Promise is fast, pulse is slow
A looker that’s ultra-comfortable inside and packed with safety gear, the Q50 falls short of rivals’ sportiness
THE Infiniti Q50 looks perfectly at home as it rolls along beside me on the eightlane craziness of the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles.
It’s a four-door sporty sedan that seems more like a swoopy coupe, helping to differentiate it from BMW and Mercedes in the compact luxury class.
The Q50 is a car that works for California. In the US, Infiniti — although still an underachiever against the heavyweight Germans — has a solid foundation and some genuine American followers.
Back home in Australia, with a Q50 sitting in the driveway, I’m not convinced.
The Red Sport model is $80,000 before you add the onroad costs and I’ve just seen, fresh from the Geneva motor show, the 2018 model update that gives it a little more visual oomph with the promise of more equipment and enjoyment.
So I’m thinking this Q50 is off the pace, in value and timing.
The deep blue Q50 has arrived for testing directly after Infiniti’s Q60 coupe, which is another “nice ... but” car. This is a brand that claims to be international but is heavily focused on the US.
The coupe barely raises my pulse despite a solid chassis feel and great seats. Its 2.0-litre turbo is also fitted to the basic Q50 GT (from $59,351) but the two-door is more of a cruising coupe than a genuine sports car.
Any time I can say the seats are the best thing about the car, it’s a long way from earning my approval. It’s much the same with the Q50, even if Infiniti claims it’s a newer package aimed at putting genuine driving enjoyment into a class that’s dominated by the 3 Series and C-Class.
The test Red Sport variant sits atop the Q50 line-up with a twin-turbo V6 (298kW/ 475Nm), lovely leather trim, abundant luxury gear including a 14-speaker audio and two infotainment displays, paddleshifters for the seven-speed automatic gearbox and oldschool rear-wheel drive.
It’s particularly impressive on the safety side, as its five-star ANCAP rating comes from auto safety braking with moving object detection, radar cruise control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, back-up collision avoidance, “around view” monitor and much more.
So Infiniti is trying hard and, in the case of safety and comfort, it ticks the boxes.
ON THE ROAD
The Q50 is a looker, that’s for sure. It’s also nicely cushy for a highway cruise.
The V6’s peak torque is on tap across a broad spread, it sounds great and is fun to push towards the redline. It also has plenty of gears and the reardrive layout means you can balance it deftly in quick curves.
But the car doesn’t live up to sporty expectations, with a slightly ponderous feel in slow corners and not enough grip or response for my favourite driving road. It also takes too long to get into the sweet spot with the V6, which can be a guzzler — it claims 9.2L/100km and will be much thirstier when you’re having a fun run.
I’m surprised that Infiniti does not give a 0-100km/h sprint time for the Red Sport, despite quoting numbers for the rest of the range. It claims 250km/h as top speed and towing capacity up to 1500kg.
The sprint to highway speed is likely to take just under six seconds — the Red Sport feels swift enough but I still wonder.
For me, the response from the auto is not snappy in the low gears and sometimes it feels baulky and clunky when I use the paddle-shifters to encourage a downshift.
The ride can be over-firm at times, not helped by the sidewalls of the run-flat tyres, and lacks the sort of compliance needed for secondary roads in Australia. It has what‘s called Dynamic Digital Suspension, with driver-adjustable settings, but it’s not as good as its rivals.
It makes little impact on my co-driver. “I thought it was (the coupe). I didn’t realise it had back doors for the first 30 minutes,” she says.
Some may view that as flattering for the four-door but it shows that the two Infiniti models are too close.
Then comes her upper-cut: “Ah, it’s nothing special anyway.”
There is plenty to enjoy in the cabin. The Bose audio packs some punch but the airconditioning is recalcitrant. It’s either blowing too hard or too soft, too hot or too cold, and that triggers extra angst from the co-driver, although she likes the large reversing camera display.
But, honestly, the seats are the best thing. They are soft and supportive, beautifully trimmed and comfortable for any trip.
I’m not keen to test the safety gear but the 360-degree camera is handy, as are the radar cruise control and lanedeparture monitor. Overall, the kit makes me feel safe.
But that’s not the brief — the Q50 is sold on the promise of sports driving and the ability to crush a BMW or Benz.
There is nothing badly wrong with the Q50, it’s just that the opposition is better. In most cases, significantly so.