2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: Introduction
What you see here is a catalyst for change. The 2014 Infiniti Q50 is the first of the luxury automaker’s new lineup of Q-badged vehicles to go on sale, and is, essentially, the replacement for Infiniti’s best-selling model in the U.S., the G37. This car’s arrival in showrooms heralds change not just for American luxury sport sedan buyers, but also for Infiniti as a global brand. It represents the fulcrum upon which Infiniti will pivot from its current position as a regional premium nameplate to its future position as a true luxury and performance brand known and revered all around the world.
That’s the plan, anyway.
Before we talk about the new 2014 Q50, allow me to set the stage. The short story is that Infiniti’s parent company Nissan wants to grow, and it wants Infiniti to go head-to-head with BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the luxury-class heavy hitters. To make that happen, Infiniti hired Johan de Nysschen away from Audi, where, over time, he successfully made the quad-ringed brand a serious thorn in the sides of other German automakers.
If you know Audi naming conventions, then you can understand why the entire Infiniti lineup is moving away from its current alphanumeric strategy and adopting a more consistent mix of letters and numbers. Starting in 2014, Infiniti cars will carry a “Q” designation and Infiniti SUVs will carry a “QX” designation, each followed by a number indicating the model’s position within the hierarchy. Sound familiar to Audi?
The exception to these new naming rules is forced by competition. Luxury, however you define it, can now be had for less than $30,000 in the form of the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, a very small but very stylish new model for which many traditional luxury features are optional. BMW is countering the CLA-Class with a discounted 320i model. If you’re Infiniti, and your least expensive car starts at around $37,000, and your new 2016 Q30 entry-luxury competitor is still a couple of years away, what do you do?
You keep selling your old G37 Sedan, but at a lower price. And because the G37 Sedan is slated to remain in the mix until mid-2015, when the new Q30 arrives, Infiniti says the Q50 is not a direct replacement for it.
2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: About the Q50
With that explanation of what’s happening at Infiniti out of the way, let’s focus on the new 2014 Q50. It is a rear-wheel-drive luxury sport sedan equipped with a standard V-6 engine or a gas-electric hybrid powertrain that supplies greater power and performance while returning superior fuel economy.
Compared to the G37 Sedan, the new Q50 is two inches wider and gets a small bump in length combined with a small drop in height. The wheelbase is the same, but the Q50 loses more than 50 pounds and its coefficient of drag is reduced to 0.26 Cd.
Inside, the Q50 has what Infiniti claims is “best-in-class” interior volume. Compared to the G37 Sedan, there’s more shoulder room and legroom for the front and rear passengers, and greater front headroom, but rear scalp space sees a small reduction. The trunk is the same size as the G37 Sedan at 13.5 cu.-ft.
Infiniti says the new Q50’s design draws its inspiration from nature. Key Infiniti design characteristics include a double-arch grille and a crescent-cut C-pillar. A set of 17-inch aluminum wheels is standard, with 19-inch wheels optional. Additionally, the Q50 boasts increased body stiffness, reduced road noise, a new rear suspension, a new Direct Adaptive Steering system, and a refined standard powertrain carried over from the G37. The Q50 Hybrid model is new, too.
Infiniti InTouch technology debuts in the Q50, equipped with software that can be updated over the course of the vehicle’s life to help keep it up-to-date. It includes an InTuition feature that saves the preferred system settings for up to four different drivers. Optional Predictive Forward Collision Warning and Active Lane Control systems are the first of their kind, according to the automaker, and the new Q50 is offered with new Infiniti Connection services and mobile applications, and what the company claims is “the best Infiniti audio system ever.”
2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: Models and Prices
Yeah, that all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Now you want to know what its gonna cost. Choose the Q50 3.7 without options, and you’ll liberate $37,605 from your pocket. Go whole hog for a Q50S Hybrid with all-wheel drive and all the factory-installed trimmings, and you’re writing a check for $59,490. Those prices include the $905 destination charge.
The standard Q50 3.7 is equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, power adjustable front seats, Infiniti Intelligent Key passive entry and push-button ignition, Infiniti InTouch technology, and a reversing camera. Unexpected inclusions are LED headlights and fog lights, and Scratch Shield paint. Unexpected exclusions include leather upholstery and heated front seats, both of which came standard on the G37. Instead of leather, the Q50 is equipped with stiff leatherette that feels durable and looks reasonably convincing.
Options include all-wheel drive, a heated steering wheel, and a power sunroof. To get extra stuff, choose the Q50 3.7 Premium ($40,460). It includes the sunroof plus heated front seats, a Studio on Wheels Bose audio system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a universal garage door opener. Upgrades include AWD and a heated steering wheel, as well as 19-inch wheels, a spare tire, leather seats, and three option packages.
The Navigation Package is self-explanatory, and includes a free one-year subscription to Infiniti Connection services, which equips the Q50 with collision notification and SOS emergency calling capability, Drive Zone geo-fencing capability, and the ability to remotely monitor the car’s location.
