The following scenario will happen: A car-liking passerby will spot the new Infiniti Q50 parked on the street or in a mall garage. He’ll approach the car while declaring to his non-car-liking companion, “Hey, that’s a new Infiniti G.” And then he’ll glance at the badge on the trunk, eyes squinting as he sees the Q50 badge. “The what?”
An unforeseen move to rename its entire lineup—all cars now start with Q, all SUVs with QX— in one fell swoop has generated more publicity for Nissan’s luxury marque than has any one of its vehicles in recent memory. The Q50 is the first vehicle out of Infiniti’s Q-loaded chute; that is, it’ll be the first to be formally sold as a Q when it goes on sale this summer.
The Q50 replaces only the G37 Sedan because the duo formerly known as the G37 Coupe and Convertible will reemerge as the Q60. Commence head-scratching. Often, it’s best to not mess with what works.
But it’s doubly critical these Qs get it right because they’re the brand’s livelihood and hope to conquer a greater piece of the luxury sport sedan pie. It’ll be interesting to see how the Q50/Q60 split pans out, especially in light of segment stalwart BMW spinning off all two-door 3 Series vehicles as the 4 Series.
So the naming scheme may have been upended, but the bodywork is undeniably derived from the outgoing G37. Infiniti senior vice president and chief creative officer Shiro Nakamura claims the Q50’s appearance is “highly personal, seductive, and slightly mysterious.”
We see a car with the same 112.2-inch wheelbase as the G37 Sedan, mind fully sculpted with an attitude keen on not offending current customers. More graceful lines and design cues previewed by past concepts such as the Essence are embedded in the Q50’s skin, forming a swoopier and unmistakable outline. The front face is updated, but the revised “double arch” front grille instantly betrays the brand identity. Down the side, the “hips” around the “cres-cent-cut” C-pillars are insta-Infiniti. Perhaps most important in this day and age, the exterior design team played extra nice with the engineering division. Their combined efforts produced a revitalized sedan with an aerodynamically pleasing 0.26 coefficient of drag. (The four-door G37 measured 0.29.)
A luxury car needs a luxury atmosphere. Just as the G37 had to step up its game over the class-shaking G35 in cabin material quality, presentation, and colors, the Q50 distinguishes itself with fresh features. Kacchu aluminum accents and optional Fukiurushi maple wood trim complement the three available interior colors of Graphite, Stone, and Wheat. The seats incorporate a new economically focused design for added comfort. Active Noise Control, a noise-cancelling system that uses the door’s audio speakers to reduce cabin din, is standard. Ingress and egress are reputedly easier than before.
The center stack houses the Infiniti InTouch telematics system, composed of two touch screens with customizable displays, hand-gesture operation, and a suite of software apps. The top display engages the driver’s eye level, making it the ideal and safest location for a critical function like a navigation map. The bottom display can take care of secondary and tertiary actions such as nav input for the map above, smartphone integration, and accessing Facebook, Fandango, Twitter, and Yelp apps. Drivers unwilling to fully surrender to touch-capacitive screens should be placated by the climate-control switches flanking the lower screen, along with the buttons for the sound system and a volume-control knob at the stack’s base.
Can’t get enough technology? Smart i-Keys allow up to four different driver profiles (one per key fob) to be programmed into the car. These profiles are recognized by i-Key coding and the Q50’s controls adjust accordingly. Going beyond the expected memory-seat assignment, up to 96 settings can be set for each of the four drivers, including cabin temperature and telematics connectivity. Each Q50 will be sold with only two i-Keys, so owners will have to pony up for two more for the full benefit.
The battle-tested VQ-series 3.7-liter V-6 rated at 328 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque comes over from the G37 Sedan. If 11 presumably shoulder most of the Q50 sales, because the only other powertrain option involves an electric motor. The potential for a very rapidly accelerating car is high with the Q50 Hybrid, since it employs the hybrid guts of the bigger M35h (5.1-second 0-60-mph).
The Q50’s combined hybrid system power rating is 354 hp, a mere 6 hp less than the M35h (soon to be the Q70). A seven-speed automatic transmission comes standard (paddle shifters can be selected) with either mill, and there’s no sign of the old six-speed manual. Fuel economy numbers have yet to be released. There are rumors of different engines making it into the Q50 farther down the line, but there’s already a unique proposition right before our eyes.
Rear drive is the default drivetrain, and AWD will be offered with the 3.7-liter and hybrid. Save for the luxury yacht Lexus LS 600h L, every other vehicle that’s both AWD and a hybrid is a crossover (Toyota Highlander), SUV (Porsche Cayenne), or pickup truck (Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra). Until the high-performance Acura NSX arrives, the AWD Q50 Hybrid might offer as much driving fun as you can get in this narrow niche.
An AWD hybrid is neat, but there’s a cool chassis story, too. Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s triple Formula 1 world driver’s champion Sebastian Vettel and reserve driver Sebastien Buemi both took turns shaking down development mules. In what can’t be a coincidence, Infiniti touts the Q50’s improved front body stiffness. (F1 drivers are known to be quite sensitive to front roll stiffness, which contributes to steering feel and helps a driver detect handling and stability limits.) Double A-arm and multilink suspensions reside in front and out back, respectively, supported by Dual Flow Path shock absorbers co-developed with KYB. Sport models will be fitted with a starchier setup.
But wait, there’s more. The Direct Adaptive Steering feature is a serious step toward the steer-by-wire era, and here, we’re still figuring out the intricacies of electric power steering. Before we ramble on, let’s make it clear the steer-by-wire is not mandatory on the Q50—a plain old hydraulic steering system aims to please the majority of buyers. Those who dive into the brave new world will be presented with four different steering settings tied to the drive mode selector, where Custom is the most intriguing setting. Since DAS software can manipulate the front tire angle via electric motor independently of steering input, the driver can choose a preferred steering gear ratio within the range of the system. Steering effort may also be changed, but the main consumer-centric reason for DAS’ existence is because it promotes a smooth driving experience by damping road imperfections. Should the steer-by-wire system encounter a fault, the steering wheel shaft mechanically clutches to the steering rack so the driver can maintain control.
A detailed road test will reveal how well DAS works, but a longer outlook foresees endless theoretical steering behavior/personalization possibilities courtesy of steer-by-wire. It’s not limited to RWD Q50s either, as first suspected. All models regardless of engine, driveline, and suspension choice will carry the option.
Also debuting is Active Lane Control, which uses a camera mounted above the rearview mirror to maintain straight-line tracking with steering corrections and will be bundled with the QSO’s Lane Departure Prevention system.
There’s no doubt the G37…er, Q50 will continue to be Infiniti’s most important, best-selling car—even with an unfamiliar name.