Infiniti says that the 2014 Q50, which replaces the Infiniti G37, is its best-ever sport sedan. That may be, but for better or worse, the new Q50 will be remembered not for that claim but rather for being one of the first cars with the ability to be driven nearly autonomously. With every available electronic driver aid engaged, it is possible to drive the sedan on a straight stretch of freeway for miles at a time with your hands off the steering wheel and your feet off the pedals, not that Infiniti advises that you do so. Whether you consider that ability to be progress or the beginning of the end of driving pleasure depends on your perspective. Even among the Automobile Magazine staff, our opinions differ widely on this matter. Infiniti stresses that the driving aids, most of which are extra-cost options, can all be turned off with the touch of a button.
Setting aside the electronics, what we have here with the 2014 Infiniti Q50 is not so much an all-new sport sedan as a rebodied and refreshed G37. The Q50 sedan still rides on the familiar FM platform and is powered by the same 3.7-liter V-6 mated to the same seven-speed automatic transmission. Infiniti no longer offers a manual transmission, although product planners claim they are lobbying for one because, of course, you can get one in the BMW 3-series and the Audi A4, if not the new Lexus IS. Don't hold your breath, we say. Infiniti's hybrid powertrain from the M sedan, consisting of a 3.5-liter V-6 and a lithium-ion battery pack, is newly available in the Q50 Hybrid, which boasts city/highway/combined EPA fuel economy figures of 29/36/31 mpg, as compared with the standard car's 20/30/23 mpg. We haven't yet driven the Hybrid but will soon. Trim levels for the Q50 are the 3.7, the 3.7 Premium, and the 3.7 Sport; all-wheel drive is optional across all models, including the Q50 Hybrid.
The G37 continues for an interim period as a price-leader model, which means its price will have to come down. The 2013 G37's base price is $650 higher than the 2014 Q50, so the old Infiniti will have to compete with the $30,825 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 until the Japanese brand gets a smaller, front-wheel-drive car of its own. This concession to dealer demands saddles the Infiniti brand with an old badge just as it is trying to acclimate consumers to its new naming protocol, whereby all cars have a "Q" prefix followed by numerals and all crossovers and SUVs have a "QX" prefix. The previous G37 two-door models also carry over as before but, to add to the confusion, take on the new names Q60 coupe and Q60 convertible for 2014. The numerals in the new Infiniti names have nothing to do with engine displacements, which will be indicated by fender badges.
The Infiniti Q50 is slightly lower and longer than the G37 and some two inches wider, and it rides on the same 112.2-inch wheelbase. Seventeen-inch Bridgestone run-flat all-season tires are standard, while the optional Sport and Premium trims provide nineteen-inch all-season or Dunlop summer tires. When the Q50 debuted at last January's Detroit auto show, it looked overstyled as it rotated under the bright display lights. Now that we've driven it in real life, we rather like it. The exterior, done in Japan at Nissan's studios by a dedicated Infiniti design team, features all-LED lighting at the front and mostly LED bulbs at the rear (only the rear turn signals and license plate light use incandescent bulbs).
Total interior volume is up by 3 cubic feet, to 102 cubic feet, resulting in a bit more front head and shoulder room. Our tester's cream-colored cabin, accented by a black dash and dark maple trim, was comfortable and elegant, but six-footers in the rear seat brushed their noggins against the headliner. Trunk volume is unchanged, at 13.5 cubic feet, and the rear seatbacks easily fold forward to create a nearly flat surface. We found loading a bicycle cumbersome, as neither the trunk opening nor the aperture leading into the passenger compartment is very big. The Q50 Hybrid has fixed rear seatbacks because the battery pack is behind and below the seats, and its trunk space is reduced to only 9.4 cubic feet.
As if to underscore that electronics are running the show, the Q50's InTouch system boasts two large touch screens. The top screen is a conventional navigation, climate, and audio display controlled by a center console knob or your fingertip. The lower screen, touch-operated only, presents a confusing array of programmable features and is where you can fine-tune the various driver-assistance systems. A center console toggle enables you to quickly select from among your pre-programmed setups. Try as we might, we couldn't finger tap or swipe our way to a submenu that allowed us to silence the loud horn when we locked the car with the key fob. It might be there, but good luck finding it. That said, InTouch is easier to use than Cadillac's CUE system.
If one dynamic parameter characterizes the 2014 Infiniti Q50, it is the steering, both for the steer-by-wire technology it introduces and for its dominant role in the behavior of the driver-assistance systems. Infiniti's world-first Direct Adaptive Steering system effectively has no physical connection, with only electronic control units (and a backup electric clutch on the steering shaft) between the steering wheel and the front wheels of the Q50. Tuned with the much-ballyhooed assistance of Infiniti Red Bull Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel, Direct Adaptive Steering also gives you a choice of four different response and effort combinations. Like a lot of these driver-selectable systems, though, there doesn't seem to be an ideal setting. "The heavy/quick setting felt like the proverbial wet cement," said executive editor Todd Lassa after driving the Q50 home, "and in the light-feel/casual setting, it is overboosted and binds up all too easily if you give it quick, big inputs."
