It has taken 14 years for the Infiniti division to finally bring something new to its offerings in the sports sedan segment. With the G35, which became the G37 and then the Q50 two years ago, Infiniti appealed mainly to drivers attracted to strong sensations by sticking obstinately to a 6-cylinder engine and nothing else.
Happily, the 2016 model year brings its share of changes to this popular sedan, which for the first time in its recent history reduces the number of cylinders to 4 in the base model. Like most of its competitors, Infiniti opted to go the turbo-compression route to power this Q50 2.0t – and not a moment too soon. Complementing it are two versions of the car which feature an all-new 3.0L, V6 twin-turbo engine and offer two power levels. The only link to the past is the return of the hybrid version, which weds a hybrid motor with the well-known 3.5L V6 engine.
But back to the Q50 2.0t. With a base price of $39,900 – the car provided for this short test drive did come equipped with $6,000 in options, which raised the price to $46,185 before the $1,995 in delivery fees – does the most affordable car in the manufacturer’s lineup have what it takes to put a dent in sales of the category’s heavyweights? This is what I set out to determine during the few days I spent behind its wheel.
German Engineering to the Rescue
Nissan’s luxury division did not go out and invest astronomical sums to develop a revamped engine bloc for its new Q50. It opted instead to borrow from the catalogue of partner Mercedes-Benz, which agreed to share its 2.0L turbocharged motor. This is the bloc found under the hood of the CLA sedan and the GLA crossover, as well as in the Infiniti QX30 – both of the SUVs being in fact based on the same platform.
The 4-cylinder, able to produce 208 HP and 258 lb-ft of torque, places the car squarely in the middle of its segment, and remember that the simple fact of adding a so-called “small” engine in the Japanese sedan translates into greatly improved fuel economy. The Q50 2.0t comes with only one choice of transmission, a 7-speed automatic that provides power to the 4-wheel drive. That newly standard all-wheel drive means that, starting this year, Q50 is able to ensure a more reassuring driving experience.
An Interior Slightly Short of Exceptional
This technological makeover might lead you to expect some significant modifications inside the cabin, but this is not the case – though this is hardly a surprise given that the Q50 was only introduced two short years ago. It’s pretty much status quo then inside the popular sedan. In its more basic iteration, the catchword for the overall ambiance is traditional, with black largely dominating the interior. The good news is the car can be delivered in two lighter colour schemes (wheat or stone) if that’s your preference.
Beyond the details regarding colour, the Q50 unquestionably offers high-quality construction. In fact, during this summertime test drive, there was no discernable squeaking or rattling noise at all – a good indication of the solid initial build quality of the model. The leather seating is comfortable and manages to hold occupants quite still even when the road starts to get curvy; this is true even of the rear bench seat, at least for two of the three occupants who may be sitting in it, as the transmission tunnel is a bit cumbersome.
The Infiniti Q50 is further notable for the two separate screens located right in the centre of the dashboard. The smallest and most accessible of the two serves as a link between the passengers and the other screen located higher up. Relatively easy to use, this screen does however oblige the driver to take his eyes off the road for a few seconds. Fortunately, the front right passenger can easily help the driver, if ever road conditions deteriorate and require full attention.
A Conclusive Road Test?
Did the carmaker make good on its bet that a more frugal powertrain is what the Q50 needed? Factor in the 9.4L/100 km fuel consumption figures I managed during my half-city, half-highway run, and the fact that I did not spare the mechanics in any way, and the answer would have to be yes.
Of course, in this compromise reasonableness comes at the expense of some of the muscle the old naturally aspirated VQ37 had to offer, but for some motorists this may even be seen as an advantage, the new turbo unit being noticeably quieter. Acceleration brings a soft whistling from the turbo compressor that is far from unpleasant. I would have dearly loved to be able to change speeds using wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but this car cannot have them. Luckily, the automatic transmission works well, and you do have the ability to change speeds using the gear shifter.
The direct adaptive steering that is exclusive to Infiniti is not yet perfectly in tune with what’s going on under the tires. While the steering is by no means loose on the Q50 – far from it – there is a certain undefinable something missing in the connection between driver and asphalt. On the other hand, this slight detachment does have the merit of masking the many irregularities present on our weather-buffeted roads. Speaking of which, the chassis of this Japanese sedan does its job marvellously, as its rigid structure works with the 17-inch alloy wheels to greatly enhance ride smoothness. In fact I would venture to say that the Q50 is one of the best in its class in this regard.
Changes were due for the Japanese carmaker’s popular sedan. To be sure, the use of borrowed Mercedes-Benz elements removes some degree of authenticity, but it does have the advantage of being simple, tested and true. I for one think that in the Q50 this marriage is a very successful one. And despite the price tag, the 2016 Infiniti Q50 2.0t remains very competitive in this segment that is currently growing in popularity.