First Drive: 2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400
Aims past the old standard-bearer with improvements to steer-by-wire
NASHVILLE, Tennessee — With casual glance, it was easy to dismiss the 2018 Infiniti Q50 sedan's unveiling late last winter at the Geneva motor show. But mid-cycle refreshes are important, especially in the highly competitive BMW 3 Series segment, which nevertheless is shrinking due to the growth of premium/luxury SUVs.
Visually, the 2018 model year facelift for the Q50 is pretty subtle. Introduced in 2014 and first updated for the '16 model year, exterior clues are relegated to new front and rear fascias, new wheels, and new trim level designations aside from our test car, a twin-turbo V-6-powered Red Sport 400.
Infiniti also has upgraded the interior with a new stitched instrument panel, new steering wheel, an Infiniti "signature" shifter, and upgraded gauge and ambient lighting, with "significant" differences between the Red Sport 400 and the more quotidian models. There are new semi-autonomous safety features, reduced NVH, and improved vehicle dynamic control. Infiniti now offers an optional 16-speaker stereo from Bose's high-fidelity Performance Series, and it sounds wonderfully clear and bright.
The Red Sport's interior makes heavy use of black-colored materials and carbon-fiber-like details without coming off as dark as Johnny Cash's suit closet.
There are new trim level names for the rest of the range, and you can expect this to roll out across the Infiniti line while you're still trying to figure out if the Q50 corresponds to the old G35 and G37 (it does). There's Pure (base), Luxe (mainstream premium), Sport, and Red Sport.
Pure and Luxe Q50s get a new base engine, a 208-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-four. The Luxe also is available with the newly added 300-horse 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 or, in the Hybrid Luxe, the 360-net horsepower combination of a 3.5-liter V-6 with a 50-killowatt electric motor. Our subject car comes with the 400-hp version of the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. All come with a seven-speed automatic, and all can be had in rear- or all-wheel-drive.
Oh, and Infiniti has added rack-based electronic power steering, standard, and has made improvements to the optional Direct Adaptive Steering, the first mass-market steer-by-wire offered in the U.S. market, introduced four years ago.
"A lot of learning has gone in" on DAS, says U.S. product planner Anand Patel. And you have to give Infiniti credit for picking itself up and brushing itself off after auto journalists unanimously panned the system when it made its debut.
So the big question is, is it good?
Well, it's much improved. Feel and feedback are okay, and it does point the car where you want it to, though it still feels a bit funny and artificial on-center. Like most cars in this category, switching the vehicle dynamic control to "Sport" or "Sport+" adds a bit more weight, while altering the shift points. The thing is, it's at least as good as the erstwhile benchmark, the BMW 3 Series, which has lost its way and grew a layer of isolation with the latest model. Best steering in the category now belongs to the Cadillac ATS, Alfa Romeo Giulia (at least, the Quadrofoglio, which is the only variant I've driven so far), and maybe the Jaguar XE.
Fear not, Infinitinista. Improvement is the right direction, and anyway, you can forgo DAS in favor of a conventional electric power steering with the electronics mounted on the steering rack, as noted above. DAS is part of a $2,700 ProActive package available on all turbo-six models and if you decide to save the cash, you also give up intelligent cruise control, blind spot intervention, lane-departure prevention and active lane control, adaptive front lighting, and high-beam assist. I know I'm showing my age, but it seems like it would be easy to live without much of this if you like driving a driver's car.
And a driver's car, the 2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 is. Throttle tip-in betrays a bit of turbo lag, but otherwise the car takes off like a … oh, choose your cliché. Let's say, a runaway German train on the autobahn, but with strong brakes that can confidently reel the car in.
Ride is firm with the 19-inch wheels, but without the crash-over-bump motion that can easily afflict a high-strung sport sedan. I'm happy that Infiniti didn't shoot for an even "20" on the wheel size. Body roll and understeer are minimal, at least as far as I could tell on ess-infested roads outside of Nashville, including The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Since it was a mere G35, Infiniti's BMW 3 Series-fighter has been a formidable, lower-priced competitor for what once was the segment's standard-bearer. With its most recent updates, the Q50's answer to the M3 appears to have caught its benchmark car (a longer, more intensive drive is needed to make a more definitive assessment). Keep working on the Direct Adaptive Steering, Infiniti, and you can catch the segment's new leaders.
2018 Infinti Q50 Red Sport 400 Specifications
|ON SALE||Late Summer|
|PRICE||$51,950/$57,300 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/400 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 350 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/29 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||189.6 x 71.8 x 56.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec|