If you didn’t already know, the Infiniti Q50 is the replacement for Infiniti’s highly successful G35 (later G37) sedans and coupes. With rear-wheel-drive, optional all-wheel-drive, and styling that set it apart from the traditionally conservative Japanese vehicles, the G35 proclaimed to the world that the guys at Infiniti were serious about competing with the BMW boys from Munich.
Despite winning many auto review comparisons, the public voted with their wallets and the BMW 3-series sedan sales figures proved that the BMW cachet and the proof behind the Ultimate Driving Machine slogan was simply too great, too true.
These days, Infiniti seems more content, and perhaps rightfully so, to position the G37’s replacement, the Q50, as a different sort of alternative to the BMW 3-Series, and less so as a direct competitor. This is probably a smarter move as it allows Infiniti to play on its strengths such as reliability, fit and finish, value, and technology.
What’s new on the outside?
For model year 2018, the Infiniti Q50 receives a significant update including a refreshed exterior and interior appearance. Innovative driver assist systems that were designed to empower and support the driver have been further refined.
In an effort to gain consistency within its line-up, there is also a new global naming structure for the different trim levels: Luxe, Sport, and Red Sport 400. Each of the model grades now offers more of its own look and character.
My test vehicle arrived in 3.0t Sport trim, meaning that it was differentiated from the more luxury-focused “Luxe” trim through the addition of performance-focused exterior design cues. This included a more angular front bumper, wider and lower air intakes, as well as a more prominent airfoil at the base of the front bumper.
Out back, the 3.0t Sport shares the Red Sport 400’s twin exhausts and rear diffuser with two-tone paint. The body colour is accompanied by dark metallic trim around the base of the rear bumper. Perhaps one of the downsides of my test vehicle’s stately Asgard Grey colour scheme was that the contrasting colours weren’t very obvious. Depending on what type of person you are, this may be either good or bad. In lighter colours, such as white, the styling differences for 2018 are much more pronounced.
All of these upgrades add to an already handsomely-styled car. Despite being a few years into its production cycle by now, the Q50 has aged well and there is no mistaking the vehicle for anything else than what it is.
Interior upgrades and more
Inside the 2018 Q50, Infiniti has used the creation of the new grade structure to differentiate each model with its own unique interior character.
Compared to my first review of the Q50 a couple of years ago, the interior has definitely been stepped up a notch. For example, leather-like materials now surround the instrument panel and are finished in double stitching. Even the wood trim has been treated using a technique that preserves the fundamental character of the wood and its grain, retaining a more authentic appearance than traditional high gloss wood veneers.
A new and more attractive steering wheel, derived from the Q60 sports coupe, also helps to further dress up the cabin. Finishing it all off are “Kacchu” aluminium elements inspired by traditional Samurai armaments.
The Q50 also features Infiniti’s hallmark spinal support seats, with technology supposedly derived from NASA. Infiniti says that the seats have been carefully engineered to provide a consistent level of support and to minimise pressure on lower and upper back muscles. The seats worked as advertised and remain supremely comfortable even after a three hour road trip to Seattle, Washington state.
Perhaps the only comments for improvement, from my back seat passengers, were that toe space under the rear seats could be a bit more commodious, and that the rear headrests felt a bit firm after a couple of hours.
Infiniti’s dual screen infotainment system also appears to have had both hardware and software updates. The system is snappier and much responsive than before, the live video feed from the fantastic 360 degree surround view camera is sharper than ever.
But the learning curve is still a steep one, even for a pretty tech savvy person like myself. For instance, it took me longer than expect to figure out how to change the brightness of the upper screen independently of the lower screen.
Certain simple tasks, such as adjusting the steering weight and responsiveness, are buried in a bit deeper than they should be. Yes, the argument can be made that once you find it, you will probably remember it. Nonetheless, I still think that the User Interface can be simplified.
Infiniti’s Safety Shield system
The 2018 Q50 builds on the long list of safety, security and driving aid technologies already found in other Infiniti models. Among the available systems are Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Intelligent Cruise Control with Full Speed Range, Forward Emergency Braking, Distance Control Assist, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Backup Collision Intervention, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention with Active Lane Control, Adaptive Front lighting System, High Beam Assist technology and Predictive Forward Collision Warning.
