“Vettel-Fettled,” Infiniti should exclaim. The company that has won the last four Formula 1 Constructor’s Championships with its Red Bull Racing team, and four straight F1 Driver’s Championships (the two are counted separately) for its young German driver, Sebastian Vettel, has legitimately earned a bit of bravado.
Infiniti has linked Vettel, in both advertising imagery and in deed through vehicle testing, as their Director of Performance. And the Q50S is the first Infiniti to have Vettel’s attention. The result? This car’s ready for sports sedan battle.
In 1989, Nissan made a big deal of bestowing the term “four-door sports car” on its Maxima sedan. While that era’s Maxima was no slouch against its competition, the “4DSC” stickers applied to Maximas sold in the US seemed a bit … presumptuous. Fast-forward to 2014 and those F1 successes from 2010-2013, and the Infiniti luxury arm could far more authentically bequeath that label on its latest Q50S sedan. The Q50S is a far better four-door sports car than was the Maxima in 1989, even correcting for time and technology.
|Vehicle type:||4-door sedan|
|Seating capacity:||5 passengers|
|Price as tested:||$45,705|
|Engine:||3.7-liter V6; DOHC; 24 valves; 328 hp / 269 lb-ft of torque|
|Transmission/drive:||7-speed automatic with manual control / rear-wheel-drive|
|0-60 mph:||5.2 sec|
|Top speed:||130 mph|
|Curb weight:||3,675 lbs.|
|Fuel economy, mpg:||20 city / 29 hwy / 23 combined|
Infiniti has stretched its design pen with the Q50, but not so much that it wears a face only a design academic could love. The bold prow of the new Q50 is dominated by its grille and eyes in the form of headlamps, glaring and frowning at oncoming traffic and in rear-view mirrors. The grille itself is artful and a bit more pleasing than other aggressive grilles of similar shape. Most of the current crop of luxury and near-luxury car headlights have furrowed brows, too, but the Q50’s look like they’ll age more gracefully than some over time. That frown on the Q50’s nose is echoed by two creases than begin ahead of the actual headlights and ride an outboard wave along the hood from the grille to the A pillar; a long ride.
The overall proportion and silhouette of the Q50 is similar to the previous G37 sedan model, but a bit more squat and feline with a lower leading edge to the hood. The Q50 has strong and sharp shoulder lines and rear haunches, creating a visual sense of power. Meanwhile, a straight crease at the bottom of the doors grounds the visual center of the car, connecting it to the road, implying stability. The front grille’s shape is also echoed in the back by the license plate recess and the chrome strips above and below. Where some cars’ front and rear ends seem to have little to do with each other, the Q50’s are clearly fraternal; someone at Infiniti has been thinking holistically about design. Finally, the Q50 design is free of extraneous, sometimes bothersome aero festoonery that hardly ever means much tangible downforce on a road car. Well done.
Simply straightforward with no surprises either delightful or regrettable, the Q50 lays out its interior in leather and aluminized nonchalantedness. Door panels and most of the dash are awash in curved, flowing shapes, though the center stack is quite rectilinear.
Infiniti’s new InTouch dash design splits vehicle andinfotainment control between two screens. Navigation and car setup functions reside in the upper screen with audio, connectivity and climate adjustments tweaked from the lower screen. The recessed upper screen is a conventional one with a matte finish, while the lower one is akin to an iPad’s with a glossy finish and can show fingerprints more than the upper one. This adds to the unique and separate nature of the two and somewhat schizophrenic menu paths and ergonomics. Look at it glass half-full, though, and it offers more adjustability and flexibility than in previous G37s. Front seats offer plenty of room and multi-adjustability and rears are kid and small-adult friendly.
Infiniti’s VG- and VQ-series V6 engines have been long-serving soldiers in various models over the years. In the Q50S, the 3.7-liter V6 cranks out a healthy 328 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. This is the same engine that powers the Nissan 370Z that I also recently tested and while the stats are mostly the same, they feel quite different in each car. In the Z, this V6 bears its teeth and growls more often and at lighter throttle positions, and transmits more vibration. In the Q50, which can hit 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds, it’s generally docile. But start holding upshifts manually to about 4,000 revs by engaging the steering column-mounted paddle shifters and diving deeper into the throttle to discover that this is truly a fast car, and the slightly distant raucousness gets closer. It transmits virtually no big vibration at upper rpms as with the 370Z, thanks to a combination of higher-compliance motor mounts, sound deadening and an automatic transmission coupling rather than a manual. Make no mistake, a big V6 like this one can be a real shaker. But in the Q50, quivers are minimal.
Perhaps more noteworthy, though, the suspension strikes a rare compromise between sports-car stiffness and luxury-car expectations that would leave few drivers wanting more of either quality. And it does so without breaking new suspension design ground, but rather, smarter calibration of the bits already there since the G35/G37 era. The Q50 elegantly gobbles up sports car switchbacks and snaky roads at high speed. In fact, the Q50 is downright lively with stability control switched off, showing more oversteer induced by trail-braking and aggressive throttle than most competitors.
The parts doing the hard work are a double-wishbone front suspension with four-piston brake calipers up front (the calipers as part of the “S” model parts upgrade), and a multi-link rear suspension with conventional two-piston brake calipers. While Infiniti offers steering that’s fully electronic (by-wire) this S model was not so equipped. Though a little light in effort, the steering is nonetheless precise and geared rather quickly. The S-specific parts are rounded out by forged 19-inch wheels (shared with Sport- and Nismo-packaged Nissan 370Zs), summer (non-all-season) tires and those column-mounted paddle shifters made from magnesium.
As a rethought, re-fired and revealing small sports sedan, the new Q50S challenges established winners and newcomers. And though Infiniti has moved on from the very popular G35/G37 sedans that also spawned coupes of the same name, they will still offer the G37 sedan as a lower-cost alternative to the Q50, by about $4,000.
Regardless, in the transformation from G37 to Q50, the Infiniti sedan gains suspension refinement and gains equipment. But it also remarkably stretches its performance envelope in both directions, offering quieter sedate-mode driving while simultaneously closing in on sports car dynamic capabilities.
A touch of Z-car soul for the sports sedan seeker of truth.
-by Jim Resnick
-photos by Jim Resnick