- Very quick twin-turbo V6
- Handsome styling
- Excellent interior quality
- Lower-end V6 option makes more sense
- Limited practicality
- Drive modes too customisable
It’s tough launching a new car brand in Australia. As one of the world’s most competitive automotive markets, Australians have developed desires for a high standard of equipment, a particular taste for SUVs and sportier models, and premium badges. New brands that don’t meet the brief are either chewed and spat out – like Opel – or they take years to establish, like Skoda – or Infiniti.
Launched here five years ago as Nissan’s premium badge, building sales has been a substantial effort – and this year’s tally of 675 cars is only an improvement of 14 cars on this point last year. Infiniti are very popular in the United States, where they hold 7 per cent of the market – compare that to just 0.1 per cent here. However, Infiniti’s bosses are realistic about the time it takes to build a brand in Australia – and in fact, they’re excited for the products the future holds. The first of these is this – the updated 2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport.
The Q50 – Infiniti’s best-seller worldwide – is a small luxury sedan that aims to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS, Audi A4, and the Australian favourite of the class, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. To put things in perspective, in October alone Australians took home 609 C-Classes, which isn’t far off Infiniti’s range-wide tally over ten months. The numbers show this is a David and Goliath fight, so the Q50 – a car that is, in Japan, regarded as the spiritual successor to the Nissan Skyline – needs to be good. On paper, the Q50, like other Infinitis, looks to be a recipe Australians would take to – a practical, sporty all-rounder that represents good value. But how does the mix taste in the real world?
Well – it tastes better now, as the Q50 has received a pretty comprehensive mid-life update for 2018. While most car refreshes barely go beyond styling and trim elements, this time Infiniti focussed on the Q50’s driving dynamics – specifically setting out to fix issues journalists and buyers identified with the way the car drives. The drive-by-wire steering, criticised for being always too light or too heavy, has been comprehensively updated to its second generation. The suspension has been overhauled with the promise of a smoother ride. And while styling wasn’t the focus of the changes, there are light changes outside and in, as well. All in all, the Q50 should be a better car – but you’ll pay more for it, with price increases of up to $1,000.
Three specification levels carry over from before the 2018 update, with prices ranging from $54,900 to $79,900, though the top-shelf Red Sport tested here hasn’t seen its price changed. The entry-level GT trim is equipped with a 155kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol, while the mid-specification Sport Premium can be had with that four-pot, as a 224kW/400Nm twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, or as a 268kW/546Nm 3.5-litre V6 hybrid, while a previously-optional Mercedes-sourced 2.2-litre diesel has been canned from the lineup. The Red Sport model tested arrives with plenty of standard equipment: behind the uprated 298kW/475Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo six sit 19-inch wheels, adaptive dampers, quilted leather seats, all-LED lighting, a Bose sound system, and a host of safety tech.
Infiniti offers a choice of five drivetrains within the 2018 Q50 range – there were six, but the previously-optional 2.2-litre diesel, sourced from Mercedes-Benz, has been discontinued in this update. Four petrols and one petrol-electric hybrid continue on.
The GT model marks the entry to the Q50 range. It retains a four-cylinder turbo produced by Mercedes: the 155kW/350Nm two-litre also found under the bonnet of the C250 Benz. This engine is also available in the mid-spec Sport Premium model – and the Sport Premium is the first rung where six-cylinder power becomes optional in the form of our pick of the engines, a 224kW/400Nm version of the Nissan VR30 twin-turbo petrol V6.
A six-cylinder hybrid pushing out 268kW/546Nm is also available in Sport Premium guise, either with rear-wheel-drive, or as the range’s sole all-wheel-drive offering. Completing the range is the Red Sport, which is equipped with a more powerful version of the VR30, producing 298kW/475Nm. All Q50s are mated to a seven-speed torque converter automatic, with paddle shifters featuring on Sport Premium and Red Sport trims.
The Red Sport’s pumped-up V6 is a monster of an engine. Not only is it very quick – Infiniti claims a 0-100km/h time in the upper four second range – it also sounds fantastic. At low revs the six burbles away pleasantly, before transforming into a sonorous roar towards the other end of the tachometer – and quickly, your licence is seriously threatened.
This is also a very smooth engine. There is little noticeable turbo lag, and the V6 accelerates with a linear feel. The peak torque of 475Nm is produced between 1,600-5,200rpm, and while a slight gap exists between that point and the peak 298kW of power at 6,400pm, the Q50 Red Sport feels as though it never stops accelerating.
The best attribute of this six-cylinder is that it offers a real dual personality. At town speeds, it’s quiet and responsive enough, with an abundance of torque on tap to nip into gaps in traffic. Leave it in either Comfort or Eco mode and it’s even capable of reasonable fuel economy – we managed around 12L/100km in urban driving, which is respectable for a 400-horsepower beast. Throw the drive mode selector into Sport or Sport Plus, however, and the feel changes substantially towards a harder and more responsive character.
