The Infiniti Q50S, and previously the G37 sedan, always played second fiddle to the entrenched German competitors. The cars have always looked great, and are solid performers with competent handling, but they have always lacked that little something extra that made them worth a purchase over a comparable machine from Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Infiniti plans to change all that with its updated 2016 Q50S. It takes the same great car we know and love, but it has seen its nearly ancient V6 engine dropped in favor of a trio of new turbocharged motors. The fastest and more powerful of these is the Q50 S Red Sport 400, and we had a chance to sample this new creation in Texas last week.
The Red Sport 400, as its name implies, features 400 horsepower and it aims straight at the neck of machines like the BMW 340 and Mercedes-Benz C400, while also trumping rising stars like the new Cadillac ATS. With 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, the new Infiniti Q50 is not just faster and more powerful than the car it replaces, but it has an 80 horsepower advantage on the BMW 340i, a 65 pony jump on the V6 ATS, and it even has more horsepower than the C450 AMG from Mercedes.
To make the most of this impressive powerplant, the Red Sport 400 has a stronger transmission that features revised tuning, upgraded suspension components, a pair of new steering choices, and new rolling stock. Together these make the car feel much tighter, more performance oriented, and it adds a touch of high-class speed and agility that places it level with the competitors.
Infiniti Q50 Pictures Gallery
The new engine makes all of its 350 lb-ft of torque across a large swath of the rev range, with full twist arriving at just 1600 rpm and staying all the way until it hits 5200 rpm. That makes this already wonderful engine feel even more powerful than it already is. Along with the upgraded engine, the car is fitted with a revised version of Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering system. This drive-by-wire setup is one of the most advanced in existence, and it allows for the most precise and instant steering response imaginable. It removes almost all vibration and feel from the real, but after swapping back and forth between the DAS-equipped car and a car with traditional electric power steering, it is obvious that the DAS system is far superior in its reflexes and control.
Rounding out the big set of improvements is an adaptive suspension system that Infiniti refers to as “digital” and a new set of wheels. The suspension will tighten up when the car is flipped into Sport+ mode, but it still errs on the side of comfort. It is much closer to the Mercedes mantra of fast, stable hammer for the highway rather than the usual BMW focus on taut handling. The rolling stock now features a true staggered setup with wider wheels and tires in the rear that wear different aspect ratio tires. This obviously introduces issues with things like tire rotation schedules and tire purchasing, but it provides a more aggressive handling setup with greater performance. Regular cars will use a standard matching wheel setup.
Our drive route for the event included a few hundred miles or driving around Texas roads with a solid combination of undulating roads, gentle curves, and near endless straights. On the road the suspension swallowed imperfections with ease, and thanks to the hefty torque of the new motor, passing maneuvers were a breeze. In fact, the new car picks up speed with such ease that it takes just seconds before you glance down at the speedo and realize that you are well into triple digits. It is stable, fast and wonderful.
After the journey around San Antonio, we met up at a handling and dynamics course that was set up in a large parking lot to be given a chance to really push the car in a controlled environment. There was a slalom, large sweeping turn, hard braking test, autocross course and a rough road test center. Combined they provided an opportunity to test out every system in the Q50S, as well as provide instant and repeatable testing to sense the differences between Sport+ and standard modes for the adjustable driving systems.
It was here that I finally fell in love with the Q50S. On the back side of the autocross course as I slung the tail wide for the 8th time at least, my passenger let out a frightened howl and the Q50S just danced around the cones exactly as I asked. Anywhere and anytime you want, a press of the right pedal will break the rear tires free in a fit of fury and hooliganism that feels youthful and entertaining in a market that prides itself of just how plain and understated it can be.
The Q50S Red Sport 400 defies everything I know and love as an enthusiast. The electric steering system lacks all feel, the “digital” adjustable suspension sits on the soft side of the spectrum, and the despite the power output the exhaust is quiet and rather boring. Yet I still found myself enjoying it for lap after lap after lap. And then when it was time to return to the hotel, I still didn’t hesitate to take the keys.
In a segment that is dominated by cars that are built to be fast while maintain an air of anonymity, the Q50S Red Sport 400 roars in with a digital yell, and a sideways scream of burning rubber. It no longer feels like a background bassoon player in the grand symphony that is the luxury sport sedan market. It feels much more like a wild electric guitar solo.
Still, this was just a first drive, and love can tend to fade when faced with the mundane tasks of real life, but for now we are tentatively putting the Q50S near the top of our list for its segment. Once we get a review model for a full week, we will come back with a proper full review and verdict. Until then, just know for the estimated under $60k price tag, this 400 horsepower rocket is phenomenal fun.