2014 Infiniti Q50 Review

Scary new technology that actually works in a great new car at a price you can’t ignore

By Shahzad Sheikh

2014 Infiniti Q50

Meet the Infiniti Q50. This is an all new offering that arrives to challenge the likes of the Lexus IS and Cadillac ATS. And it lands fairly confident about its chances with good reason: swoopy styling, spacious interior, quality finish, loads of kit, and incredibly keen pricing starting from just AED165,500 in the UAE with a 326bhp 3.7 V6, deliberately undercutting its competitors.

But wait. We can’t just pronounce this car fantastic and allow you to just click off, because there’s something else. This car arrives with an innovation, a piece of new tech 10 years in the making, a concept so bold that it scares the shit of me.

It is the first car to offer true electric drive-by-wire steering. Yep, you understand me right. There is no mechanical linkage between the helm you hold and the wheels at the front that guide this car along the tarmac.

Part of me doesn’t even want to get in and be a passenger in this thing, let alone drive it, when I arrive at the Autodrome for the UAE launch of the car. But I’m here now, and I think my life insurance is paid up to date, so might as well give it a go I suppose.

So before we get into looking at the design, the ride, the performance and everything else, let’s first tackle the steering.

2014 Infiniti Q50

Steer-by-wire – the inevitable future

Aeroplanes have had fly-by-wire for years, proponents will cry in response to your objections to a car with such a disconnect between you and the road, and you don’t see THEM falling out of the sky, well not everyday at least.

Though to be fair that’s not the argument employed by the Malaysian engineer who’s spent the last decade of his life developing the system – his response is that a mechanical back-up remains, albeit separated by its own clutch whilst the system is in use.

So if the mechanical linkages are all still there, than it’s hardly weight-saving technology is it? ‘It isn’t meant to be,’ admits YuWun Chai, Project Manager at Nissan’s Steering System and Chassis Engineering departments. ‘It’s about performance and tuneability.’

That much becomes apparent from the amazing adjustability available. You have four steps both for steering assistance and response, so it can go from meaty to fingertip light, and/or leisurely to razor sharp with the touch of a button. Most owners, I think, will have an initial play with the system and then leave it in one preferred setting in ‘Personal’ mode. Or they’ll just use the presets including Standard and Sports.

We had a series of exercises on the track including slalom and lane-changing as well as irregular surfaces to demonstrate the ‘Direct Adaptive Steering’ system’s abilities. Switching between the two aforementioned modes is a Jekyll and Hyde experience – you go from a car that feels like a lumbering front-wheel drive saloon to one that feels more like the rear-wheel drive sports saloon that it is. Turning-in hard literally goes from sluggish understeer to almost over-eager at the flick of a switch.

There are two more benefits – firstly how well the car can take control of the steering (yes this is one more step down the sadly relentless march towards the self-driving car).

So for example with the new lane-keeping assist with ‘Trace Control’ that follows the lines, it is possible (but I would strongly recommend you DO NOT do use it like this) to drive along a highway, even one with mild curves and bends with the car steering itself whilst running at a constant speed with the active cruise control maintaining distances from other cars. It’s positively eerie.

Then there’s a lack of kick back – put two wheels on one side into the rough and the other two still on the flat tarmac and there’s no squirming or pull or any attempt by the steering to wriggle out of your grip as it would on some normal cars.

Of course all of this also means that there is little or no feel in the steering system. At least not in the traditional sense, but I’m put right by Chai about this. Apparently an additional electric motor behind the steering is put to use to recreate ‘feel’ in an artificial sense. Nice try mate, but I’m not convinced.

At least not then I wasn’t. Then I took it on a road drive and spent a bit more time exploring the steering on the limit through corners. And I felt it. A distinct lightning of the steering just as the car reaches the edge of tyre grip. Something that’s quite natural in a normal car, but how the heck is this electric system doing it?

A beaming Chai, delighted that I’d noticed it, admitted that it had taken him years working on getting just this aspect right. Without revealing exactly how it was achieved (that would be like revealing the secret recipe) he did say it was crucial in order to reassure drivers that the system is safe and trustworthy.

Pretty impressive I’ll grant you and the steering response, accuracy and yes, ‘feel’ is way better than I thought. But I’m still not fully reassured, after all, how long would it take for that clutch separating the mechanical linkage to close in case of a system failure?

Cue another knowing grin – I can’t help but like the enthusiastic and utterly frank Chai – ‘it’s a solenoid-based clutch, it’s held apart by the electronics, so if the current is interrupted or cut, the clutch instantly engages in milliseconds!’ In fact its natural state is closed, so that also means you can push or be towed in the Infiniti Q50 even with the engine off.

