Mention “Infiniti” to a non-car enthusiast, and you’ll draw that pained expression that’s halfway between feigned interest and blankness. You’ll then have to fall back on the reliable analogy: Infiniti is Nissan’s luxury badge, the same way Lexus is Toyota’s. Comprehension dawns.
Outside of the US and Canada, where marketing efforts were concentrated prior to 2008, there isn’t much awareness of the marque relative to its 28-year history. Infiniti intends to change that. In recent years, it’s been dropping solid luxury sedans in new markets including Europe and China and, more recently, South-east Asia.
And so it is with enthusiasm that I approach Infiniti’s flagship four-door Q50, this one in the Red Sport 400 flavour, which about doubles down on the horsepower of the base model (termed “Premium”.)
The handsome car is given a lean yet muscular form by long, pronounced lines on the massive hood, which fold aggressively into the mesh grille. Narrow headlights impart a predatory glare. The Red Sport version features a subtle red “S” badge and chrome piping on the rear, as well as 19-inch aluminium wheels for a more intimidating look.
The overall outfit is not one that is immediately distinctive on the roads, but it cuts a dashing figure nonetheless.
Room aplenty in the cabin, too, with more than adequate legroom for rear passengers, even with the driver and shotgun rider comfortably stretched out. The accompanying sunroof impinges on headroom, but, unless you’re six-feet tall, it’s ignorable.
There’s been a successful effort at organising the instrumentation, at least visually. Two giant infotainment screens work in tandem to control every nook and cranny of the car, although it may take a week to familiarise yourself with the software. Neat columns of buttons flank this digital real estate. This allows for a clean, uncluttered area around the gearstick, so no having to sneak glances down at that infernal button just below your field of vision when driving.
A Mean Straight Punch
Streamlining the driving experience is the central philosophy of the new Q50. This does wonders for the average buyer, but can be overly heavy-handed for purists.
Don’t get us wrong. Flooring the pedal produces an exhilarating kick that exceeds our expectations, producing century sprints that are close to a flat 5 seconds. That’s unusually fleet for a four-door in this price range. With its twin turbos pumping out up to 475Nm of torque, the Q50 handily beats more popular (and expensive) rivals like the BMW 340i in raw output.
Red traffic lights aren’t so bad anymore, when you can surge ahead and leave other drivers wondering what brand of sedan just left them in the dust. This performance from the first ever twin turbo engine to make it into an Infiniti sets the brand up for greater successes.
But with great power must come great manoeuvrability. The Q50 is a delight for leisurely cruising and scooting around urban areas. Yet, once attempts at hard cornering or locking the wheel are made, there’s a figurative disconnect between intention and outcome. Understeer characterises the first half-second, followed by gratuitous overcompensation.
This, likely courtesy of the mildly controversial Direct Adaptive Steering, a literal disconnect between the physical column and the wheels.
In Infiniti’s future-ready gambit, signals to turn are transmitted electronically to the wheels, instead of with a cable. It’s a great idea that may see Infiniti at the forefront of tech when autonomous driving becomes the norm, but there remains some fine-tuning to be done.
Another unintended victim is road feel. Purists will feel alienated by the relative inertness of the steering wheel, whereas casual drivers may welcome the dampened feedback.
As a package, the Infiniti Q50 RS 400 is a diamond in the rough that’s up there with the big brands. Don’t be surprised if future revisions earn critical acclaim – it already has the makings of a superstar.
Infiniti Singapore, 45 Leng Kee Road. Tel: 6430-4840