In theory, steer-by-wire technology allows engineers to infinitely fine-tune the steering, and Infiniti product planners hint that a special Vettel-tuned performance package might be in the works. Given his efforts in tuning Direct Adaptive Steering so far, perhaps Seb should stick to F1 garages, because in its current iteration, the steering feels artificial, disconnected, and even unpredictable. With the driver aids off, the Q50 has the light, non-communicative steering we see so often these days. It's likely nothing that an owner won't get used to, but it feels downright weird at first.
As for hands-free driving, it's made possible by the Q50's optional Active Lane Control, another world-first piece of technology from Infiniti that is explained in this passage from the press kit:
The system is included as part of the Lane Departure Prevention system, not only adjusting for unintended lane drift, but also making finer adjustments for minor road surface changes or crosswinds (as detected by the camera-based, lane marker detection system). The system goes beyond the traditional Lane Departure Prevention system, taking it a step further by not only evaluating the road ahead (the camera is located above the rearview mirror) for unintended lane drift but also by making small steering input angle adjustments if the Q50 undergoes minor direction changes due to road surface changes or crosswinds (as detected by the lane marker detection system). By reducing the need for steering input for the driver, the driver's effort may be reduced.
Here's the real-life explanation: You push a button on the steering wheel and a car-shaped symbol in the driver-information screen illuminates green, indicating that all driver-assistance systems are on. You head onto the freeway, turn on radar cruise control, find yourself on a straight stretch of road with not much traffic, and remove your hands from the steering wheel. The Q50 inherently tracks pretty straight, but when the car inevitably veers toward one side of the lane, you get a beeping tone and a gentle, effective correction to the steering to keep the wheels between the lane markers. If the road is relatively straight, you can maintain a hands-free stance for miles on end, just so long as the Q50's cameras can continue to read the lane markers. Naturally, Infiniti does not recommend these shenanigans -- or even officially acknowledge that they are possible -- instead couching the technology as a means of eradicating driver fatigue. Nonetheless, this is as close as we've come to autonomous driving, closer even than a similar system in the new Acura RLX allows.
As for the rest of the 2014 Infiniti Q50, it's what we've come to expect from the Infiniti G37: a quite good sport sedan with a well-balanced, rear-wheel-drive chassis; a very strong, 328-hp V-6 that's well mated to a seven-speed automatic; and an attractive exterior and interior. A revised intake and exhaust and some additional isolation and insulation measures have helped quell the harshness of the V-6 that we've long complained about, and the car is about 50 pounds lighter than a comparable G37 thanks to the use of lightweight steel in the body structure. It's not much, but it's better than a weight gain.
Even though Infiniti has retained the old G37 sedan for price-conscious buyers, the Q50 3.7's point of entry is a relatively modest $37,605, although at that price you get vinyl upholstery, not leather, which is a $1000 option on the Q50 Premium 3.7. The cheapest all-wheel-drive model starts at $39,405, and prices rise quickly from there. Our fully optioned, 2014 Infiniti Q50 Sport 3.7 AWD stickered for $53,605, including a $1400 navigation package, a $3100 deluxe touring package that includes Direct Adaptive Steering, and a $3200 technology package that includes Active Lane Control.
Infiniti is entering a new era, what with moving its headquarters from Japan to Hong Kong last year, marketing itself through Formula 1 racing, and revising its model nomenclature to ape the naming conventions of the Germans with which it so aspires to compete. The 2014 Q50 looks great, appears to be extremely well built, and will likely be very reliable. But in blanketing the Q50 with a suite of electronic nannies, Infiniti is gambling that it can retain the enthusiasts it has so carefully cultivated over the past decade even as it chases luxury car buyers who are all too happy to find other things to do with their hands than grip the steering wheel.
2014 Infiniti Q50 3.7
|Price Range:||$37,605 - $45,905|
|Engine:||3.7-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Horsepower:||328 hp @ 7000 rpm|
|Torque:||269 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm|
|Drive:||Rear- or all-wheel drive|
|Front/rear track:||60.8/61.8 in|
|L x W x H:||188.3 x 71.8 x 56.8 in|
|Headroom front/rear:||40.2/37.5 in|
|Legroom front/rear:||44.5/35.1 in|
|Fuel tank capacity:||20.0 gal|
|Cargo capacity:||13.5 cu ft|
|Curb Weight:||3574-3849 lb|
|EPA rating (city/highway):||3.7 RWD, 20/29 mpg; 3.7 AWD, 19/27 mpg; Hybrid, 29/36 mpg|