The different driving modes offered on the Q50 range are part of the car’s personalisation and key appeal to owners, according to the brand, and we found that the different modes really are differentiated from one another: Comfort is nothing like Sport Plus in throttle response, steering weight, or suppleness of ride. And then there’s the Eco mode, which is unbelievably interventionist, actively limiting pedal travel to slow your acceleration. Most will dislike that and avoid that mode entirely. The other modes are more intuitive and better suit the character of the Red Sport. However, the Personal mode offers such a degree of customisation that most drivers will stick to one of the many fixed choices.
Infiniti’s steer-by-wire system has been in the Q50 since the model launched here in 2014. There is a failsafe but there is usually no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels: it is all electric, like the controls of an Airbus jet. The first-generation steer-by-wire setup received fairly broad criticism for poor steering weighting and feel – but these problems have been convincingly fixed with the second-generation system found in the 2018 Q50. The steering feels far more natural this time around, and most drivers will be unable to determine a difference between this, and an electric power steering system with a true mechanical connection. The only odd spot continues to be too much on-centre resistence, but once you’re used to it the Q50’s quick steering feels about right.
Beyond the steering, the Q50 Red Sport’s handling is actually deeply impressive – this is another area the engineers looked to improve for the 2018 update. No matter how hard you drive it, the Infiniti’s creamy chassis remains composed, working with the driver to devour corners, bumps, and bumpy corners. Quick turn-in is appreciated, and it’s easy to build up a flow from bend to bend. But the fun has a limit: the Q50’s poorly-tuned stability control sees the ESP cut power for what feels like five seconds when wheelspin is detected. A more subtle ESC system that nips gently at the brakes to limit wheelspin would substantially improve the Q50 and provide skilled drivers with the ability to really engage with this vehicle.
Thankfully, the powerful 355mm front/350mm rear twin-piston brakes stop the 1,800kg-odd Q50 Red Sport well with little need for ABS intervention. The Red Sport also features red brake calipers, though the disc size is shared with other V6-engined Q50s, including hybrid models – lighter 2.0t models employ smaller 320mm front/308mm rear brakes.
The Q50 offers an impressive array of active safety equipment, though the entry-level GT model misses out on too many of these. All Q50s feature rear cross-traffic alert, cornering LED headlights, automatic high beams, tyre pressure monitoring, a 360-degree camera, and active lane control – an advanced form of lane keep assist that sees the Q50 proactively keep itself in well-marked lanes without drifting. What disappoints us is that autonomous emergency braking in drive and reverse – surely the most important adaptive safety technology – does not feature on the GT, arriving only at the Sport Premium level.
It’s in the Sport Premium that forward collision warning (monitoring two cars ahead) arrives, alongside active cruise control and blind spot monitoring are also fitted. It’s a little complicated wrapping your head around the operation of all the systems at first – but their operation is subtle and helpful – and the Q50 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Refinement in the Q50 is pleasing, with low noise levels. The hard-charging V6 offers a great sound, but inside, the engine remains admirably hushed until you intend otherwise. Road noise is impressively limited at all speeds, despite the large 19-inch wheels.
Dynamics might have been the focus for this year’s Q50 changes – but the interior got some attention too, particularly in the Red Sport. Red stitching lies across the seats, steering wheel, and dashboard, adding a sporty veneer to these luxuriously-padded surfaces: the Red Sport’s seats have also had a quilted diamond pattern added to them. The steering wheel is new, and largely mirrors that in the Nissan GT-R supercar; a more tactile gear shifter has been added, too. These small updates make the Q50’s cabin feel more modern than before – but the aesthetic in here is getting old. The basic layout of the Q50’s dashboard is similar to many Nissan models, as well as to the Infiniti G37, the previous generation of this car not sold in Australia.
While the look is similar, the Q50’s interior quality has continued to rise, with the current iteration comparing well to rivals. Soft touch materials ensconce the driver. From creamy leather surfacing on the seats, doors and steering wheel to yielding materials on the dashboard and centre console, the Q50 feels adequately special inside. The use of tasteful textured metal trims on the dash and doors, as well as the inclusion of satin chrome highlights, adds to the expensive feel of the Q50’s cabin. Partially flock lined door bins mean that items stashed there don’t rattle around whilst driving.
The Q50 Red Sport’s bolstered seats are extremely comfortable and highly adjustable, with 10-way adjustment plus a tightening function for the side bolstering, plus an under-thigh extender. There’s a memory function for the driver’s seat, while the passenger can play with eight-way adjustment. Both seats are also heated, and the driver’s seat and steering column retract automatically for easier entry and exit – though taller folk in the rear may not appreciate the seat sliding back, so beware their legs. The rear seats are comfortable as well, with good cushion length and backrest angle.
