It’s a competent sport sedan that allows Infiniti to catch up with the German stars.
The Infiniti brand has developed quite a reputation for itself over the past couple of decades. Other than the iconic Q45, the brand’s early models were interesting but were ultimately forgotten over the years. Things turned around significantly with the unveil of the 2002 G35, arguably one of the first Infiniti models that captivated the young enthusiast crowd. The entire brand has rebadged over the past few years, now bearing names beginning with “Q” for passenger cars, and “QX” for crossovers. A car that has had questionable reviews since its 2014 introduction, the Q50 has been a personal favourite of mine since I first drove a rear-drive Sport model at the launch.
As far as new technology goes, the Q50’s steer-by-wire wasn’t the most involving, but it delivered decent response and the car felt very tight to drive. A mid-cycle refresh for the 2016 model year gave the Q50 two new engines – we sampled the Q50 2.0T (reviewed here) recently and it should be a pretty competent entry in the segment. The big boss of the new line though is the 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400, which is the flagship model. It incorporates the same styling as the rest of the lineup, with nothing more than subtle cues to suggest that it packs a wildebeest under the hood. Despite its name, the Red Sport 400 can be had in colours that aren’t red, and other than a “S 3.0t” badge on each fender, nothing really differentiates it from a regular Q50.
The new powertrain is what makes the Q50 Red Sport 400 really special. It’s a 3.0L V6, twin-turbocharged, and not to be confused with the identical-displacement motor in the Mercedes-Benz C 450 AMG (reviewed here). This all-new motor is the highly anticipated successor to the Nissan family’s VQ-series, and is dubbed “VR”. The VR in this application pushes 400 horsepower at 6,400RPM and 350 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600RPM. With a full drive mode selector that toggles between “Eco” and “Sport+”, the response of the Red Sport 400 is customizable to the driver’s wishes.
The new VR30 motor is direct injected, and uses a new turbine blade design that enhances response and power. The torque curve is wonderful, and it’s supposed to get much better fuel economy as well. On a car that weighs 4,054 lbs., the extra response is welcomed. With its power numbers, the Q50 isn’t all that far off from the BMW M3 and a close competitor is the Mercedes-Benz C 450 AMG (reviewed here).
Engine response is insane – this is easily the strongest point of the entire car. The Red Sport 400 can sprint to 100 km/h in just 4.58 seconds, and it feels like power is underrated. Peak torque kicks in early, and the low-end grunt compensates for the slight turbo lag evident. No matter where in the power band the car is, a swift kick to the throttle will result in the car pulling hard and strong. This Q50 is seriously fast. The seven-speed automatic, the only available transmission, is essentially unchanged, but it’s a great unit.
One thing that’s incredibly underrated in this day of paddles on everything from economy sedans to supercars, is the presence of paddle shifters connected directly to the steering column rather than the wheel. Another vehicle in which we recently experienced this is the Nissan Juke NISMO RS (reviewed here), which means Nissan is the only manufacturer to actually take this seriously. This is a trait trickled down from racing, where response time is key. No matter where the steering wheel and/or your hands are, whether you’re in a turn or going straight, you always know where the paddles are to make a quick shift.
The Q50 Red Sport 400 is spec’d interesting in Canada, because it’s only available with Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive. Our neighbours in the United States are able to get this model in pure enthusiast form, in a rear-wheel-drive configuration. It’s easy to understand Infiniti’s logic here, because Canadians will typically choose rivals like the BMW 340i (reviewed here) in all-wheel-drive form. The low take rate on rear-drive models means only lower trims are available in this form. Infiniti’s AWD, a rear-based system, sends up to 50% of available torque to the front wheels. In everyday driving, all power is sent to the rear.
Fuel economy is vastly improved, and this is something I welcome. The last Q50 I reviewed returned 11.5L/100km over the course of my test, which was less than stellar. The Red Sport 400 is rated for 12.3L/100km in the city and 9.1L/100km highway. Our results weren’t too far off, and we experienced 10.9L/100km throughout our test. This consisted of about 60% city driving, so it’s pretty evident that even through the power increase, the VR motor helps considerably with fuel economy. The Red Sport 400’s fuel tank will accept 76L of premium fuel.
Now, where the car begins to fall short of expectations is the Direct Adaptive Steering, which has been significantly tweaked for this year. It’s still a steer-by-wire system, which means there’s no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the drive wheels. Think of it like a video game, where response is quick and sharp, but just doesn’t feel natural. I had the response set to “Quick” and “Dynamic+” the entire time, and really liked how crisply the car cornered, but the feel just isn’t there.
With regards to handling, the car corners like it’s on rails, also willing to oversteer when asked, but the biggest weakness is the lack of tires. The standard tires on the Red Sport 400 are Dunlop run-flats, which get the job done sufficiently for everyday driving, but don’t cut it when it comes to performance driving. Anybody intending to take their Red Sport 400 to either the weekend autocross or regular track days will want to invest in a good set of performance summer-only tires. Canadians will want to opt for a dedicated set of winters, too.
Starting at $54,600, the Red Sport 400 adds about $15,000 to the base price of the entry-level 2.0T. Essentially a loaded car, this includes the faster ratio steering, the 400-horsepower motor, Sport brakes, unique 19” aluminum wheels, sportier exhaust, and Dynamic Digital Suspension. The only option is the $3,800 Technology Package, which adds Direct Adaptive Steering, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, Distance Control Assist, and genuine Maple wood on the interior. The as-tested sticker on our car is $58,400.
Also virtually unchanged from the 2015 model, the Q50 still sports a very nice interior. The dual-screen infotainment is slightly freshened, and the software update speeds things up a good amount. The Maple wood is a nice touch, and there is plenty of metallic finish throughout as well. Fit and finish is good, and all of the pieces seem to come together nicely. The leather seats are great, and everything comes together nicely for a near perfect driving position. At this price point, I do wish the car included ventilated seats, something that the Lexus IS (reviewed here) offers.
The 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 isn’t the GT-R-powered Eau Rouge we saw in concept form, but it’s a competent sport sedan that allows Infiniti to catch up with the German stars. The Audi A4 is all-new for 2017, and amazing entries like the Mercedes-Benz C 450 AMG and BMW 340i make for a very competitive segment to play in. The old Q50’s 3.7L was holding it back, and the new powertrain options step things up significantly. It’s not a perfect car, but has a great interior and demonstrates great road manners, not to mention awesome straight-line speed, which is all many buyers are looking for. Is this a worthy successor to the legendary G35? Absolutely.