On the Road Review: Infiniti Q50 Sedan



While mainstream compact and midsize sedan sales stagnate, luxury-logoed sedans are selling well. Crossovers, of all configurations, are selling well, too, while pickup trucks surge, again.

Some of the appeal of luxury cars has to be that they are more affordable than ever. The average new car transaction price in America has climbed to almost $31,000. This week’s Infiniti Q50 — the smallest Infiniti currently — starts at just $37,150. Add AWD for only $1,800, and the Q50 is deemed affordable, especially when many buyers lease instead of buy premium cars. What was once considered unreachable is suddenly very attractive for consumers who spend a lot of time “keeping up with the Joneses.”

The Asian automakers — Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, and now Hyundai/Kia — are hot after this growing luxury/sport sedan segment. They are tired of seeing the German trio — BMW, Audi, and Mercedes — kick sand in their faces. Having eclipsed Cadillac and Lincoln for the most part, although Cadillac is showing more signs of life and resurgence, the Asians will soon face new offerings from Jaguar, plus Volvo promises that it will get serious about this class once again. Don’t hold your breath for that reality.

As with the recent Acura TLX, the Q50 attacks the status quo with a host of signature features and lots of technology. How all of this stuff works, and whether or not it all works well together, has often been the crux of why the Germans consistently exceed the aspirations of the Asian automakers. The German trio has enjoyed longevity; that head-start in engine development, chassis engineering, diesel technology, as well as greater marketing muscle, has helped them hold the leads established from 30-plus years of success.

The Q50 joins the Infiniti lineup as the smaller derivative of the new Q60 sedan, which is the next generation of the G37/G35 lineup that has anchored Infiniti’s sales for several years. Infiniti will now use the Q-designation for sedans, while QX will denote crossovers and SUVs. Apparently, marketers think it is easier to remember alphanumeric labels than actual car names.

In combination with the numerous system abbreviations — FCW, LDWS, ALC, ICC, DCA, ABS, BSIS, DAS, VDC, TCS, LED, ATTESA, USB — buyers can be forgiven for not remembering what the heck they own, let alone what stuff does.

In upscale Premium trim, $41,350 base, $51,995 as shown, the Q50 arrived with the whole playbook. Technology Package added blind spot detection, blind spot intervention, distance control assist, high beam assist, adaptive front LED lighting, intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking, active lane control, plus predictive forward collision warning. That’s a lot of systems, a lot of detectors, a lot of safety net that begs that question — how much are drivers relying on these components to compensate for distracted driving? Are drivers now turning over control of their car — to the car? Is this better, for everyone?

Deluxe Touring adds power telescoping steering column, adaptive steering controls, auto-dimming mirrors, dual-occupant memory, Maple wood trim, around view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, plus rain-activated wipers. The Navigation system is $1,400, fully heated leather seating is $1,000 (in place of leatherette) while the 19-inch tire and wheel package rounds out the extensive Munroney sticker’s list of components. Push-button ignition, rear-view monitor and the Infinity Dual Display system are standard, as are LED lamps front and rear, dual-zone climate and power sunroof.

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Power comes from a stout 3.7-liter V-6 — virtually the same engine that adorns the Nissan 370Z. Here, it makes 328 hp running through a seven-speed automatic with manual mode manipulation if you wish. The ATTESA all-wheel drive provides a decidedly rear-drive handling bias and produced excellent foul weather grip. The 19-inch wheel package, however, does produce a firm ride.

Two areas created the most comments in my logbook during the Q50’s extended visit. The German cars in this segment — Audi A4, BMW 3-series, and to a lesser degree, the Mercedes C-class — display more polish and handling character. These cars are great handlers and still provide a balanced and compliant ride. The Asian cars, like this Q50 and the recent Acura TLX, can do either one or the other well, but generally not both.

The Q50 is fast, very fast. It accelerates with vigor, with ease. Yet fuel economy was so-so; 23.4 mpg during the stay, and premium fuel is suggested. The TLX was better on fuel economy, but its ability to push you back in the seat was subdued compared to the Q50. Granted, the TLX was a four cylinder, the Q50 a V-6. The comparable BMW 3-series uses a turbo-four cylinder that achieves better fuel economy than the TLX, and produces comparable power to the Q50 — with AWD too.

The most comments, however, were reserved for the various controls and or access to the various systems. Adding all of these automatic system conveniences to our cars — lighting, entertainment, navigation, safety, etc. adds great complexity and requires a lot of computer power. This was most evident in the Q50 as each startup was similar to accessing a cold computer. Precious seconds, 30, 40, passed before the driver gains access to even simple functions like changing audio volume or station presets as the car’s computer must start, run through its system checks, and populate the Infiniti’s dual screens with the information, or apps, that you will use. If you are not a patient driver, this will annoy — each time you start the car.

Absent simple buttons or knobs — except for some redundancy on the steering wheel — Q50 owners must be familiar with the various subtle features of numerous systems and operate them on the touch-panel screen. Better than Cadillac’s confounding Cue or Ford’s Sync systems, the Q50 still lacks the intuitive access that has been prevalent for decades. Technology fans will find lots to love, and enjoy, yet practical use is distracting and counter-intuitive to the myriad safety systems stocked in the car’s portfolio. Just changing the lighting brilliance on the nav screen requires so many finger strokes that one can be absorbed in the task and forget where and what they are doing.

As a driver, the Q50 meets the sporty/luxury car expectations of many in this segment. The car is nice to look at, comfortable to use, and it has all of the latest technology. It is quick, smooth and entertaining to drive if you want exhilarating power at your disposal.

Yet, I was left wondering if this is the car the critics really want automakers such as Infiniti to build, a car that can chase sports cars around the Autobahn at 120-mph velocities with grace and aplomb, while the driver utilizes the cup-holders, satellite radio, and manipulates the various systems. These tasks are incompatible — fast driving with surety while cosseting the occupants with entertainment — at least they are incompatible in a vehicle where the driver must interact with other impediments, speeds, and vehicles.

The Q50 is interesting. It is selling well for Infiniti dealers. It will be curious to watch its performance arch in the segment and see if this Asian entry finally counters the German excellence.

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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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