Centrepiece to the interior is Infiniti’s InTouch infotainment system, which combines two touchscreens: an upper 8-inch unit, and a lower 7-inch unit. The upper screen displays the navigation screen and cameras, with the lower screen providing the audio, car settings, and input for the navigation. Both screens work well: the problem is that they aren’t well-matched. The top screen is an ageing touchscreen shared with lesser Nissan products; the cheesy graphics and grainy quality make this obvious. The glossy lower screen is much sharper, but your eyes are mostly drawn to the worse-off high screen as it’s closer to the driver’s line of sight. Aesthetics aside, though, this system is easy to use once you learn the multitude of functions.
We’re disappointed, though, that the Q50 does not include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring connectivity. Instead, it relies on more basic Bluetooth and USB connections to interact with the media on your phone. This is all the more surprising given that other Nissans, like the American-market Maxima sedan, or EU-market Micra hatch, do include CarPlay and Android Auto.
Sound-wise, the Q50 Sport Premium and Red Sport come equipped with a thumping 16-speaker Bose stereo, which we found superior to the Mark Levinson system in the Lexus IS350. The 590-watt unit offers great sound clarity with bone-shattering bass, and acts as a sound (forgive the pun) companion for all music tastes. The system features active noise cancelling technology, which helps contribute to the Q50’s admirably low road noise levels: the Infiniti is quieter inside than rivals like the BMW 3 Series.
Infiniti has upped the perceived quality with a number of cabin elements, too. The indicator stalks, for example, are on the left-hand, or European, side of the steering wheel. The windows all feature auto up/down functionality; the headlights are rain-activated when left in auto mode (a fantastic feature that all cars should offer) and it even features up-down opening of the windows and sunroof right from the key.
The Q50’s 4,800mm length makes it longer than its rivals – BMW’s 3 Series is almost 170mm shorter. It’s a shame, then, that the Infiniti’s generous size hasn’t translated into a commensurately roomier interior or boot than its rivals. At 500 litres, the Q50’s boot space is healthy, but it’s only 20 litres more voluminous than the BMW. The Q50’s boot has a high loading height, so lifting heavy suitcases in and out is a bit of a chore.
The bootlid itself does use space-saving hinge arms (as opposed to the space-robbing gooseneck arms of many rivals) – that earns a tick. And, in an example of this car’s American origins, there is a glow-in-the-dark pull tab in the boot for a person stuck in there to open it up from inside: an ominous feature demanded by American regulations.
We just wish the Q50’s boot offered a few clever inclusions. Underfloor storage and shopping bag hooks are both entirely absent, and additional tethering points would make tying delicate loads down easier. The rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to increase the available space; however, the aperture is far too small, and larger items may not fit. If you’d like a more practical version of the Q50, you’re a bit out of luck; unlike the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, there is no Q50 wagon, and Infiniti’s new QX50 medium SUV is still some way off from our shores.
The cabin offers the same level of practicality as the boot. The front seat is roomy for both occupants, and storage spots are reasonable as well. The flock-lined door bins are reasonably-sized and can fit smaller bottles, the two illuminated cupholders in the centre console are large, as is the glovebox and underneath the centre armrest sits the car’s only USB ports, with an SD card holder for the navigation and an AUX port. Ahead of the gearbox is a tiny slot with a 12V socket, maybe for mints or coins.
The rear seat is a less roomy affair, with tight legroom and foot space – and, on sunroof-equipped Q50s, limited headroom too. Six-footers will fit but their head will be very close to the roof. The Q50’s back seat could be better-specified, too: despite offering rear air vents, rear map pockets and a centre armrest with two cupholders, there are no door pockets to stash water bottles in, no climate control adjustment, and no heated rear seats – all features that are available on competitors.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Infiniti Q50 fuel economy
Infiniti claim a combined fuel economy for the Q50 Red Sport of 9.3L/100km with CO2 emissions of 214g/km. That’s high-ish for the class, although the Q50’s efficiency really settles on the highway, where we recorded 6.9L/100km, offering an extended range of more than 1,000 kilometres from the 80L fuel tank.
It’s in urban settings where the twin-turbo V6 gets thirsty, with economy falling away to around 13L/100km. This car’s rivals generally claim optimistic figures like BMW’s 6.8L/100km claim for the three-litre 340i, but these figures generally also blow out. By contrast, Lexus claims 9.7L/100km for their naturally-aspirated V6 IS350.