A Deluxe Touring Package includes wood interior trim, a power adjustable steering column, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, memory settings for two different drivers, and a split-folding rear seat. This package also contains an AroundView Monitor with Moving Object Detection, front and rear parking sensors, and Direct Adaptive Steering.
A Technology Package is also offered for the 3.7 Premium, containing a laundry list of safety upgrades plus an Eco Pedal designed to encourage more efficient driving and a climate control system equipped with a Plasmacluster air purifier and a Grape Polyphenol air filter.
Switching to the sport-tuned Q50S ($44,105), the standard features list includes Premium equipment plus 19-inch wheels, performance brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, sport-bolstered front seats, leather seats, paddle shifters, and a revised front bumper design. It can be optioned with AWD, a heated steering wheel, and the same three packages offered for the Q50 3.7 Premium.
For the most part, the 2014 Q50 Hybrid models mimic the 3.7 Premium and Q50S models in terms of equipment and options. The Q50 Hybrid Premium commands $4,400 over the 3.7 Premium, while the Q50S Hybrid is priced $3,150 higher than its less powerful and fuel-efficient counterpart.
2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: Comfort
At 101.9 cu.-ft. of interior volume, the Q50 has the biggest cabin in its class, according to Infiniti. That may be true, yet the car retains its dual cockpit feel for the front seat occupants, who sit on 8-way power adjustable front seats. The steering column and gauge cluster no longer adjust in unison, but the Q50’s standard aluminum and optional wood trim is reminiscent of the G37, as are its vertical air vents and meaty 3-spoke steering wheel with comfortable grips and thumb rests. Plus, the Q50 provides the driver and passenger with smooth, padded door panels, making them a comfortable spot to brace a leg when driving with vigor.
Though familiar appearance to the G37’s interior, the Q50’s interior feels as though the driver and front passenger sit further back in the cabin, and lower in the car, eliminating one of my favorite things about the G37: a heightened sense of speed as a result of that car’s close seating proximity to both the windshield and dashboard.
The Q50’s back seat is just like the G37’s, but with slight improvements in shoulder and legroom, and a slight decrease in headroom. Occupants sit high on a supportive bench seat, their feet tucked into the somewhat tight space under the front chairs. Like the G37, the seatback angle is slightly reclined, and I find it uncomfortable as it forces me to slouch. A ski pass-through is standard, while a 60/40-split folding rear seat requires the purchase of an option package.
2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: Technology
Infiniti offers the Q50 with a long list of high-tech upgrades, many of which carry over from the G37. New “world’s first” technology includes Active Lane Control, which is designed to eliminate the need for drivers to constantly fine-tune steering input, and Predictive Forward Collision Warning, which can “see” two cars ahead and react to a potential crash happening between those two vehicles.
Additionally, the Q50 is equipped with Infiniti InTouch, dual touchscreen displays designed to respond to swiping, spreading, and pinching like a tablet computer. Framed by hard keys for commonly used climate and stereo functions, InTouch employs software that can be updated regularly, offers access to mobile applications, and allows up to four drivers to program personal system preference profiles.
2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: Powertrain
This will sound familiar to Infiniti G37 fans: the new Q50 3.7 is equipped with a 3.7-liter V-6 engine generating 328 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 269 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,200 rpm. Those figures exactly match the G37. Additionally, the Q50 has a 7-speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control and Downshift Rev Matching, delivering power to the rear wheels or, optionally, all four wheels. Those specs also match the G37.
What’s different here is that Infiniti claims to have improved the standard V-6’s refinement and fuel economy, and has added new Infiniti Drive Mode technology to the powertrain. The Infiniti Drive Mode selector allows the driver to choose between Eco, Standard, Sport, and Snow powertrain calibration modes. Vehicles equipped with Direct Adaptive Steering also have a Personal setting for the Infiniti Drive Mode system, one that includes a choice between four steering settings.
The Q50 Hybrid is equipped with the same powertrain that’s installed in the larger and more expensive M35h, which is soon to be called the Q70 Hybrid. It combines a 3.5-liter V-6 with a 50-kW electric assist motor and a Lithium-ion battery to produce a combined 360 horsepower. The Q50 Hybrid shares a transmission with the Q50 3.7, and is offered with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.
The Q50’s optional Intelligent AWD system continually monitors vehicle speed, throttle position, and rear wheel slip. Under normal driving conditions, it supplies 100% of engine output to the rear wheels. As conditions deteriorate, the system automatically diverts up to half of the power to the front wheels.
Circling back to the issue of fuel economy, the Q50 3.7 is rated to get 23 mpg in combined driving. That’s 1 mpg better than the G37. Adding the AWD system knocks fuel economy down to 22 mpg, a 2-mpg improvement over the G37x.
If fuel economy is a real priority, you will likely choose the Q50 Hybrid. In combined driving, it gets 31 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 30 mpg with AWD. With a 20-gallon tank, these numbers increase range by 160 miles. Just keep in mind that if the car is driven 12,000 miles annually, it will take 8.7 years for Q50 Hybrid owners to recoup the car’s added cost, based on fuel prices of $3.75 per gallon.
2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: Driving Impressions
If you’ve ever driven an Infiniti G37 Sport, then you’ll feel right at home behind the wheel of the new Infiniti Q50, except for a few significant differences.
