On the Road Review: Infiniti Q50 Red Sport Sedan

When consumers are polled about high-performance luxury sedans, they inevitably respond with German names like BMW M3/M4, Mercedes AMG or Audi S-cars. Sometimes Cadillac’s ATS-V and CTS-V get mentioned, yet consumers don’t often remember that the Asian automakers also have attempted to climb the mountain in this class.

Infiniti is taking another run at the established players with a redesigned Q50. Since the early 2000s this compact sedan, as well as the Q60 coupe series, has worn three different titles. Consumers can be forgiven for not recognizing this nomenclature and what it stands for.

Critical this time is the new Red Sport trim, another name departure but at least a title that merits extra attention this time around. Stock Q-models will run with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine — just like so many other automakers are working with. This motor makes 208 hp, ($33,950 to start) and is available with AWD — add $2,000. This will be the mass market machine.

Moving up a notch gets buyers a brand new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine, replacing the former 3.7-liter VQ series that was potent but not renowned for its NVH refinement. This engine will make 300 hp and matches up well with other small six-cylinder turbo motors in this class.

At the top of the new Q50 series resides our sample sedan — the Red Sport with the same 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. Infiniti, however, has added more intercooler capacity, larger intakes and turned up the turbos’ wastegate numbers to produce over 200,000 PSI — effectively jamming a whole lot of added air and fuel into the V-6 in order to produce 400 peak horsepower plus 350 pound/feet of peak torque. Teamed to a slick seven-speed automatic (only) with paddle shifters and console manual action, the Red Sport tears up the tarmac like no G35/Q50 sedan before it. This little four-door hauls big time.

Acceleration is impressive — across the rev range — which the Infiniti’s engine computer conveniently matches upon downshifts. Turbo-lag, the bugaboo of engine designers since pressurized intake first appeared decades ago, is almost completely absent, as the Q responds immediately to the provocations of your right foot. Turn off the traction control, engage Sport+ mode on the adaptable tuning control, and you can vaporize the rear sport rubber as effectively as our recent Hellcat. Certainly not expected in a compact luxury sedan.

Highway on-ramps and thruway passes are dispatched with glee, the Infiniti pouncing forward as efficiently as an electric car. Strangely, that’s about how it all sounds, too, as the muted exhaust note delivers little if any sense of the car’s power and speed potential. Your neighbors will be pleased, but some aural sensations have to be part of the overall performance package here.

Chassis tuning also needs some fine-tuning, as the Infiniti is just not as compliant as either the Audi or BMW. Stiff when it needed to be and tight when your pace is slow, the Q50 feels like you are sometimes battling for control, that maybe the car is starting to drive. Uneven pavement surfaces enhanced this effect, as the different sized summer run-flat performance tires (larger tires in the rear) also produced some ill effects. Steering feel, an avenue where Infiniti is pressing the envelope with completely indirect electric steering, lacks the consistent feedback and physical tension that would give the driver complete confidence.

The higher the velocity the better the Q50 felt; many of the ride and handling gripes either disappeared or went unnoticed as the passing stripes on the highway became tiny dots. Surely, this is a sports sedan that loves to speed. Unfortunately that’s probably not a good defense when Officer Killjoy interrupts your trip.

As expected in this class, amenities abound. With Red Sport pricing starting at $47,950 you get heated leather sport seats with electric lumbar and side bolsters plus manual thigh extenders. Seats and the power tilt and telescoping steering wheel (also heated) have memory settings. The front center info panel is lacking compared to several recent new cars, while the center-dash info screen offers a full range of navigation, audio, and entertainment functions. Back-up camera is included, split-folding rear seat too, but several common driver aids are package additions or individual options. Like other Q models, Infiniti will offer an AWD version of the Red Sport.

Impressive technology not quite refined subtracts some from the Red Sport’s appeal, but much is forgiven with the car’s presence and aggressive street stance. Easily one of the better looking cars in this segment, the Q50 finally gets onto the big stage with a comprehensive automobile right at the same time that luxury cars — particularly four-door sedans of all stripes and price points — are starting to feel the rapid migration into crossovers. Despite the newer model, sales are flat for the Q50 so far. Q60 sales have just started, so it is early to tell if consumers still lust for a hot-rod luxury coupe. Many do, but will they sign the lease papers is the real question.

Sleek, fast, even stealthy, the Q50 Red Sport proves that small engines can make big power and big impressions. Nissan, are you planning on building another Z sports car? Drivers sure hope so, and the 3.0-T Twin Turbo engine sourced here makes a great starting point.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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