If more fuel economy is what a buyer is after, consider the Q50 Sport Hybrid, which combines a 3.5-litre petrol V6 and electric drivetrain for 268kW/546Nm in total, with a combined 6.8L/100km rating. A frugal diesel engine was previously available but this has been dropped from the Q50 range.
Predicted Infiniti Q50 depreciation
Like other niche brand in Australia without well-known reputations, Infiniti products struggle a little with predicted depreciation. The Q50 Red Sport’s predicted value of $33,000 after three years and average mileage represents just 40 per cent of its original sticker price. Even the Lexus IS350 Sport Luxury’s 54 per cent retention is considerably better. If strong resale is your priority, however, the Germans do it best: the BMW 340i and Audi S4 each hold 61%, while the Mercedes-AMG C43 will keep an impressive 64% of its value.
Infiniti Q50 servicing price, maintenance and warranty
Infiniti goes some way to to compensating the depreciation problem with decent ownership credentials. The Q50 has a four year or 100,000 kilometre warranty that includes roadside assistance for the duration. Curiously, this roadside assistance programme covers the owner no matter which car they are actually travelling in – even if it’s not the Q50.
The Q50 Red Sport’s service costs are reasonable. Servicing over three years or 45,000 kilometres comes in at $1,283 – that’s less than a Volkswagen Golf. The BMW 340i would set you back $1,440 or $3,800 over two levels of servicing over five years. The Mercedes-AMG C43 is dearer to service, at $2,580 for three years. Lexus doesn’t advertise service costs.
VALUE FOR MONEY
The entry point to the Q50 range, the GT trim, is priced from $54,900 and is only available with a 155kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine. Like its brothers in the range, the GT comes with a seven-speed automatic, and offers a healthy standard equipment list. The list of inclusions takes in 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker stereo with DAB digital radio, dual touchscreens, automatic LED headlights with auto high beam, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, 8-way electric front seats with heating and driver’s memory functionality, keyless entry and start, as well as a 360-degree parking camera, rear traffic alert and active lane control. A sunroof can be fitted to the GT for $1,000.
The mid-range Sport Premium is available with the aforementioned turbo four ($62,400), or a a 224kW/400Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 ($70,400); a 298kW/546Nm 3.5-litre V6 hybrid is also on offer ($73,400 for RWD and $75,400 for AWD). Over the GT, the Sport Premium adds forward/reverse AEB with forward collision warning that predicts up to two cars ahead; radar cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with side collision prevention system and distance control assist, which senses a car in front and maintains a safe distance behind it, are also thrown in. The sunroof becomes standard-fit, as do larger 19-inch alloy wheels, a 16-speaker 590-watt Bose sound system, paddle shifters for the steering wheel, and racier exterior styling.
The top spec Q50 Red Sport ($79,900) beefs up the 3.0-litre twin-turbo to outputs of 298kW/475Nm. Inside, the Red Sport package includes black headlining, red stitching for the interior, quilted leather sports seats. Dynamics are improved with an adaptive suspension and there are red calipers for the brakes.
Although the Red Sport is a very quick car, if we were in the market for a Q50 we’d go for the slightly less well-endowed Sport Premium 3.0t V6, which has nearly the same level of equipment as the Red Sport albeit with more restrained exterior styling. The lower tune of the engine allows a driver to better exploit the chassis without constantly enduring the Red Sport’s aggressive ESC tune.
Lexus IS350 Sports Luxury – $83,871
Lexus’ most popular car is the mid-size IS, and with good reason. It’s well priced, it offers a lot of equipment and will no doubt be endlessly reliable. The IS is heavier yet more cramped than rivals, its V6 is thirstier yet less powerful than rivals and only comes with a confused eight-speed automatic transmission. Read our Lexus IS350 review here.
BMW 340i – $91,900
BMW’s legendary 3 Series has been in production for more than 40 years, and this latest F30 generation is one of the best, offering a wide range of drivetrains and a solid equipment list. The 340i combines a wonderful twin turbo six-cylinder engine and clever ZF eight-speed automatic, though its interior isn’t as plush as the Infiniti and it costs $10,000+ more for less power.
Jaguar XE S – $92,700
Jaguar’s first attempt at a rear-wheel drive medium-sized car was released in 2014 to much admiration. Definitely one of the sportiest options in the segment, the top-spec XE S combines a 280kW supercharged 3.0-litre V6 and playful chassis, though its interior is not as plush as the Q50 and much of its equipment remains an option – despite a recent price cut, a significant value equation fix is still needed. Read our Jaguar XE S review here.
|Power||298kW at 6,400rpm|
|Torque||475Nm at 1,600-5,200rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||176kW/tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||9.3L/100km|
|Fuel capacity||80 litres|
|Average range||860 kilometres|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Rear wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||500 litres|
|Cargo space (seats down)||Not listed|