Infiniti: it ain't nothin' but a G-thang. Well, it used to be – if Acura and Lexus are primarily crossover-slinging Japanese luxury manufacturers, then Infiniti was the company that most went toe-to-toe with BMW in the sports sedan department. Bimmer dealt the 3, Infiniti dealt the G, and everyone was happy.
However, those days are long over, and the G sedan is now a Q-ship (to be precise, it's called the Q50). Also, the hotting-up crossover market means that, in Canada at least, Infiniti's bestseller is now the QX60, essentially a nicer version of the Nissan Pathfinder. This sort of thing is happening all over – the Audi Q5 now outsells the BMW 3 as the bestselling luxury vehicle in Canada – but is the new Q50 underperforming? Facing down a slick and slippery West Coast winter morning, I grabbed an all-wheel-drive version of Infiniti's renamed sport sedan to see if it could still get traction.
It's distinctive, there are little touches like the squiggle in the rear three-quarter glass that's like a splash of Sriracha on the BMW Hofmeister kink...
All said, it's a handsome-looking car, translating the swells and stretches of the Infiniti design language into something quite different from the competition. It's distinctive, there are little touches like the squiggle in the rear three-quarter glass that's like a splash of Sriracha on the BMW Hofmeister kink, and even the base 17-inch alloys on this entry-level non-S model look just fine.
I distinctly remember overhearing Infiniti's design head Alfonso Albaisa critiquing display models at a major auto show, with a “Twenty-inch wheels should be an absolute minimum.” However, the team tasked with translating design flights of fancy into real-world application has done a pretty good job making sure the standard Q50 doesn't have the automotive equivalent of chicken legs. If you want to see cars ruined by caster-sized wheels, check out a base Jaguar F-type or Maserati Ghibli.
So, aside from some mild droopiness about the back, the standard Q50 is refined and cohesive shape, one that progresses on from the G sedan nicely. The S model is the one to buy for looks, but this base model is handsome enough – let's pop open the door and see how they've done inside.
Immediately, the twin-screen setup is going to elicit a few womp-womp noises from those who would prefer both a simpler integration and a more analog feel. Not to mention that having an 8-inch wide high-resolution screen proudly displaying an analog clock face seems faintly ridiculous (my tester didn't come with the navigation package).
However, once you start playing around with Infiniti's so-called InTouch technology, you'll find there's plenty to like. As with many other infotainment systems, the sheer level of menus and submenus can be overwhelming, but swiping through the Q50's various displays is relatively straightforward. You can either geek out and fiddle with all the settings or just use it at a surface level, once you've figured out how to reset audio levels for bass, which the lot boy (or in this case, previous autojourno) has cranked to 11.
From an aesthetic view, giant digital clock-face aside, Infiniti has done a nice job with materials, fit, and finish. Both in comfort and in execution, it does feel like properly competitive for the segment, but if you're staring at the pictures and thinking there's something of a Venn diagram overlap between cars like this and well-equipped examples of ordinary family sedans, you're not wrong.
Driver comfort is very good, with the seats slightly less bolstered than the Lexus IS, but maybe a little cushier. Rear passenger room is improved over the G, but still is more a four-seater as a fifth passenger will have to face the Bactrian camel double humps of the middle rear seat and the transmission tunnel. Trunk space is slightly above that of the BMW 3 Series.
Before we crank over the Q50's only available engine, a 3.7L V6 (there's also a more powerful hybrid version), a brief talk about technology, as Infiniti offers a huge swath of technology. As evidenced by our digi-analog clock, this tester doesn't have the optional extras, but they're worth discussing.
There are essentially two main packages with the Q50, a navigation package that's bundled with a 14-speaker Bose audio, and the touring and technology package. This latter includes features we've already found useful, such as the around-view 360-degree camera, and some new equipment like a forward collision warning that “looks” two cars ahead, similar to Mercedes' system. It also has something called Direct Adaptive Steering, an entirely drive-by-wire steering assist that's the next step on from electric power assist. This tester doesn't have it, but it's worth noting that the system has elsewhere received a tepid welcome, likened to a force-feedback joystick rather than well-tuned steering. Still, Infiniti might yet get their algorithms sorted, and as for the standard steering, more on that in a bit.
If there's a complaint, it's that this base AWD model is missing heated seats, and that you have to get a navigation package to get them. This is Canada! Who designed the packaging on a $40,000 car such that heated seats are an extra? Having said that, navigation is almost a must these days, and I'd predict the bulk of Q50 sales will be the all-wheel-drive version so equipped.
Firing up the 328-hp 3.7L V6 via push-button starter brings back a familiar grumble. If the looks have changed, inside and out, then the driveline of this sport sedan retains that same G-unit feel, a sort of 370Z stretched out and sent to finishing school.
Spin it up off the line and the seven-speed automatic steps through the gears quickly, pulling strong with a nice growl coming out the back. You can either configure drive modes through the centre-stack screens, or there's a shortcut rocker switch mounted just aft of the shifter. Flick it into Sport and the Q50 has most of the responsiveness of the old G.
And, even with the sketchy surfaces on this slippery weekend morning, the Q50's well-tuned all-wheel drive makes easy work of icy pavement. There's no straight-line scrabble, and making a quick right turn into traffic is point and shoot.
Get the Q50 off the main roads and onto the curving streets where the G used to shine, and I have to say some of the magic is dulled. Mind you, this car is spec'd all wrong for fun driving: there are no paddle shifters, it's all-wheel-drive rather than tail-happy rear-driven, and has the standard suspension rather than the sport-tuned one.
Even so, all Gs used to drive in a burly, bare-knuckled way, and this Q50 is more tamed, more smoothed out. Perhaps that's due to a focus on greater product line differentiation, but this is certainly a well-domesticated machine. If you're looking for a little more sportiness, you're pretty much going to have to step up to the S.
The steering, too, is a little dull. It's non-adjustable, unlike the drive-by-wire's selectable system, so you're essentially stuck with just the one setting, and it's a bit soft. There's enough feel here to detect a slippery patch, but nothing that feels particularly special. The way I'd look at it is that opting for the drive-by-wire, even if it's a little artificial, isn't giving up much.
As it stands, the Q50 feels like a mighty engine in a relatively sedate sedan that rides well but isn't purpose-built for corner-carving hijinks. It's more as if Infiniti has benchmarked the C-class for this end of their model range, with the S left to take on BMW.
In terms of value, however, the machine that this car stomps all over is the poor Nissan Maxima. As optioned, my tester stickered out at about a five percent premium over Nissan's top-tier sedan. The lack of navigation is a minor annoyance in the Infiniti, but at every other level, why would you not go upscale? The fuel economy is certainly not much of a penalty, rated at 12.5 L/100 km city and 8.7 L/100 km highway; real-world scoring ended up a hair above the official city mileage in traffic-skewed use and coldish conditions.
And here's what made the G sedan so popular in the first place. The Q50 might be a little softer dynamically, but it's still aggressive in terms of pricing. The ground might be slippery out today, but the Q's good enough overall to get a grip and keep up with the competition: both from other manufacturers, and from its crossover siblings.
4 years/100,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km Powertrain; 4 years/100,000 km corrosion surface; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation
|Model Tested||2015 Infiniti Q50 3.7 AWD||Destination Fee||$1,995|
|Base Price||$39,950||Price as Tested||$43,850|
$1,535 (Metallic Paint - $135; Moonroof package - $1,250)