Why Q? That question has been haunting Infiniti over the past year like a bad smell that can’t be removed no matter how much Febreze is doused on the offending odor. Ever since the manufacturer announced a wholesale change to the naming convention of all Infiniti models, people have been scratching their heads; why now? Why Q?
|1. Two engines are available, a 3.7L V6 producing 328 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque and a 3.5L V6 hybrid that makes a combined 360 hp.2. The only transmission available for the Q50 is a 7-speed automatic.
3. The Q50 3.7L is rated at 20 MPG city and 30 MPG highway while the Hybrid Q50 is officially rated at 29/36 MPG.
4. Pricing starts at $36,700 with the Q50S Hybrid AWD starting at $48,150.
Well, the answer is simple. Infiniti wants to expand, and wants to expand big. Looking globally, it’s poised to add several new models to the lineup including a new premium compact and new halo/aspirational vehicles. The problem is, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, and most are spoken for by other manufacturers. Mercedes-Benz uses A, B, C, E, S as well as many others and BMW has a few trademarked letters like M, X and Z. Infiniti decided that rather than scrounge whatever left-over letters hadn’t been spoken for yet, it would use the one trademarked by the company for a long, long time; the letter Q.
All cars will begin with the letter Q, followed by a series of numbers ascending in correspondence with vehicle base price. Likewise, all crossovers and SUVs will begin with QX and ascending numbers according to their base price. For 2014 all models will gain this new naming convention, regardless if there are any significant changes to the vehicle or not.
GOODBYE G37, HELLO Q50
At first glance the new Q50 is somewhat familiar looking. Riding the same 112.2-inch wheelbase as the outgoing G37 sedan, the new car is within a few inches of the vehicle it replaces in every dimension.
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A little longer, a little wider and a little shorter, the new Q50 has a more menacing stance than the old G. This also can be attributed to the Q wearing Infiniti’s new corporate look, which first debuted on the Essence concept car. Up front is a ‘double arch’ grille, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights that the manufacturer suggests resembles a human face. We looked hard at the front fascia and decided it resembles a human face as much as Johnny Five does.
This new shape is incredibly aerodynamic though with base Q50s and hybrid Q50s achieving a coefficient of drag of just 0.26, and zero aerodynamic lift in the front or rear. Both A and B pillars are thinner than found on the G sedan which improves passenger entry and exit as well as sightlines all around.
GOOD LOOKING AND HIGH TECH
Dominating the center console of the Q50’s interior are two touch-screens, 8-inches and 7-inches in size, stacked on top of one another. They are fully customizable and control all aspects of the HVAC and infotainment systems as well as vehicle settings. The screens are surrounded by a combination of “Kacchu” aluminum, optional maple wood trim and leather surfaces.
The optional 14-speaker BOSE stereo system sounds fantastic thanks to careful speaker location that includes three woofers – one in each front door and one in the rear parcel shelf; great for bragging rights at the next coffee shop car meet. While at it, why not show off the optional solid magnesium paddle shifters that are some of the nicest we have seen.
The Q50 has Infiniti’s InTuition system that stores all customizable features, like driver and vehicle settings, via the Intelligent Key. Switch keys and the settings are changed automatically; no resetting the car every time your significant other of teen goes for a ride.
Speaking of teens, Infiniti Connection is now available as an app for iPhones or Androids and allows settings to be programmed onto the Q50 that will send notifications to your smartphone should your car exceed a certain pre-set speed, or drive outside a predetermined regional boundary.
For those who prefer to drive their family around rather than toss them the keys, there is ample space for four adults with the back seat easily accommodating those over 6-feet tall. The regular sedan has a decent sized trunk at 13.5 cu-ft while the previously mentioned hybrid gives up some cargo space for batteries, and capacity shrinks to 9.4 cu-ft.
