MO­TOR­ING

With a bril­liant new engine un­der its bon­net, and with rel­a­tively im­proved dy­nam­ics, this is the best In­finiti we’ve driven. But can it take on its es­tab­lished ri­vals, won­ders wheels’ Sony Thomas

Friday - - Contents -

In­finiti’s new Red Sport is roomier, more pow­er­ful and loaded with tech­nol­ogy, but is it a wor­thy ri­val to the vet­er­ans? We find out.

Un­leash your po­ten­tial, says In­finiti’s of­fi­cial web page for the Q50 sa­loon. I find that catch­line ironic be­cause I be­lieve In­finiti it­self has not un­leashed its full po­ten­tial as a brand. With the Re­nault Nis­san Al­liance as its par­ent com­pany, In­finiti is in a po­si­tion of ad­van­tage that none of its com­peti­tors can boast of. It can tap into Nis­san’s re­serves of tech­nol­ogy and de­pend­able engi­neer­ing and Re­nault’s de­sign flair. But a quick glance over the Ja­panese pre­mium brand’s line-up of cars and SUVs is enough to re­alise that it hasn’t used ei­ther to its full po­ten­tial. And con­sid­er­ing Nis­san and Re­nault have the GT-R and the Re­nault Sport mod­els in their re­spec­tive port­fo­lios, it’s baf­fling that the only In­finiti that we have fond mem­o­ries of is the G35 and the sub­se­quent G37. It’s also a shame that the Q50 Eau Rouge, which we thought was the car to turn In­finiti’s im­age around with its 560bhp 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V6 taken straight out of the GT-R, met with a pre­ma­ture death. So all that weight of spear­head­ing the brand makeover and un­leash­ing the true po­ten­tial has now fallen on the shoul­ders of the Q50 Red Sport 400, which is In­finiti’s sporti­est model in its cur­rent line-up.

As you’d imag­ine, it’s nowhere near as ex­cit­ing or ag­gres­sive as the Eau Rouge su­per sa­loon that In­finiti tan­ta­lised us with. But the en­gi­neers have in­fused a sub­stan­tial dose of per­for­mance here by re­plac­ing the old nat­u­rally as­pi­rated, 3.7-litre VQ-series V6 with a new twin-turbo, 3.0-litre VR-series V6. While there’s a 300bhp vari­ant of the same engine, our tester is packed with the six-pot in 400bhp tune, com­ple­mented by a gen­er­ous dol­lop of torque at 475Nm. The twin-turbo mill is just su­perb, with neg­li­gi­ble lag and blis­ter­ingly rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion. The power surge is ef­fort­less and in­stan­ta­neous, and the torque is de­liv­ered over a wide band be­tween 1,600 to 5,200rpm.

De­liv­er­ing all this to the rear wheels is a smooth seven-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with col­umn-mounted pad­dle shifters. The pad­dles are large and easy to reach from which­ever point of the steer­ing your hands are on, but the shifts them­selves aren’t as crisp as you’d ex­pect, es­pe­cially when

it has to har­ness the horses from such a pow­er­ful engine. If you want the most in­volve­ment, leave the drive mode in ei­ther Sport or Sport+. But if it’s a serene yet fast drive you’re look­ing for, leave it in Stan­dard and let the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion ex­e­cute the shifts on its own. At full throt­tle, the ex­haust note is loud, but a lit­tle too flat for my lik­ing. A bit more depth to the tone would’ve added sub­stan­tially to the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. This is one of the best en­gines we’ve come across in any In­finiti or Nis­san, ex­cept, of course, that good old 3.8-litre V6.

In the Red Sport, In­finiti has also tweaked the Di­rect Adap­tive Steer­ing, which in ear­lier mod­els had drawn flak for be­ing aloof and life­less. And it does feel bet­ter than what we re­mem­ber it from a cou­ple of years ago.

Con­sid­er­ing it’s a steer-by-wire sys­tem that doesn’t have a real me­chan­i­cal link with the wheels, the weight and feed­back do not feel sim­u­lated, al­though when pushed hard in Sport mode, it feels a bit too heavy. Sus­pen­sion is an elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled, in­de­pen­dent dou­ble wish­bone set-up with coil springs up front, and in­de­pen­dent multi-link at the back, af­ford­ing bal­anced han­dling dy­nam­ics.

Pin the throt­tle from a stand­ing start, the rear tyres peel hunt­ing for trac­tion but set­tle down soon. Al­though I didn’t get a chance to take it to the moun­tains or twisties, it’s easy to see that this In­finiti would be quite tail happy on such roads. Un­less you test its lim­its, it shows good body con­trol and grip.

The ride qual­ity is also great, nicely com­ple­mented by the well-ap­pointed in­te­rior decked out in rich leather and alu­minium trim, with dual LCD in­fo­tain­ment screens tak­ing cen­tre stage on the dash­board. One aspect of the gauges that you won’t miss, es­pe­cially at night, is how easy on the eyes the back­lights are, of­fer­ing the per­fect balance of con­trast and bright­ness. Seats are very com­fort­able, and the no-non­sense man­u­ally ex­tend­able thigh sup­port makes a huge dif­fer­ence for drivers and pas­sen­gers with longer legs. Al­though the back seats are sup­port­ive, the rear of the cabin isn’t as roomy as the front, with the slop­ing roofline cut­ting into head­room, es­pe­cially for tall pas­sen­gers.

If there’s one thing in abun­dance here, in ad­di­tion to the engine’s power, it’s the tech. The gen­er­ous raft of good­ies in­clude ac­tive Lane Con­trol, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, hill start as­sist, six airbags, dual zone adap­tive cli­mate con­trol, as well as In­finiti’s handy Around-View mon­i­tor. The op­tional Tech­nol­ogy Pack will get you In­tel­li­gent Cruise Con­trol, lane

If there’s one thing in abun­dance here it’s the tech. The GEN­ER­OUS raft of good­ies in­clude ac­tive Lane Con­trol, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, hill start as­sist, SIX AIRBAGS and the handy Around-View mon­i­tor

de­par­ture warn­ing and pre­ven­tion, blind spot warn­ing and in­ter­ven­tion, For­ward Emer­gency Brak­ing, and pre­dic­tive for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing.

For those of you who ex­pect to stand out from the rest, the Red Sport 400 dis­ap­points, as it looks ex­actly the same as lesser vari­ants of the Q50, ex­cept for the red S badge at the back and the ex­haust tips. But if you don’t care about the looks, the Q50 Red Sport 400 is the best-driv­ing In­finiti you can buy now. It hasn’t mag­i­cally pro­pelled In­finiti to the rar­efied world of Ms and AMGs, or even the space oc­cu­pied by Lexus with its F cars, but this is a great start, which we hope will get it there soon.

70

It’s not just the new engine that im­presses – the well-built cabin is laid out nicely and spa­cious in the front

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