San Antonio, Texas ― Legends are born, not made. In the car business, the original concept of a vehicle initiates the legend and becomes the standard by which all future generations are measured. In the compact-to-midsize luxury segment, the struggle to keep legends alive is real.
I recently spent a week in a 2016 Lexus IS 300 and I wanted to cry. To compare this model to the original was sacrilegious; to give them the same name, immoral. The Acura TL died a painful death, and still slowly decays on dealer lots as the TLX.
Then there was the Infiniti G35. Glorious, gnarly, feisty, and oh-so-Japanese, it struck chords with enthusiasts and buyers alike. Through a series of name changes (G37 and now Q50) the flame flickered but the light only barely dimmed. This is because Infiniti remained as true to the original concept as possible over the years. For 2016, they are pouring extra fuel on the fire.
The Japanese look
The current Q50 took form in the 2014 model year and it immediately crushed its domestic competitors styling-wise. Its very unapologetically Japanese look cast a shadow on the IS and TL (TLX), and for that reason alone it deserved and received more attention than the other two combined. I do find the Q50 extremely attractive, but I’ve been known to appreciate cars that are more subtle in design such as the new 2017 Audi A4.
For extra sparks, Infiniti introduced the Eau Rouge concept a few years ago that had us all salivating at the idea of a 500-horsepower Q50. Sadly, it didn’t come to be, but the good people from Nissan’s luxury brand have decided to give us more to get excited about.
Boost is always the answer
The 2016 model year marks the end of the normally aspirated engine for the non-hybrid Q50. Gone is the 328-horsepower 3.7L V6, replaced by two new turbocharged mills. The first is a Daimler-developed 2.0L unit that will serve as the car’s base powertrain (20% of deliveries). This is the same engine found in the Mercedes-Benz GLA, and it puts out 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The Q50 Hybrid (5% of sales) remains unchanged and generally uninteresting, but Infiniti still has one, should you be interested.
The big news is the arrival of the VR-series 3.0L twin-turbo V6. The 300-horsepower version is served by 8.7 psi of boost and produces 295 lb-ft of torque from 1,600-5,200 rpm (60% of sales). However, I did not get to drive any of the previously mentioned engines. No, I boogied around San Antonio in the hottest, 400-horsepower Red Sport version (15% take rate).
“Fast” and “alive” barely describe what the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport is. It starts with 350 torques fresh off of 14.7 psi of boost, available from the same 1,600-5,200 rpm. As they taper off, max power rallies in at 6,400 rpm. The absence of lag is remarkable, and the standard-for-all 7-speed automatic transmission is tuned to perfection. The paddle shifters create lovely, rev-matched downshifts and lightning-quick upshifts.
The cars we drove were U.S.-spec models with RWD. In Canada, all 2016 Infiniti Q50s will include AWD as standard equipment. With this kind of power, it can only help.
With all the electronic nannies turned on (yes, on), kicking the rear out was addictively easy. My butt-dyno calculated a 0-100km/h time of no more than five seconds, which is serious stuff. In a brief chat I had with an Infiniti engineer, he explained to me how resolute the company is about this car’s performance. You see, instead of aiming for a perfect front-rear weight distribution, they worked out a 54/46 setup settling the car into a 50/50 split for optimum stability. Around a bend, this point is moot.
The AWD cars will lose this edge, of course, but will gain forward traction. Their system will be RWD-biased, so the driving experience and acceleration times should be similar. I suspect that steering feel will vary somewhat, as well.
The 2016 Infiniti Q50 does handle extremely well. The new Dynamic Digital Suspension for Sport models provides two settings (Standard and Sport) for improved spirited performance and road-holding abilities. In either setting, I found the ride to be excessively harsh with insufficient damping. Apparently, spring stiffness rates were lowered to aid ride comfort, but I did not notice this. What I did notice is the Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS).
This steering-by-wire system not only filters out the bad but also retains some road feel. It is also a building block for semi-autonomous driving, which I don’t want to talk about. The Q50 3.0T models all feature a new electronic rack-and-pinion steering system, but those with DAS are blessed with a sharper ratio and quicker responses. Through a slalom course, the difference was instantly obvious (unlike the idea to offer two steering setups).
Driving the new 2016 Infiniti Q50 is not as tactile an experience as cruising around in a BMW 3 Series, although they’ve never been closer. Infiniti’s second best-selling vehicle in Canada (after QX60) has everything a modern luxury sports sedan must have including a Drive Mode selector (six settings including "personal;" Sport + is the newest addition, like in the BMW…) and loads of driver-assist systems such as predictive collision warning (looks two cars ahead), lane keep assist, and more. A cool new trick is that these systems must be turned on by the driver!
The Q50 is in with the big players
The Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 really puts it to the Audi S4, BMW 340i, and Mercedes-Benz C 450 AMG as it is currently the most powerful of the lot. To make sure this car will be noticed, Infiniti has endowed it with specific wheels, a decklid spoiler, and some 19” all-season performance tires. I really like it, but I’m not convinced that I would plunk my money down for one.
Deliveries should begin within a month, and pricing is to be announced shortly.