ONE OLD ENGINE, ONE NEW ENGINE
Powering the Q50 is a choice of two engines. The base engine is a familiar 3.7L V6 that still produces the same 328 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque as found in last year’s G37 sedan. Joining the venerable V6 for the first time in a smaller Infiniti sedan will be a hybrid option. Borrowed from the M35h, a 302 hp 3.5L V6 is paired up to a 67 hp electric motor that produces a combined output of 360 hp. This hybrid system adds some serious weight to the Q50 and raises the base weight from 3,574 lbs. to 3,913 lbs.
Despite the weight increase and power bump, the hybrid is still the more efficient Q50. Rear-wheel drive hybrid models are rated at 29 mpg city and 36 mpg highway compared to gasoline-only rear-wheel drive Q50s that are rated at 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. During a few hours of mostly highway driving, saw a 4-5 mpg gap between the two powertrains on average.
The Q50’s 3.7L is responsive when on throttle and overall performance feels very similar to the G37, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given engine output remains unchanged and curb weight is nearly identical.
The hybrid, on the other hand, has a bit of a delay when first attempting to accelerate as the electric motor is overwhelmed momentarily and waits for the gasoline engine to engage to get the Q50 moving. Once beyond crawling speeds, the hybrid is noticeably more powerful and seamlessly transitions between electric-only mode and hybrid mode depending on current driving conditions.
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The only transmission available for either engine is a 7-speed automatic for both all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive Q50s. As with most 7-speed automatics from Infiniti, this gearbox is smooth and always in the proper gear for regular driving. But pick the pace up, and the transmission lags between gearshifts and takes too long to downshift via the paddle shifters; if only Infiniti had a dual clutch gearbox to install in the Q50.
Naturally, having a three time Formula 1 world champion as your, *ahem* ‘director of performance’ means Infiniti is quick to point out that Sebastian Vettel had some input on the Q50’s chassis tuning.
Two levels of tune are available for the Q50, with the upgraded S model receiving beefier shocks and 19-inch aluminum-alloy sport wheels with 245/40R19 tires replacing the stock 225/55R17 tires. Throttle response, shift patterns and steering effort can all be adjusted as well via a toggle switch on the centre console.
DISCONNECTED STEERING; LITERALLY
However, it is Infiniti’s new steering system that is grabbing all the headlines. A conventional power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system is standard in the Q50, but also available as an upgrade is Infiniti’s new Direct Adaptive Steering. A clutch connects the steering rack to front wheels when the vehicle is powered down to allow for manual maneuverability if needed. However, once the vehicle is powered up, the clutch disconnects and the car becomes 100 percent steer-by-wire; there is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel in your hands and the front tires on the road. This system allows independent control of the Q50’s tire angle and steering inputs and is supposed to translate a driver’s intentions to the wheels faster than a mechanical system.
This is all great in theory, but does it work? Well, after five hours behind the wheel I have to say that yes, it does. The steering can be customizable through three levels of steering effort and two different ratios. In the stiffest setting with the quickest ratio, turn in is quick and precise with feedback being decent, but not great; there is only so much that can be done with a wholly artificial set-up.
As with any modern luxury car, the Q50 also comes with all the latest safety technology to help avoid a collision. This includes an all-new system called Active Lane Control (ALC). It uses cameras all around the vehicle to help keep the Q50 in its lane while driving. It further enhances normal lane departure warnings and works very well – almost too well.
When driving on the freeway, easy to moderate bends in the road are no problem for this ALC system. It makes it possible to take your hands off the steering wheel and let the car mosey down the road flawlessly – not that you ever would or should. Combined with adaptive cruise control and crash detection systems, the Q50 is one step away from being an autonomous driving car; on the highway at least.
The Q50 3.7 will begin arriving in showrooms soon at a base price of $36,700, which undercuts the BMW 335i, Mercedes-Benz C 350 and Lexus IS 350 by thousands. The top of the line Q50S Hybrid AWD begins at $48,150 and in total ten trims and eight option packages will be offered.
With new technology, sexy styling, a hybrid option and attractive pricing, Infiniti has a solid product on its hands; one that hopefully won’t get lost in the brand’s confusing new naming strategy.
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