rear can be kicked out easily—sometimes surprisingly so—although it’s immediately caught and corrected by the stability-control system. Turn it off, and it’s possible to disintegrate the rear tires in a smoky haze, if that’s your heart’s desire. A 2016 Q50 Red Sport 400 we tested hustled from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and we expect this facelifted version to perform similarly. Throttle tip-in is smooth, and there’s plentiful thrust for slingshotting around traffic. This engine lives up to the badge’s premium aspirations with its quiet and refined demeanor, which was enhanced this year by noise, vibration, and harshness reductions throughout the car.
For the 2018 model year, Infiniti moved the paddle shifters from the column to the steering wheel. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fix the issues with the seven-speed automatic. While full-throttle upshifts are smooth enough, during normal driving the gearbox occasionally seemed lost trying to find the right ratio, and in manual mode the shifts can be a bit slow and then engage abruptly, even with rev-matching on the downshifts.
The Q50 introduced the world to Infiniti’s contentious Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) system, which has no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the steering rack (except in cases of electronic failure, when an explosive bolt fires and creates a mechanical link). Enthusiasts and reviewers have chided its disconnected behavior and lack of feedback. Now in its second generation and having benefited from some reprogramming, the available steer-by-wire setup has learned a few lessons.
Drivers have the choice among six different driving modes: Snow, Eco, Standard, Sport, Sport+, and Personal, the last of which is customizable. The different modes alter throttle response, transmission shift points, the dampers, and the steering ratio. According to Infiniti, the steering ratio at 60 mph is 4 percent faster in Sport mode and 12 percent quicker in Sport+, and we noticed a change in steering weight at lower speeds as well. Steering in Standard mode is slightly vague and light, while Sport is better and Sport+ is impressively sharp.
But the wheel is still deaf to nearly all chatter. Infiniti touts the DAS’s ability to eliminate vibrations and jerking of the steering wheel, but those subtle motions make up a large chunk of steering feel, and silencing them is an attack on a driver’s line of communication to the tires. That notwithstanding, Sport mode is the sweet spot, balancing engaging driving and comfort; while Sport+ was frequently deployed during our drive over winding Tennessee roads, it’s a little too aggressive for everyday driving.
According to Infiniti, the DAS makes 1000 adjustments per second, which also means it will make a handy partner for autonomous-driving technology. Currently, however, none of the increasingly common driver-assist features are standard on the Q50, except the hybrid. A $1650 ProAssist package on the 2.0t Luxe and 3.0t models provides a 360-degree camera, blind-spot warning, forward-collision warning, and backup collision intervention. A $2700 ProActive package adds lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot intervention, along with a bunch of other tech, but it’s available only on 3.0t models and the Red Sport 400.
Infiniti chose the Q50 as its pace car to lead the brand into a new era. It adopts new features and powertrains before other vehicles in the lineup and is supposed to show buyers the spirit of the company. The Red Sport 400 is a mighty capable vehicle in a true dual-purpose sports sedan, although as the top-of-the-line version it can reach $60,000 with options. It’s fast, has a ton of technology, and looks intriguing without compromising practicality. It’s certainly not perfect, as the transmission and the steering still could use some improvement, but it’s a solid option in a crowded segment that has lost some of its spice.