First, there is the matter of the available hybrid powertrain, which I did not experience and, therefore, cannot comment upon.
Second, there is the matter of Direct Adaptive Steering, included in the Deluxe Touring Package, an option that my test-drive sample came without. Therefore, I can only conjecture based on what Infiniti says that it does what the automaker has designed it to do.
Third, there is the matter of the impact that the redesigned rear suspension, wider track, and larger contact patches have on handling, which in my opinion resolves a bugaboo that has affected the G ever since it debuted for the 2003 model year.
In my experience, the first-generation and second-generation G sedans were really fun to drive, but the rear wheels and tail of the car tended to break loose early, triggering traction and stability control systems and generally dampening an enthusiast driver’s spirits. I observed no such behavior in the Q50, the tail end of the car remaining planted, the safety minders remaining passive, the power flow remaining uninterrupted.
Then again, maybe it was my car’s AWD system that made it stick so well on one of my favorite two-lane roads.
In any case, though the Q50’s dynamic character is a familiar one, it is also improved over the G37. Despite lofty horsepower and torque peaks, the Q50 3.7 is responsive off the line, quick to gather speed, and responsive in the mid-range, especially when the Infiniti Drive Mode selector is placed in Sport mode. From the driver’s seat, the 3.7-liter V-6 isn’t as loud as the G37’s, and when its revving hard there isn’t as much vibration and harshness.
Exit a corner onto a straight and the V-6 rushes toward triple-digit territory with ease and confidence, the 7-speed automatic snapping off crisp, clean shifts. Paddle shifters are included only for the Q50S model, but other versions of the car get a manual shift gate to the left of the main channel, where the selector is easy to find and use. Move it up to execute an upshift, and move it down to execute a downshift. No F1-style nonsense here, just intuitive logic.
Stab the brakes, and as standard 4-wheel ventilated-discs erase velocity, the transmission’s Downshift Rev Matching feature adds to the thrill of driving a Q50 hard and fast. I mentioned that my test car did not have Infiniti’s new electric Direct Adaptive Steering, but the standard hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering was excellent, administered via a thick-rimmed steering wheel with smooth leather that proved perfect for shuffle steering through S-curves.
As tenacious as the Q50 proved on my regular test route through California’s Santa Monica Mountains, I did notice that the car understeered a bit, and that the 19-inch Dunlop SP Sport run-flat performance tires howled early in discontent. This, despite the presence of Active Trace Control technology, which is supposed to enhance cornering feel by adjusting engine torque and applying the brakes as deemed necessary to help tighten a line.
OK, enough jibber-jabber about how the Q50 performs for the handful of buyers that might actually test its limits. What’s this car like to drive in the real world?
From my perspective, and likely because my sample did not have the optional Technology Package, this new Infiniti was refreshing in that nothing beeped at me, or flashed at me, or vibrated suddenly. The Q50 I drove didn’t brake on its own or attempt to steer itself in a direction I hadn’t intended in an effort to save me from myself. Piloting a modern luxury car that lets the driver do the driving is increasingly rare, and I’m glad for it.
Quiet and comfortable on the highway, the Q50 feels firm and connected but rarely harsh. During the few hours I had the car, only the most jarring of pavement bruises were able to unsettle the suspension or transfer through the structure to the cabin, and in those cases, the shockwave was subtle rather than significant. Also, note that the Q50 AWD’s turning circle is wider than the standard car’s by more than half a foot, and I noticed it while maneuvering in tight quarters.
Otherwise, I can’t comment on city driving, or driving in traffic, or attempting to park in a lot, or how well the new Q might serve a family, because I didn’t experience those things in the few short hours I had with the car. Those observations will need to wait for a full test drive.
2014 Infiniti Q50 First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
During a daylong introduction to the media, an event held one week after announcing that the new Q50 and the old G37 will be sold side-by-side for the next two years, Infiniti representatives explained that the Q50 isn’t a one-for-one replacement for the G37.
In my view, that is true only because the Q50 is an all-new design with a new name, and because the company has now decided to keep the G37 in the stable and reposition it to reach buyers at a lower price point. From powertrains and pricing to dimensions and driving dynamics, it is clear that the Q50 was conceived and developed as a third-generation G before the company decided to put new names on all of its products.
Continuing to sell the pretty good old G37 next to the improved new Q50 isn’t the same as when Chevrolet decides to sell the crappy old Impala next to the comparatively awesome new Impala. The second-generation G Sedan aged remarkably well, and though it is going on eight years old, it remains a competitive car in multiple respects. Keeping it on the roster has the potential to dull the Q50’s appeal and impact, making it harder for the Q50 to establish a volume-selling position in the marketplace, not to mention putting significant downward price pressure on certified-used G37s, which probably provide dealers with a nice, fat, juicy profit margin.
But hey, I’m not a marketing genius. I’m a guy with car keys, a computer, and an opinion. Restricted to my own sphere of expertise, I think the new Infiniti Q50 is an impressive piece of work, well deserving of consideration as an alternative to the luxury sport sedan status quo.