San Antonio, Texas — These back-country roads are as endless as the state is vast. They aren’t so much roads as much as unending stretches of nothingness, pockmarked with shrubs, dried riverbeds, and an occasional half-eaten porcupine carcass. Hours go by. Thoughts of the universe and your place in it stream through your head. Your only companion is the understated idle from the 2016 Infiniti Q50S Red Sport’s 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, and in that moment you decide these bleak roads will not cause you to spiral into oblivion as you mash the throttle and unleash the car’s compelling 400 horsepower.
The Q50S Red Sport 400 isn’t exactly new, even though its name, as our daily news editor Jake Holmes puts it, “sounds like Mountain Dew’s next big flavor.” Thanks to the brand’s new VR engine, it’s a more performance-oriented version of the Q50S Infiniti released in 2014. The Red Sport 400’s VR-series engine replaces the aging VQ-series architecture that Nissan, Infiniti’s parent company, has used for some time now. Power and torque increase to 400 hp and 350 lb-ft thanks to the turbocharged engine running an impressive 14.7 pounds of boost. And with the car’s water-cooled charging system and the integrated exhaust manifold, lag is nonexistent. It feels more powerful than the numbers suggest, especially when it’s pinning you to its heavily bolstered but very comfortable sport seats.
Its addictive acceleration, however, could be better if the Red Sport 400 came equipped with stickier tires; the car comes standard with a set of Dunlop SP Sport Maxx run-flat tires. While providing you the comfort of knowing you’ll never get stuck in the middle of this type of barren wasteland, these tires are notably loud and provide little in the way of traction when cornering or given a heavy dose of throttle. Moreover, the Q50S Red Sport 400 is let down by its intrusive traction and stability control systems that blink and beep incessantly whenever you get near its rather low (tire-influenced) limits. It’s infuriating to feel a great performance-car chassis hampered by so-so rubber.
During our Four Seasons test of a 2014 Infiniti Q50, we found that the car’s electronic steer-by-wire system, Direct Adaptive Steering, was vague and felt unrealistic. Though the Q50 Red Sport has updated DAS software, it’s still not ready for enthusiast drivers. The new variable mechanism feels well-weighted and direct, but it still lacks precision. While DAS is an option, with the standard electric rack, a high-frequency vibration comes through the wheel and makes your hands tingle, and not with anticipation. On-center steering remains vague, and you constantly adjust the steering wheel. There’s additionally sometimes a momentary pause between when you turn the wheel and the car initiating the turn, which makes for a rather disconcerting experience.
The Infiniti Q50S Red Sport 400 lacks the savagery of Mercedes’ C63 AMG, the well-refined chassis of Cadillac’s ATS-V, or the gorgeous fender flares and brash design of BMW’s M3. But Infiniti claims it’s not really trying to compete with those performance-focused sedans. This, however, feels like a missed opportunity.
The Infiniti Q50S Red Sport 400 is a good and uncannily fast car; it could be a great car with some changes, such as to the transmission, which incidentally feels slow to react even in the new Sport+ setting. And with a starting price Infiniti says will be less than $50,000, the Red Sport 400 is thousands less than those German and American performance sedans.
Still, while driving the Q50S Red Sport 400 through the Texas emptiness, you find yourself staring off into the vastness of the open range and dreaming of those other cars — and how you doubt you’d be so quickly uninterested with those cars as you are with the Red Sport 400. We knew the 2016 Infiniti Q50S Red Sport 400 was never going to be as thrilling as the GT-R-powered Infiniti Eau Rouge concept, but we hoped it would be a little more exciting. Indeed, as we power along, we can’t help think we’d have more fun in the M3, C63 AMG, and ATS-V.
2016 Infiniti Q50S Red Sport Specifications
|On Sale:||Late 2016|
|Price:||$49,000 (base) (est)|
|Engine:||3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/400 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 350 lb-ft @ 1,600-5,200 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/AWD sedan|
|L x W x H:||188.3 x 71.8 x 57.2 in|
|Weight:||3,730 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH:||4.5 sec (est)|