Drivers in the market for a sporty and luxurious compact sedan will typically gravitate towards the German brands like Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
But Japanese automakers have been playing catchup to the Germans, and they are getting really close to offering some seriously competitive cars, and Infiniti has been working double time on nailing the formula. Here we have the 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 and the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG, two high-performance versions of each brand’s popular compact sedan. Both cars have AWD, a seven-speed automatic and twin-turbo V6s, and compared side by side, the two are quite similar on paper, but when driven, the two feel entirely different.
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Under the Hood
The biggest upgrade the Q50 Red Sport 400 gets over the regular model is a higher-performing twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that gets 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which is nothing to laugh about because those are serious numbers. The Benz also gets a 3.0-liter biturbo V6, but with 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, which is less horsepower but more torque than the Infiniti. The C450 is also slightly more fuel efficient with a rating of 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, compared to the Q50’s 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway rating.
Driven back to back, the torque difference is very obvious because the C450 feels much quicker and more immediate, but the disparity is magnified because the Mercedes weighs about 300 pounds less than the Infiniti. The Mercedes also sounds like a sports car with that signature AMG burble shouting all its bad intentions to the world, where the Q50 is quiet and sounds more reserved (although to its credit, the cabin is also more hushed).
The Q50 Red Sport also gets a new optional direct adaptive steering system that makes the sedan more engaging and massive brakes that are not available on other Q50 models.
The Benz’s steering is a bit too light in regular mode, but thrown into Sport mode, it firms things up nicely and gives the steering some weight. The C450 feels like a small car and is easily more nimble than the Red Sport, which feels larger because of the heavier steering and the extra weight it’s carrying around. The Benz’s seven-speed transmission is also quick and really responsive, where the Q50’s takes a beat to to get going. Infiniti’s system is more high-tech, however, because it has adaptive shift control, a new system that senses and learns a driver’s style and adapts the shifting accordingly.
Driven around winding roads, the Mercedes holds a line like a pro, feeling natural and confident when flung around corners. The suspension is much better sorted than the Infiniti, and it feels like the C-Class has more grip. The Infiniti didn’t feel as confident when driven quickly and although it was far from squirrely, we weren’t as comfortable really pushing the Q50 has hard as we pushed the Benz.
Both cars look the part of luxury sport sedan, but the Benz gives you more clues that this isn’t your standard C-Class. I wish Infiniti did more to the exterior style to differentiate it from the regular Q50 — this is the high-performance one, so it should have more aggressive looks to match. The Benz has much more aggressive flair, but it should be noted that Mercedes charges a lot of money for those upgrades.
One of the best features in the Q50 is the driver assistance technology, and it has almost every system imaginable and it’s one of the best systems on the market.
It all starts with the Q50’s radar sensor, which is so advanced it can see two cars ahead, where most systems can only see the car directly in front of you. That means that the automatic braking is extremely smooth and natural feeling. Beyond that, the lane keep is excellent and it all pairs nicely for a high-tech, semi autonomous driving experience that has to be among the most advanced in the industry.
The Benz has similar tech, but it doesn’t feel as smooth or intuitive to use. The adaptive cruise control stalk is also hidden behind the steering wheel, and you have to take your eyes off the road to use it.
|Vehicle||Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400||Advantage||Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG|
|Engine||3.0L twin-turbo V6||-||3.0L biturbo V6|
|Horsepower||400 HP||Q50||362 HP|
|Torque||350 lb-ft||C450||384 lb-ft|
|Transmission||7-Speed Automatic||-||7-Speed Automatic|
|Weight||4,054 lbs||C450||3,748 lbs|
|Rear Legroom||35.1 inches||C450||35.2 inches|
|Trunk room||13.5 cubic feet||Q50||12.6 cubic feet|
|Fuel Economy (US)||19 MPG city, 27 MPG hwy||C450||21 MPG city, 29 MPG hwy|
|Starting Price (US)||$49,950||Q50||$50,800|
|Starting Price (CDN)||$54,600||Q50||$55,900|
|As Tested Price (US)||$59,045||Q50||$68,125|
|As Tested Price (CDN)||$60,337||Q50||$76,995|
The Mercedes has a gorgeous interior, but you pay dearly for it. Nearly every pretty finish in the C450’s cabin is an optional extra that really drives up the price. The beautiful matte silver trim on the center console? It costs an extra $1,300 in the U.S. The slick red leather? That’s another $2,150. What about that cool head-up display and 360-degree camera? That’s $1,500 and $590, respectively.
Still, the Mercedes’ cabin outclasses the Infiniti’s even without those fancy trim bits. It feels more modern and has a more coherent design. The Q50’s cabin looks a bit more dated and cobbled together and the two-screen setup is very strange. The infotainment system is also wonky and hard to use. The C450’s infotainment system isn’t the most user-friendly either, but a really advanced voice recognition system makes it much easier to live with.
The Verdict: 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 vs Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG
There’s no getting around the fact that the Mercedes is a hell of a lot more expensive than the Infiniti and the Q50 is way more affordable. But even if you take out all the expensive options to get the prices closer together, the Mercedes is still a better performer, it feels a lot sportier, looks much more modern inside and is still the better luxury car out of these two.
The Infiniti isn’t that far behind the C-Class, however, especially in terms of technology. When you take into account how expensive the Mercedes is, you really realize that the Q50 has a ton of value and it doesn’t charge you out the wazoo for optional extras, which is something we really appreciate.
Infiniti Q50 Red Sport
Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG