What It Is
A thorough rethink on Infiniti's compact luxury sports sedan.
You'll never get bored by its technology or its immense-sounding stereo.
The car's suspension is too stiff with the 19-inch wheels, even with the non-sport springs.
The first shot in what should be an exciting future for the Infiniti brand.
The people at Infiniti--and by proxy its parent company Nissan--must be scared out of their minds right now. Infiniti recently became a legally separate entity from Nissan. That means its cars are no longer going to be selling simple rebadged versions of overseas Nissans. It recently brought on the mastermind behind Audi's product resurgence to have him work his magic on Infiniti. And it's expanding its presence to become a true international brand with a reach well beyond the U.S. where it was founded.
The 2014 Infiniti Q50 is the brand's first step into a new and hopefully more internationally prosperous business plan. But it’s a big gamble, reminding me of the the Word of God scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when a critically injured Dr. Jones mutters to himself, "In the Latin alphabet, Jehovah begins with an 'I'" before his son, Indy, takes sets out for the unknown to save his dad. It’s all about the faith that’s being entrusted in Infiniti's new CEO Johan de Nysschen—his name begins with a "J," even though it’s pronounced like a “Y”—to make Infiniti into a luxury and technology breakthrough that can challenge, if not beat, the Germans.
With the 2014 Q50 being the pacesetter of a reinvigorated Infiniti brand, fending off more than two decades of stagnation, is it possible that it's the sort of sports sedan that could set it apart? We hoped to find out during our drive.
WalkaroundStriking. It took me a while to figure out the 2014 Infiniti Q50's looks in just one word, but I think that sums it up pretty well. When I first saw the car at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I was a nonplused. I didn't think Infiniti had grown enough to escape the G37 sedan this car was intended to succeed. Given a few months to saturate, though, I've come to appreciate that it doesn't look like everything else on the road, with flowing, organic lines that nary let a surface go unchanged. It's something you could look at for a few hours and still miss a few details here and there. The Q50's general shape is nearly the same as the outgoing G sedan's, which will be sold alongside it for the next two years. That could become a detriment to the 2014 Q50 when shoppers see the cheaper, but far older, G on the same lots as the new car. But, believe it or not, the 2014 Q50 is actually a bit wider and lower than the car it's supplanting without growing in length.
But while the G37 was considered one of the larger cars in its class until just recently, the sudden growth of the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 over the last few years means it's no longer the biggun' of the segment. That's a good thing.
Sitting DownIf the outside seems a tad underwhelming to you, the interior won't. Not with two vertically stacked touchscreens--an eight-inch on the top and a seven-inch on the bottom. The top one houses the navigation screen, while the lower unit connects you to in-car apps hard-wired into the car like Facebook or Twitter. The car can read these applications, and even plug a friend's location coordinates into the navigation system should you want to meet up.
Infiniti calls the infotainment system InTouch, and both screens can be tailored to show entertainment, navigation, diagnostic, or dynamic controls that make the car virtually customizable to each driver. Quite honestly, the few hours we had to figure out InTouch weren't nearly enough to get a full impression of what all it can do.
For those worried that HVAC and radio controls might be buried under a mountain of menus, Infiniti has provided real buttons outside the infotainment system for quick use--none of the pressure-sensitive and haptic nonsense where you have to take your eyes off the road like MyFord Touch and Cadillac's CUE. This could be one of the smartest tradeoffs for infotainment usability yet.
As would be expected of a $40,000-plus luxury sports sedan, the 2014 Infiniti Q50 interior comfort and fit and finish are top-notch, with supportive, deeply bolstered seats that would come in handy on our driving route.
DrivingInfiniti created quite a brouhaha when it said that it was getting rid of the traditional steering rack for an available system called Direct Adaptive Steering that's nothing more than three sensors that read steering inputs and some servo motors that steer the car on the other end. Turning the wheel is nothing more than a courtesy to some computers, so you'd naturally think, sending electronic signals. Next thing you know, you'll be plugged into the car like "The Matrix."
Truth be told, it works just fine, and you casual drivers will never really notice a difference. With a keen awareness of steering feel, we thought driving with Direct Adaptive Steering was a little disconcerting at first because Infiniti built in a steering heft that very closely simulates the real thing. But when you (possibly intentionally) run over reflectors in the road, none of that is transmitted back as steering wheel kickback. Over the long-run, most users will probably come to appreciate its uninterrupted smoothness.
If you're worried about what happens if the system ever fails, it has an electro-mechanical clutch that engages a real steering shaft in the case of an emergency, albeit without power assist. And if that thought scares you too much--and it shouldn't, as pilots have been using fly-by-wire in the air for years--Infiniti also offers a real electric power steering rack that is light, yet engaging with plenty of feedback. It doesn't come with selectable driving modes that loosen or tighten the steering ratio like DAS, though.
On the road, we found the cars we sampled--a 328-horsepower, all-wheel-drive model and a 360-horsepower hybrid Sport--engaging, if not comical with all that power available, transmitting it through a seven-speed automatic. Both the Sport Hybrid and regular V-6 model we drove were equipped with optional all-wheel drive. Despite the hybrid weighing a good 200 pounds more than the sedan we had driven, it felt noticeably quicker. And without much coercing at all, it's possible to get the cars to do some shenanigans on empty country roads without stability control reining it back in too quickly. Though not as nimble-feeling as the Cadillac ATS, for instance, the 2014 Q50 is a hoot to drive, instilling plenty confidence and control. Also unlike the Caddy, the Infiniti has a usable back seat.
The biggest drawbacks to the way the car comes equipped is that its standard run-flat tires are a little louder over the road than conventional rubber, and we thought the car's suspension might best be classified as taut by people under 35 and borderline sadistic for those with a little more age. It's stiff, even when ordered without the sport suspension, and it's not adjustable like the BMW 3 Series. We imagine the standard 17-inch wheels would help relax the car some, but both cars we drove had large 19-inch wheels that look great but might be worth a second thought before ordering.
SummaryInfiniti is close to building the perfect car. Everything is reconfigurable without becoming irritating or entirely overwhelming. Its stereo--a 14-speaker Bose system--is among the best we've heard, with front doors that were designed around its oversized 10-inch speakers. We wish we had more time and space to sample the audio system because its concert-like in sound quality, and we can say with no exaggeration that it's right up there with the 825-watt, 19-speaker Meridian audio system we recently experienced in a $115,000 Range Rover.
Then, there's the quieter, more responsive powertrain, intuitive ergonomics, and fun-to-drive nature of this car that set it apart. We think Infiniti could have found the Holy Grail of how to build a luxury sports sedan, or at least the start of it. Because without an adjustable suspension to soften the ride, a manual transmission option that we'd love to see despite selling in tiny volumes, and a tad more quiet-tuning, the 2014 Infiniti Q50 is a great first effort in this Infiniti revamp, but it doesn't quite have the all-around flexibility of a BMW 3 Series.
Despite that, the 2014 Q50 sells a V-6 for the price of BMW's four-cylinder, and it's a better value. If you're willing to go to great lengths to maintain there's a proper amount of "sport" in your sports sedan (which some 3 Series variants now lack), this could be the one to get. Despite some edges still to be sanded over the next few years, we can confidently say Infiniti is headed in the right direction. And if you end up getting one, to quote the Templar knight at the end of "Last Crusade," we'd confidently tell you: "You have chosen…wisely."