Infiniti finally has a sports sedan to give its German rivals a run for its money.
WHAT IS IT?
The new flagship of Infiniti’s Q50 line-up. A premium mid-size sports sedan intended to go head on with BMW’s 340i, Audi’s S4 and the Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
It debuts Nissan’s new VR30 engine, a 3.0-litre twin-turbo powerhouse that is capable of giving this segment a clip behind the ears. There’s also new suspension and steering tech that warrants investigation.
BMW 340i, Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG, Audi S4, Lexus IS350 Sports Luxury
THE WHEELS VERDICT
On paper, the Q50 Red Sport pulls together a pretty convincing case: highest power in its class, lowest price, and strong standard equipment levels. Only when you really rag it do a few cracks start to appear. That, and the fact the people still say “Infinite what?”
PLUS: Super zesty V6, swift performance, mostly sorted chassis, well equipped, cabin quality, well priced
MINUS: Steer-by-wire improved, but no match for a decent conventional rack; no limited-slip diff, over-eager ESC with no sports setting
THE WHEELS REVIEW
The most noteworthy aspect of the new Infiniti Q50 Red Sport is not that it’s fitted with version 2.0 of the company’s controversial, no-one-else does-it, ‘by-wire’ steering. It’s sure not the new-to-Q50 two-mode electronically adjustable dampers. It may not even be the new twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, which cranks out a class-leading 298kW and 475Nm.
No, what is most compelling about the Red Sport is that it’s finally an Infiniti which feels as though it has a USP; a proper reason for being, rather than just making up (minuscule) numbers.
And that it’s actually quite a likeable sports sedan, if ultimately a just little underdone in a couple of key areas.
Let’s start with that engine. It’s an extensive redevelopment of the venerable VQ-series Nissan V6, now with twin turbos blowing through a pair of water-to-air intercoolers.
It runs variable cam timing, direct-injection, and that attention-grabbing power figure: Not quite BMW M3 territory, but not far short, and better than BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi manage from 3.0 litres without wand-waving from their respective tuning divisions.
It comes on progressively via a nicely calibrated throttle tip-in, and builds quickly into a muscular midrange swell, holding on to a cultured, slightly snarly peak at 6400rpm, with headroom to 6800rpm.
The seven-speed torque convertor auto does a mostly agreeable job of allowing you to deploy it effectively, auto-blipping on downshifts via magnesium paddle shifters, or responding intuitively to your right foot if your leave it in Sport.
The only bum notes are that it auto-upshifts in manual model, instead of holding your chosen gear, and the software occasionally denies you a downshift even though your road speed says the revs could handle it.
It’s all pretty engaging, though, and doesn’t turn to porridge when you point it at a corner via the improved steering.
There are no hardware changes, just software revisions to make the by-wire system feel less arcade-game-like and more feelsome.
It does that with some success, and is quick at just 2.1 turns lock to lock, but still has way too many modes - five - including the patently ridiculous ‘response’ setting for each. I went looking for the one called “non-contrived chassis engineer’s choice” but failed to find it.
At least the various modes can be individually configured, allowing sharp powertrain mapping and steering without the sports suspension, which can feel a bit stiff and toss-prone on lumpy Aussie backroads.
What ultimately stops the Red Sport rising to true, sub-AMG or M Division sports sedan greatness, though, is the lack of a limited slip diff and no sports mode for the ESC.
Yep, a dozen ways to try and make the steering feel non-weird-burger, yet no way to ask the electronic babysitter to ease up on the throttle-clamping ministrations. No, I don’t get it either.
The extra shame is in the fact that, with 245/45 R19 Dunlops all round, the Red Sport actually feels a little under-tyred at the rear, which could easily work in its favour from an involvement point of view if the ESC had a bit more latitude.
So what we’re left with, in sports sedan terms, is an eight-tenths car; albeit at a seven-tenths price compared to the Euro opposition. Not such a bad deal when viewed in that light.
Model: Infiniti Q50 3.0tt Red Sport
Engine: 2997cc V6 (60degree), dohc, 24v, twin-turbo
Max power: 298kW @ 6400rpm
Max torque: 475Nm @ 2200-5200rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.8sec (estimated)
Fuel consumption: 9.3L/100km
On sale: Now