It's well-armed, looks good and gets a ton of kit for thousands less than any of its euro rivals. But is that enough to get the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport across the line?
I’m no marketing genius, but after spending a week with the latest creation from Japanese luxury brand Infiniti, I know that its marketing team desperately needs to get cracking.
Well, sort of. Where Lexus targets the luxury set almost exclusively, Infiniti is going after a different set, those who want a level of luxury above anything with a Nissan badge, but with a decided nod towards sportiness. Especially, if we're talking about the high-po Q50 Red Sport.
It looks the business, even against its Euro counterparts. It’s visually appealing, even a little bit exciting. But that’s a compliment you could apply to the model line in general. It's got real presence, even if most folks don’t have a clue who the manufacturer is.
I like the low-slung stance and the heavy front bumper with its aggressive front splitter. It’s so low, in fact, it tended to get caught over my relatively inoffensive driveway lip, whereas even a factory-lowered Porsche 911 had no such trouble.
On the surface at least, the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport answers the performance part of its brief to a tee, even if it probably looks like any other Q50 to the uninitiated – except of course for the 3.0t badge on the front guards.
At first, you might assume ‘t’ is for touring given its sedan body, but it’s got far more significance than that. The ‘t’, as it turns out, is for turbo – and not just one, but two of them. Paired with Nissan’s latest 3.0-litre V6, they help generate a happy 298kW and 475Nm of tyre-frying torque.
Importantly, those turbochargers are integrated into the exhaust manifolds, so jump on the hair-trigger throttle and it just hooks up and you’re gone. We didn’t get the chance to run the V-Box on it this time round (stay tuned), but this thing is seriously quick – well under five seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, I estimate.
But there’s a caveat to that. I wasn’t just using colourful language when I used the phrase ‘tyre-frying’. Give this family-size sedan a boot full from standstill, and take it from me, you’re going to leave some rubber on the bitumen.
It will take you by surprise first time out, but from then on you’ll learn to be more measured with the throttle, even if you’re already on the move.
Otherwise, there’s a good chance you could end up on the wrong side of our anti-hooning laws, given the Q50’s propensity to light up the rears under more serious throttle prodding.
I’m also not sure whether the standard 19-inch 245/40 series run-flats are up to the job in this regard, at least as far as good ol’ fashion traction goes. It wouldn’t take much to turn this thing into a serious drift contender.
Either way, in standard form, it’s the ultimate sleeper. No one will pick it. But one look at the Q50’s spec sheet, and you can see why. All 475Nm of torque are at play from just 1600-5200rpm. That’s a lot of sustained grunt, and all of it going to the rear axle. This is an engine that never feels like it’s going run out of boost.
Thankfully, drivers can choose between several less manic settings, better suited for the daily commute or low-speed suburban duties. The effect is a ratcheting down of throttle response and shift points. But they also mute the Q50’s halfway entertaining engine note, which is a bit of a shame, because there’s a decent-enough growl that makes its way into the cabin.
The seven-speed automatic transmission used across the Q50 model range also features adaptive shift control, which uses a lateral acceleration sensor to detect changes in the road, such as hills and turns – for predictive-style shifting. At least that’s what the press kit says.
Frankly, I’m not sure we felt any real differences between this and any other auto transmissions we’ve experienced recently, but that’s not to say it isn’t an effective gearbox and a competent match with this engine.
Driver engagement can also be dialled up a notch using a pair of genuine magnesium paddle-shifters in this Red Sport version. But seriously, don’t bother, unless you’re in Sport +, otherwise shifts tend to be slurry and disappointingly tardy, even in Sport.
In Sport + though, it’s a different story, altogether. The shifts are quick and relatively crisp, even when it's pulling hard. Refinement isn’t an issue either, though, not in the same league as rivals such as the BMW 340i, Mercedes-AMG C43 or Audi S4 in that regard.
When the Q50 first launched in 2014, it heralded some advanced tech, like Direct Adaptive Steering, which effectively threw out conventional mechanical systems in favour of the world’s first steer-by-wire system.
The new system was mostly slammed by the world’s automotive press, and customers alike for its artificial feel and contrived weighting, which is why this latest iteration has been re-engineered to deliver more natural responses and feedback.
Mind, it still feels contrived, with unnatural levels of pushback in the sports modes, but there’s more life with this next-gen version, so you have a good idea as to what the front wheels are doing in relation to road surface. It’s also satisfyingly quick to change direction, which makes it quite chuck-able when you’re having a bit of fun.
The turning circle, however, is lousy for a car this size. In fact, I’m not exactly sure where full-lock is, as the electric motors which move the wheels seem to be constantly recalibrating the end point, but either way, three-point turns are part and parcel of living with this car.
There’s more high-tech stuff at play when it comes to the suspension, too. The Q50 Red Sport gets electronically adjustable dampers, which do an effective job of managing body roll on turn in.
General ride comfort isn’t too bad either, until you hit some sharp edges. Then it feels like a clapped-out Sydney cab that wants to punish you for that last Uber ride you had.
Things are a little better inside, though it’s nothing to write home about. Our impressions are mixed in this regard. It certainly looks and feels like a quality fit-out, and you can’t fault the build quality, but up against the luxury Euro onslaught who have been going all-out to impress with top-shelf cabins of late, it falls a long way short.
The front buckets offer armchair comfort and decent bolster, and there’s lots of stitched leather about for that premium billing. I also like the dual touchscreens and the minimal approach to switchgear, though integration could be better.
Still, there’s a stack of luxury kit and creature comforts on-board, including adaptive LED headlamps and fog lights, electrically-operated front seats, power-adjustable steering column and side-window demisters.
You also get dual-zone climate control, sunroof, auto-up/down on all windows (also power-down function via keyfob) and a 14-speaker Bose audio system.
It’s the same story with safety, too. The Q50 Red Sport gets a full suite of the latest crash-avoidance technology such as adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, blind-spot warning, blind-spot intervention, predictive forward collision warning and forward emergency braking.
While it’s not as polished as its 3.0-litre six-cylinder rivals, the Infiniti is still a solid value-for-money proposition bound to entice its fair share of willing fans. Mercedes-Benz has the C43 AMG at $101,900, BMW steps up with its 340i for $89,900, while Audi’s contender is the S4 TSFI quattro priced from $99,900.
Priced at $79,900 plus on-roads, the Q50 is thousands cheaper than any of its competitors, and arguably better equipped.