Test Drive: Infiniti's new Q50
Infiniti’s 2014 Q50 raises the luxury performance sedan stakes with the introduction of three cutting-edge technologies: Direct Adaptive Steering, Active Lane Control and Predictive Forward Collision Warning. We recently had the chance to see how these innovations play out on the road. Read on for our impressions as we coast through Ontario's cottage country in the Q50.
First off, let’s get any naming confusion out of the way. Infiniti first introduced its Q model in the 90s, and starting in 2014 all Infiniti models will begin with the “Q” designation. QX will cover SUVs while cars will just get the Q label.
The Q50’s technological trifecta begins with its new drive-by-wire steering system. Known as Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), this computer managed system is unlike traditional steering arrangements in that there is no physical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels. Instead, an electronic unit reads the amount of turn in the wheel then calculates and provides appropriate inputs to steering motors. Steering feedback, which is now physically disconnected, is artificially defined by an ECU, camera and processing module, which determine the amount of resistance to put back into the steering wheel via a steering force actuator unit.
The advantage to this system is the ability to electronically change the steering ratio and feedback without any mechanical revisions. Oh, and in case of a system failure a backup clutch system is in place to activate in milliseconds.
But how does it actually play out in real world situations? Unfortunately, like most new technologies, the potential is there but the execution needs work. The problem is that it feels artificial. On long straight line drives with the lane departure system engaged, it would repeatedly make micro adjustments to the wheel. After a while the constant niggling counter interpretations felt as though there was either something amiss in the system or I was being told how to drive. During spirited cornering the Adaptive Steering System does try hard to impersonate a variable ratio rack and pinion steering configuration, but still has a slightly a forced, heavy feel. The system seemed at its best during inner city driving and parking lot maneuvers but as a whole, it has a ways to go before it’s perfect.
Technological advancement number two is the Active Lane Control (ALC) system. Activated by a button on the steering wheel, this is designed to automatically keep the Q50 in its lane using a camera based monitoring system during long, straight highway treks. The idea is to allow the ALC system to manage the vehicle during crosswinds and road irregularities, in order to diminish the amount of road feedback coming through the wheel and reducing driver fatigue over longer hauls.
When we activated the lane departure system on the highway north of Toronto the car did actually stay in its lane on longer, straight stretches with no driver input. Even on some longer, gentler curves the car managed to drive itself through unaided. Very very impressive next-gen future world stuff this. However, after playing around with the lane control system we found it did have some flaws and limitations. Several times it ventured into other lanes when markings were present. It also came out of its lane when asked to auto-pilot through some longer, sweeping curves at higher speeds.
I should note that the Infiniti rep repeatedly pointed out this is in fact NOT a self driving system and should not be treated as such. Drivers were instructed to keep their hands on the wheels at all times … though some hands may or may not have done so in an effort to fully test the Q50’s lane holding abilities.
Perhaps the most impressive technological advancement on the Q50 is a mixture of radar innovation and Kreskin-like ability: Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW). This awkwardly named system shoots radar under the vehicle you’re following, pinging it off the car two vehicles up. The system is designed to constantly monitor the distance and speed of that secondary vehicle so in the event that distances between those two lead cars close dramatically, an auditory notification is triggered warning of a potential rear end collision. Infiniti reports that in monitored testing the PFCW system actually “saw” two cars forward in some trial events
As much as I would have loved to test this out behind an SUV I felt it inappropriate to risk a lovely driving device like the Q50 on hypothetical rear end collision scenarios. The system definitely has the potential to deliver peace of mind to drivers and should help aid in the reduction of the all too popular rear end collision.
On top of these three world-firsts Infiniti has piled on a plethora of safety features including Intelligent Cruise Control, Forward Emergency Braking, Distance Control Assist, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Backup Collision Intervention and an Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS).
Infiniti’s V6 powerplants have been a staple in the manufacturer’s lineup for years. From the G37 to the Nissan 370Z, the V6 has proven its worth in the field. When it came to the new Q50, a naturally aspirated 3.7 liter V6 was considered the best option. With power output running at 328 hp, shored up by 269 lb.ft of torque, Infiniti claims this engine is not only more refined, but also offers better mileage and response than its predecessor.
