Remember— when the Q50 was launched, it was obvious that Nissan’s luxury wing had its collective eye trained, Sauron-like, on BMW, Mercedes, and Audi. Japanese luxury cars aren’t just arriving, they're robust and very much part of the consumer dialogue.
Recently we drove INFINITI’s Q50 Hybrid around Italy’s lovely Lago D’Iseo and can report that the Q50 feels planted and powerful out on the track, with plenty of torque off the line and ponies to spare. There’s plenty of power off the line and, while it might not be a go to track car, you can certainly have a lot of fun with it. It also sounds a tad smoother than the old G37, with a throaty exhaust burble that’s gratifying, if slightly less enraged compared to its predecessor.
The Q50 Hybrid features Infiniti’s proven Direct Response Hybrid® system with Intelligent Dual Clutch Control. It combines a 3.5-liter 24-valve DOHC aluminum-alloy V6 and a compact laminated lithium-ion battery with an innovative one-motor, two-clutch control. The system’s V6 is rated at 302 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the advanced 50 kW electric motor is rated at 67 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque. The hybrid system net power is 360 horsepower, providing strong acceleration and lean fuel economy.
INFINITI’s hybrid expertise is further evident in their involvement with the Renault Sport Formula One team as the Technical Partner. Infiniti contributes engineering resources to the Renault Energy F1 Power Unit's Energy Recovery System (ERS), which incorporates two motor generator units, the MGU-H and MGU-K, and a battery.
Whilst this was a thrilling experience, we were also made aware of the upcoming powerful 400hp Q50 set to hit the Middle East markets and we were privileged to drive it on the Dubai Autodrome track. The Q50 Red Sport attacks corners enthusiastically and outclasses any number of lesser saloons in the handling department, but we’re not sure to what extent that’s a function of DAS or the upgraded suspension, over the base car, but we’ll take it.
To wring more power out of the Q50, Infiniti has adopted a number of new approaches, beginning with an aluminium block and heads that account for a weight savings of more than 18kg over the outgoing engine. Direct-injection and electric valve timing have combined for better acceleration and lower emissions, and a water-to-air intercooler helps handle the excess heat. Most interestingly, the Red Sport employs a sensor to monitor the turbo’s redline— with nearly double the boost pressure they have to make sure the thing doesn’t top itself.
Clamber into the cockpit and the Q50 is a tech nerd’s paradise; with dual touch screen displays to save you from toggling back and forth between frequently used functions. One word of advice: just because you can tune the radio and follow the nav screen at the same time doesn’t mean it’s a good idea— let’s keep our eyes on the road people. The Q50 is definitely a sort of geek temptress, with a smorgasbord of connected apps in the pipeline.
The lower screen is exceedingly sharp, fast, and responsive to user input. The top screen, curiously, has a completely different aesthetic presentation. One can’t help but wonder why their different, but then, I’m not convinced the majority of users would be bothered by the discrepancy.
The top screen defaults to the most frequently used applications, things like navigation and music, while the bottom is more supplemental— in their literature Infiniti suggest that you could have a map open up top and points of interest open on the bottom, which is great unless you live in Sharjah where interesting things are carefully avoided. Actually, I personally would never think to use the points of interest feature, as I’m, apparently, not that interesting. Naturally, certain function like heating and cooling, are operated by hard switches, because consumer focus groups have made it clear to automakers that the people do not want to control their heated seats with a touch screen. Oh, and if you really don’t feel like touching the screen the Q50 is also one of the first cars to offer gestural control, allowing you to navigate the screen with a few deft waves of the hand.
The cutting edge tech theme here continues to the steering column, or bypass thereof— in the form of the world's first 100% steer-by-wire system, dubbed Direct Active Steering, or DAS to its friends. The car does have a conventional steering column, but it’s just there in case of a fault; the steering systems three sensors have to be in constant agreement, otherwise a clutch engages a mechanical connection and you’re piloting old school until your next (probably immediate) service visit.
DAS measures driver input, and calculates the amount of wheel lock to apply depending on how fast the vehicle is travelling. Add to which, there are adjustable user preferences for dialling in the amount of response you’d like to wring from the system, and you have a configurable steering system that’s likely to please all but the most petrol addled luddites whose devotion to hydraulic steering is well known.
As the steering ratios adjust to your speed, the car requires significantly less driver input at low speeds, allowing you to take on roundabouts and hairpins with ease. Then, once you get the Q50 soaring down some glorious stretch of road, it’s smooth as butter, reacting to driver input intuitively. The system also eradicates tramlining and kickback (a peccadillo of which the 3-series is guilty) over sleeping policemen and their ilk, due to the lack of mechanical connection. This in turn frees the steering up to omit rubber bushings, which makes the steering more accurate on preliminary take-up.
Despite the many advantage of electrical steering systems, the luddites do have a point, even an advanced system like DAS cannot deliver road feel in the traditional sense. Infiniti has an app for that though— an array of sensors detect the encroaching limits of traction and reduce the amount of weight felt in the steering reactively to telegraph this information to the driver. It certainly works, in fact work s quite well but whenever a digital technology is faced with echoing anything that might be considered “the real thing” a certain amount of disappointment is inevitable.
Naturally the guts of the Q50 are wrapped in leather (your choice of wheat or graphite) accented by ‘Kacchu’ aluminium highlights inspired by traditional Samurai armaments (if John Belushi were alive he would drive this car) and available genuine maple wood trim. Rounding out the goodie basket, you’ve got a Bose sound system, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, an air purifier and plenty of other available tech options.
Infiniti would like to a greater piece of the high performance-meets-luxury pie, and the Red Sport is a laudable effort. The marque has a devoted following already, and the cars keep getting better and better. How long before their ranks are infinite? Only time will tell.