This alphabet soup of active and passive safety features is known as Infiniti’s Safety Shield. It is essentially a comprehensive approach, using a mix of active and passive safety features, to protect the driver and passengers by first helping to avoid accidents, then offering a maximum level of protection should the collision be unavoidable.
It’s surprising that Infiniti doesn’t play off on its impressive safety package a little bit because I happen to think it’s one of the standouts of the Q50.
Safety Shield can be activated by just a touch of a button on the steering wheel, and it throws up a wall of protection to save your bacon even in day-to-day driving situations. Indeed after pushing the Safety Shield button, the centre display screen shows off a graphical representation of “digital walls” folding upwards around the car. A new icon also appears above, depicting green “shields” around the Q50.
The big difference here is that while the Q50 doesn’t purport to even have autonomous Level 3 technology, with just a single push of a button, Safety Shield is able to keep a look-out for you at all times, even if you do not specifically turn on its many systems individually. It just works, seamlessly, invisibly, and might I say even naturally?
With the Safety Shield active, even in normal driving without the Active Cruise Control specifically turned on, if a car cuts in front of you, the Q50’s accelerator pedal will push back against your right foot, making it more difficult to open up the throttle. The system also has a full speed range, allowing to activate the brakes if needed.
If you commute in rush hour, the system is a godsend. In stop-and-go traffic, if the car in front of you comes to a full stop, the Q50 will do so as well, once again without even having to set and resume the cruise control function manually. It’s absolutely wonderful!
How else does it perform on the road?
While smaller than the previous 3.7-litre VQ V6 engine, the new VR-Series 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 is an absolute gem. Recently named to the prestigious 2017 Ward’s 10 Best Engines list, the engine is available in two states of tune – 400 hp or 300 hp.
While smaller in displacement than the previous engine, the standard output engine fitted to my test car produced 300 hp at 6,400 rpms and 295 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,600-5,200 rpms. The advanced twin-turbo system minimizes turbo lag thanks to an optimized turbine blade design allowing for faster turbine revolution speeds up to a massive 240,000 rpms.
The 0-100 km/hr run is completed in around 5.2 seconds, confirming that the Q50 3.0T Sport is no slouch. However, the transmission isn’t quite as responsive as the engine, requiring a second to respond to commands from the paddle shifters. Power is sent to all four wheels at all times thanks to an advanced all-wheel-drive system, making the Q50 surefooted regardless of the weather conditions all year round.
Intriguingly, Infiniti has decided to further develop their Direct Adaptive Steering option, also known as their Steer-by-Wire system. You see, the Q50 has no mechanical link between your hands and the front tires. Instead, the system artificially generates feedback, allowing you to completely tailor your choice of steering weight and ratio.
As there is no direct mechanical link, the Direct Adaptive Steering is able to filter out nasty steering kickbacks and shocks.
Due to its ability to make an astounding 1,000 steering adjustments a second, Direct Adaptive Steering marries together perfectly with the other components of Safety Shield, working with Active Lane Control to maintain lane positioning against crosswinds and uneven road surfaces.
Now in version 2.0, the system feels much more natural than before and perhaps even a little more precise than I last recall. Alas when it comes to road feel, it is still not able to replicate the steering feel of the best electric power steering system on the market. That crown still gets awarded to the Germans in Stuttgart producing the iconic Porsche 911.
That being said, I found that by dealing in the Q50’s system into “Sport” mode and “Dynamic” response, I was able to produce the best balance of steering quickness and weight for me personally. Every morning I was particularly amused by how little steering lock was required to round the bends in my building’s parking garage.
Aside from its fancy steering system, the Q50 3.0T Sport also features Infiniti’s Dynamic Digital Suspension as standard equipment. A simple adjustment via the Drive Mode Selector adjusts the shock absorber valving to control body motion in varying degrees when cornering. A shift can be made immediately from a comfort-biased ride to a much firmer damping setting for more agile handling.
The Q50’s cabin is a very nice and relaxing place to be aside from a higher than expected amount of tire noise being able to penetrate the interior while driving on the notoriously noisy concrete freeways on Interstate 5.
As previously mentioned, the Q50 doesn’t feel so much as a rival to the BMW 3-Series but more as a complete alternative.
For those who are less fussy about pure driving pedigree or have been burnt by reliability-issues during European car ownership, the Infiniti Q50 represents a well-priced, handsome and alluring option.