2014 Infiniti Q50

Handling and performance

Of course sharpening the steering wouldn’t help much if the Q50 didn’t have a nimble enough chassis to deal with the quicker responses. Fortunately it does. Despite being slightly bulkier, it’s over 100mm longer and slighter wider and taller than the Lexus IS, with everything turned to Sport it happily dives into corners and even threatens to bring the tail round.

It’s actually quite entertaining and fun once you learn to trust the steering and have it set up the way you want. Thankfully there’s also 326hp on tap for you to hustle with – or 350bhp for the 3.5-litre V6 S Hybrid (Infiniti gears its hybrid car for performance rather than economy) thanks to extra oomph from the electric motor.

The S Hybrid accelerates from rest to 100kph in 5.1 seconds, about four-tenths quicker than the regular V6 S which actually still feels quick enough indeed, I’m not sure it’s worth the AED22k extra to opt for the S Hybrid over the S though it remains good value at AED210k as the range-topper.

Both engines come with a 7-speed auto with magnesium paddle shifters which is well-tuned for duties in an executive saloon, though you’ll probably end up leaving it in drive.

2014 Infiniti Q50

Exterior, interior and comfort

Drawing inspiration from the Infiniti Essence concept, the Q50 is a swoopy and handsome machine that is nonetheless readily identifiable as a product of Nissan’s luxury arm thanks to the signature double arch grille. But don’t be fooled by familiarity, this is a completely new design, and there’s something about the way it sits on the road which is really appealing.

Definitely go for the S or S Hybrid though as they come with the nicer bigger wheels and a more aggressive and distinctive front bumper and spoiler.

Inside again it’s all new and a complete departure from previous Infiniti saloons, with a new driver-orientated design and layout, and two functional – the upper used as a more traditional display screen and the lower a touch-control panel with fairly simple and straightforward controls and interfaces.

The quality of the fit and finish too is exemplary and there’s a decent amount of room in here, probably the best in class I would dare guestimate, although I did have a lot of trouble getting comfortable in the drivers seat, which may need extra lumber support – at least for my tall frame.

It is of course packed with toys from a 14-speaker sound system which was incredibly easy to Bluetooth with and play my songs on, to sat nav, a catalogue of drivers aids and safety features and of course luxury grade trim.

2014 Infiniti Q50

Verdict

Honestly I went to this launch event expecting to hate this car, and really sceptical about the steer-by-wire technology. I came out of it not only with a fair amount of admiration for the vehicle itself but almost a convert to the new steering system.

Almost? Well it’s still too much of a psychological hurdle for me to get over, something that Infiniti recognises too, which is why a mechanical back up exists in the system. However the steering does work surprisingly well, and discovering its ability to translate back exactly how hard you’re pushing – better than some of the regular electronic power steering systems currently on the market – was a delight.

Get past the steer-by-wire and this is a great executive sports saloon, nicely packaged and excellent value in its class. Compared to rivals with similar spec and performance, it’s hard to argue against the new Infiniti Q50. They could well be onto a winner with this one.

2014 Infiniti Q50 – The Specs

How much?
3.7 V6 326bhp AED165,500 ($45,000)
S 3.7 V6 326bhp AED188,000 ($
S Hybrid 3.5 V6 350bhp AED210,000 ($
Engine:
3.7-litre V6, 326bhp @ 7000rpm, 266lb ft @ 5200rpm
S Hybrid: 3.5 V6, 350bhp @ 6500rpm, 415lb ft (combined with electric motor)
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Fuel Economy:
10.2L/100km
S Hybrid: 7.8L/100km
Performance:
0-100kph 5.5 seconds, Top speed 250kph
S Hybrid: 0-100kph 5.1 seconds, Top speed 250kph
Weight:
1667kg
S Hybrid: 1802kg

 

6 responses to “2014 Infiniti Q50 Review”

  1. Utk says:

    Great review as usual! Saw a significant lack of pictures on this review compared to almost all the others, though. Perhaps more pictures of the interior needed (:
    Anyway, are there any new Infinitis other than the Q50, coming up with all these techy features, like the Drive-By-Wire, the dual screen in the centre console, etc?

    • admin says:

      [Shahzad] Thanks. Yeah I didn’t have enough time to shoot more pictures, plus it was the middle of the day so not ideal lighting! I hope to get some more pictures from the press office soon and will add them here. The technology will certainly filter into forthcoming Infiniti and possibly Nissan models too in future.

  2. Usama Khan says:

    Big fan of the M37S, this Q50 though takes everything to a whole new level.
    What’s with the navigation, still in LA I see 😀

  3. Essa says:

    Aside from its steering, how was the transmission when comparing to the 8spd in the IS350 F Sport? I drove the Lexus and the dowinshifts it makes are amazing, it goes from 3rd to 2nd to 6400 RPM which is just about 250 RPMs before redline.

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