For a performance minded sedan of this caliber, carrying around 3,500 lb (1621 kg) means the 3.7 liter has to work relatively hard to impress. But surprisingly enough, the V6 is able to put on a show. Quick to wind up and willing to rev, the 3.7 liter engine provided quality power from rolling start to highway lane shifts to merging exercises.
On the four-oh-something highway to cottage country we also had time to get acquainted with Infiniti's rather nicely engineered 7-speed transmission. Power shifts were slower than I’d like thanks to a new dual-clutch configuration but in manual mode, the car can be pushed into performance scenarios, popping out the other side with strong marks.
The Q50’s transmission, in partnership with the steering, suspension and power management systems, is distilled into four distinct driving modes; Standard, Sport, Eco and Snow. Each setting changes the degree of firmness in the wheel as well as responsiveness, Sport being the most firm with the fastest feedback. My personal preference would be Sport or Eco, as they provided the best steering feel, suspension set-up and throttle response.
On the way up to Muskoka Country and Windemere Lodge, we had the opportunity to experience the All Wheel Drive model. Where the rear wheel drive responded well on some of Muskoka’s more windy sections, the AWD felt nose heavy, oversteering into corners when pushed as is typical with most AWD configurations. But in the snow, this system would be most welcome. The suspension seemed appropriate for the car but did tend to get a little distracted on bumpy cornering scenarios. Overall the rear driver felt more as I would have anticipated from Infiniti.
There's also a hybrid version of the Q50 Hybrid on offer (which unfortunately we didn't get to drive). It combines a 50 kW of electric motor with a 3.5 liter V6 to provide a total power output of 360 hp.
And the interior accoutrements? Top notch. Seats are comfortable yet supportive and wood inserts and brushed aluminum surfaces abound. But the busy center console is where the sensory overload really begins. Infiniti’s InTouch system employs two stacked touchscreens in the center console. The 8-inch top screen presents driver related information and map visuals while a 7 inch lower screen manages the various infotainment options. The infotainment screen, which isn't particularly intuitive or easy to decipher (or I’m just getting too old and impatient), is flanked by climate, fan settings, defrost, re-circulatory buttons, and an on-off button that the passenger can control. The Bose 14-speaker sound system is plain fantastic.
With the application of what Infiniti calls “Zero Lift Aerodynamics,” the car's style is more severe and edgy than the outgoing G37 sedan. It is significantly meatier in the rear haunches and the front grille has taken on the Lexus' pinched look, where the entire front fascia appears to be sucked against its will in towards the Infiniti logo. Narrowing headlights flow back farther on the contoured fenders than the outgoing G37 and the hood is inset low against the chiseled fenders that we’ve seen for a few years now on the FX SUV series. The rear of the car, especially the taillight treatments, is beautifully executed while the signature spoiler lip is still in place to indicate the vehicle’s sporty intentions. On profile the new Q50 is more fluid along its flanks than the old sedan, with the distance between the wheel well and the hoodline significantly decreasing and a faster arch to the grille.
The Q50 is slightly lower than the G37 by 10 mm (0.4 in), standing 1.45 m (4.78 ft) tall. Across the hips the car is wider by 51 mm, giving it a more aggressive, grounded stance. Inside it's roomier by 82 liters compared to the outgoing model, meaning headroom, legroom and shoulder room have increased across the board. One 6’3” journalist did however mention that even with the increase he still felt cramped for legroom in the back seat.
On the scales the Q50 is 24.5 kg (54 lb) lighter than the G37 weighing in at 1,621 kg (3574 lb). The hybrid on the other hand, thanks to the batteries and generator, weighs around 150 kg (330 lb) more.
Although there are significant technological and stylistic advancements in the Q50, it's not quite seamless. While it can be a driver's car (particularly the rear wheel drive), a combination of sensory overload and niggles like the bickering steering issue left the experience a touch short of meeting my high expectations.
The 2014 Infiniti Q50 is available now with prices starting at $37,600 running to $56,450.
Product page: Infiniti