The 298kW, 4.9s 0-100km/h Infiniti Q50 Red Sport is a lot of luxury car for $80k. It looks the part, too, though there are some shortcomings you should know about before considering this unorthodox BMW alternative.
Infiniti made no secret that it expected a slow start when it launched in Australia during 2012. Over the ensuing five years it's experienced nothing short of a slow grind.
In short, the Hong Kong-based Nissan luxury subsidiary, spent a long time hobbled by an aged product range and a distinct lack of brand awareness against the big three Germans, and conceptually similar brand Lexus.
The worm turned a little when the Q50 sedan arrived in early 2014. At last, the brand had a new model on its books, and one to compete with the big-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Lexus IS.
Since then it has moved about 1000 units here. Not many, but enough to underpin the company's three-fold national dealer network expansion to... nine sites.
Now it's time for the mid-cycle upgrade, which doesn't actually bring a whole suite of changes. Yet given the car remains something of a mystery to most, it's well worth a revisit.
The range kicks off with the $54,900 before on-road costs 155kW (Mercedes-engined) 2.0t GT and climbs to $62,400 for the 2.0t Sport Premium. An extra $8000 gets you the 3.0t with its 224kW twin-turbo V6, and a further $3000 gets you a '3.5t' V6 petrol-electric hybrid. The diesel that made up just two per cent of sales is gone.
And let's be honest, if you're serious you'll probably negotiate a discount.
But here we're looking at the range-topper, the $79,900 Infiniti Q50 3.0t Red Sport, with an uprated 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 engine punching out an eye-opening 298W of power and 475Nm of torque. The same engine is found in the perversely more expensive Q60 Red Sport coupe.
To give you some context, and to frame Infiniti's pitch, consider that a 270kW/520Nm V6 turbo Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan costs almost $23k more. It's also priced smack-bang between the 233kW Lexus IS350 F Sport and Sports Luxury. Then again, a 270kW Kia Stinger GT with RWD and more space is $20k cheaper...
Fittingly, it also comes fairly loaded with equipment. On the outside there are 19-inch wheels shod with (modest) Dunlop SP run-flats, adaptive LED headlights with auto-levelling, and undeniably sexy $1500 tri-coat paint available.
There's no doubting the acumen of Infiniti's designers. This is one good looking sedan, with curvaceous haunches, great proportions and a colour palette to die for. It stands out, and turns heads. Ditto its Q60 coupe twin.
The cabin is a bit of a mixed bag, with some obvious bits lifted from the Nissan parts bin such as the key fob and starter button. Also the fact the navigation points out Nissan dealers when you're close by... as if you want that reminder!
Yet there are also gorgeous, quilted, semi-aniline leather seats with electric adjustment and heating, a proximity key, ambient cabin lighting, sunroof, a 16-speaker audio system made by Bose, and lots of silver contrast surfaces, soft leather touch-points and 'racy' red stitching to remind you that you're in the sporty number. There's also a gorgeous steering wheel with electric reach/rake adjustment.
As you'd expect, there's a heap of active safety tech such as adaptive cruise control that worked fine on Melbourne's packed freeways, plus blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking, and a 360-degree overhead camera view, also yanked from Nissan.
There's also a Lane Departure Prevention system, plus a warning chime, that was far less consistently good at nudging you back between the lines than the newest systems from Audi, BMW and Mercedes that we've sampled.
Infotainment comprises two LCD touch-screens mounted in a vertical sequence, befitting the car's tech-y target buyer. It houses sat-nav with SUNA live updates and DAB+. There's also AudioPilot noise compensation tech like those used in your long-haul-flight headphones.
The array is interesting. The lower screen has a number of icons that allow you to scroll through various menus including the sat-nav that's displayed on the upper screen – a system that's also perversely controlled by a rotary dial mounted on the transmission tunnel.
It takes a little adjustment, and while we love Infiniti for being boldly different, there's no doubt a system like BMW's iDrive is way more cohesive. Fellow Japanese brand Lexus also has similar ergonomic quirks. As does every French brand.
The other bugbear is the fact the fonts on the lower screen, upper screen, and the digital instruments behind the steering wheel, all look minutely different. A small, but important detail.
Like most rear-drive medium sedans, rear legroom is pretty crap, though the 500-litre boot is quite commodious for the class.
Now, that engine. It's not quite the radical GT-R-engined Eu Rouge concept, but 298kW is nothing to sneeze at, nor is a 0-100km/h time of 4.9 seconds (though we clocked a 4.8s on our V-Box in the Kia Stinger we bought with our own money, so it's relative...).
In turbo V6 fashion it's got a crisp note, but remains understated even under heavy throttle. But man does it hammer, with immediate throttle response and a surging mid-range. The Nissan Group has always made brilliant V6 engines, and this continues that proud tradition.
The engine's outputs are sent to the rear wheels (only the hybrid gets the option of AWD) via a pretty well sorted seven-speed automatic gearbox with paddle-shifters. It's not the lesson in crispness and kick-down decisiveness that BMW's ZF 8AT is, but it's pretty damned sharp for a GT car.
The suspension is a double-wishbone/multi-link setup, complemented by 'Dynamic Digital Suspension', which is Infiniti parlance for button-adjustable dampers that complement auto-adjusting variable damping. You have a spectrum from slightly firm (Comfort) to stiff-as-a-board (Sport and Sport+), though even in the softest mode the car still feels occasionally perturbed by sharp hits. Not offensively so, but compared to the class-toppers...
There's also tweaked speed-sensitive 'Direct Adaptive' steering-by-wire, which makes me think of Airbus for some reason, with various levels of resistance dialled in for you to choose from. It's a nice high-tech selling point, but it never offers the "advanced levels of steering feel and feedback" claimed. Unless by "advanced" Infiniti means "not enough".
We're not purists to the detriment of anything else, and there's no doubt it'll appeal to some folk. It's also laudably responsive from centre. But there's precious little engagement or communication, meaning you never quite know what the front wheels are doing. It also protests at full lock in urban driving, by jolting and trying to return towards centre.
The handling is relatively good, though with the ESC loosened it'll bite you if you're not careful, and that steering makes it hard to sit on a knife-edge. It's a fine GT, but the more engaging BMW 340i will eat it alive on a sequence (preferably without the optional variable steering the Bavarian brand just hasn't nailed yet).
From an ownership perspective you get a four-year/100,000km warranty and 15,000km/12-month service intervals. Given the small fleet on the road, you can be sure your dealer will give you a very good experience, which is worth noting.
All told, the Q50 Red Sport offers some genuine positive attributes. It looks great, goes like the clappers in a straight line and comes loaded with features for the $80k outlay. Moreover, you'll stand out from the crowd by virtue of its rareness.
However, it's no dynamic benchmark despite some novel tech, and the cabin is a bit of a grab-bag of ideas. Good, yes. Interesting certainly. Great? Not at all.
Sometimes things become valuable because of relative scarcity. In the Infiniti's case, the link is tenuous. It's a genuinely interesting car, but one that shows all the traits of remaining a niche proposition by virtue of Australia's market competitiveness and taste for known quantities.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images of the Infiniti Q50 30t Red Sport.