STEER­ING OFF COURSE

Month two sends the re­la­tion­ship into murky wa­ters as the con­nec­tion fails

Motor (Australia) - - THE GARAGE -

enough for planes, it’s good enough for cars. This must have been In­finiti’s thoughts when it rub­ber­stamped Di­rect Adap­tive Steer­ing, the world’s first fly-by-wire sys­tem for a road car. Af­ter spend­ing 10 years de­vel­op­ing the tech, In­finiti spruiks it re­moves “un­wanted” vi­bra­tions, ul­ti­mately quick­ens re­sponse times, and al­lows a wider scope of “feel” and weight. But are you sus­pi­cious a steer­ing rack with­out a me­chan­i­cal link might have a worse con­nec­tion than a Voda­fone cell net­work? We are too. Throt­tle ped­als have never been the same since they went down the dig­i­tal path. So when In­finiti says it im­proved the sys­tem for 2018 with more “feel and feed­back” like a con­ven­tional steer­ing sys­tem, we chose to in­ves­ti­gate the claim on the Reefton Spur, a de­li­cious piece of tar­mac that con­nects the eastern Vic­to­rian towns of Warburton and Marysville. Viewed on a map, it looks like the trac­ings of a seis­mo­graph. A bunch of left and right turns rarely punc­tu­ated by a straight. The per­fect car for a run at the Spur is some­thing with agility, grip, feed­back, and most of all, great steer­ing. That’s be­cause the road of­ten hosts mo­tor­cy­clists and there’s al­ways a chance you might need to swerve at short no­tice. Low on fuel and with that 3.0litre twin-turbo V6 able to chug juice faster than an Ir­ish foot­ball team at a brew­ery, we tack­led the pass in the Q50’s ‘per­son­alised’ driv­ing mode, which al­lows you to in­di­vid­u­ally ad­just the car’s pow­er­train, steer­ing, adap­tive dampers and au­ton­o­mous tech. For our pur­poses, we wound back the pow­er­train’s re­sponse, jacked up the damp­ing, and delved into the myr­iad steer­ing com­bi­na­tions avail­able only to dis­cover that, in com­plete overkill, the steer­ing’s sub-menu of­fers three modes for both the sys­tem’s weight­ing and rack speed. Things start off not-good in its Comfort weight set­ting, which frus­trat­ingly can only be part­nered with a Comfort speed. It’s way too slow; so much so that if you come up on a de­creas­ing-ra­dius bend too quickly, the sud­den in­put of so much lock can spook the car into roll over­steer. Even if less pitch doesn’t load the front axle as much, and robs the car of ini­tial turn-in, the sus­pen­sion’s sportier mode does a good job in dis­solv­ing body float and re­veals a trustier bal­ance of grip. Re­sponse im­proves slightly just off-cen­tre in Sport and

IN­FINITI’S FLY-BY-WIRE STEER­ING SYS­TEM ... AN­SWERS A QUES­TION NO ONE RE­ALLY ASKED

Sport Plus modes, but ul­ti­mately the steer­ing ac­tu­a­tor does a sub­par job at sim­u­lat­ing real feed­back, fail­ing to give you any idea of how much bite there is across the front axle. It doesn’t help, ei­ther, that the Dun­lop Sport­maxx CTT run-flat tyres, at ex­tremely low cor­ner­ing speeds, squeal louder than pigs watch­ing an abat­toir doc­u­men­tary. You spend most of the time manag­ing their pur­chase. What fol­lows is a game of car­ry­ing the brakes to get the front-end to bite to avoid it wash­ing wide, but not slow­ing too much to kill the car’s mo­men­tum. Iron­i­cally, the steer­ing’s most trust­wor­thy setup is found in the ESC’s off set­ting. You’ll need to tread lightly with the throt­tle (the rear-end has as lit­tle grip as the front) with­out the safety nets, but the rack is its fastest and light­est – a for­bid­den pair­ing in the per­son­alised sub-menus. It’s a small con­so­la­tion for a tech­nol­ogy that an­swers a ques­tion no one re­ally asked. Okay, cut­ting it some slack, it does get rid of rack rat­tle and it might have po­ten­tial in au­ton­o­mous safety ap­pli­ca­tions where com­put­ers need greater steer­ing con­trol. But while we sus­pect the ma­jor­ity of Q50 buy­ers in China and North Amer­ica won’t care if their steer­ing rack is turned by a ham­ster wheel, they might care about the lower lev­els of re­sponse, feel, or feed­back com­pared to a con­ven­tional steer­ing rack when it’s needed. Such as in snow­ing, rain­ing, or over­tak­ing con­di­tions. Even though the steer­ing weight did feel o-k-a-y at times once the car was loaded, as the sys­tem varies the weight ac­cord­ing to G-force, it was rare and no use when you don’t feel con­fi­dent to place the car be­fore a cor­ner. Its weight­ing felt a touch more re­al­is­tic around town while at low speeds. We’d look into us­ing the sys­tem’s emer­gency back-up clutch on the col­umn to en­gage and dis­en­gage on the fly, like when the front wheels hit a bump un­der lat­eral load with steer­ing lock. Then again, there’s a rea­son why we’re only put in charge of key­boards. Ul­ti­mately, though, In­finiti’s goal to bring avi­a­tion-style tech­nol­ogy to a sports sedan like the Q50 Red Sport seems like an idea that should have stayed high up in the clouds.

ABOVE We’re still taken by the Red Sport’s de­sign, but its ex­te­rior aes­thet­ics can’t make up for the dy­namic blem­ishes

ONE Some of Vic­to­ria’s best roads (within close dis­tance to Mel­bourne’s CBD) aren’t the Q50’s ally

TWO De­spite dual touch­screens and a ro­tary-dial con­troller, the in­fo­tain­ment re­mains fid­dly to use

THREE The con­soleesque sys­tem can re­cal­cu­late the steer­ing an­gle 1000 times per sec­ond

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