Unleash your potential, says Infiniti’s official web page for the Q50 saloon. I find that catchline ironic because I believe Infiniti itself has not unleashed its full potential as a brand. With the Renault Nissan Alliance as its parent company, Infiniti is in a position of advantage that none of its competitors can boast of. It can tap into Nissan’s reserves of technology and dependable engineering and Renault’s design flair. But a quick glance over the Japanese premium brand’s line-up of cars and SUVs is enough to realise that it hasn’t used either to its full potential. And considering Nissan and Renault have the GT-R and the Renault Sport models in their respective portfolios, it’s baffling that the only Infiniti that we have fond memories of is the G35 and the subsequent G37. It’s also a shame that the Q50 Eau Rouge, which we thought was the car to turn Infiniti’s image around with its 560bhp 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V6 taken straight out of the GT-R, met with a premature death. So all that weight of spearheading the brand makeover and unleashing the true potential has now fallen on the shoulders of the Q50 Red Sport 400, which is Infiniti’s sportiest model in its current line-up.
As you’d imagine, it’s nowhere near as exciting or aggressive as the Eau Rouge super saloon that Infiniti tantalised us with. But the engineers have infused a substantial dose of performance here by replacing the old naturally aspirated, 3.7-litre VQ-series V6 with a new twin-turbo, 3.0-litre VR-series V6. While there’s a 300bhp variant of the same engine, our tester is packed with the six-pot in 400bhp tune, complemented by a generous dollop of torque at 475Nm. The twin-turbo mill is just superb, with negligible lag and blisteringly rapid acceleration. The power surge is effortless and instantaneous, and the torque is delivered over a wide band between 1,600 to 5,200rpm.
Delivering all this to the rear wheels is a smooth seven-speed automatic transmission with column-mounted paddle shifters. The paddles are large and easy to reach from whichever point of the steering your hands are on, but the shifts themselves aren’t as crisp as you’d expect, especially when it has to harness the horses from such a powerful engine. If you want the most involvement, leave the drive mode in either Sport or Sport+. But if it’s a serene yet fast drive you’re looking for, leave it in Standard and let the automatic transmission execute the shifts on its own. At full throttle, the exhaust note is loud, but a little too flat for my liking. A bit more depth to the tone would’ve added substantially to the overall experience. This is one of the best engines we’ve come across in any Infiniti or Nissan, except, of course, that good old 3.8-litre V6.
In the Red Sport, Infiniti has also tweaked the Direct Adaptive Steering, which in earlier models had drawn flak for being aloof and lifeless. And it does feel better than what we remember it from a couple of years ago.
Considering it’s a steer-by-wire system that doesn’t have a real mechanical link with the wheels, the weight and feedback do not feel simulated, although when pushed hard in Sport mode, it feels a bit too heavy. Suspension is an electronically controlled, independent double wishbone set-up with coil springs up front, and independent multi-link at the back, affording balanced handling dynamics.
Pin the throttle from a standing start, the rear tyres peel hunting for traction but settle down soon. Although I didn’t get a chance to take it to the mountains or twisties, it’s easy to see that this Infiniti would be quite tail happy on such roads. Unless you test its limits, it shows good body control and grip.
The ride quality is also great, nicely complemented by the well-appointed interior decked out in rich leather and aluminium trim, with dual LCD infotainment screens taking centre stage on the dashboard. One aspect of the gauges that you won’t miss, especially at night, is how easy on the eyes the backlights are, offering the perfect balance of contrast and brightness. Seats are very comfortable, and the no-nonsense manually extendable thigh support makes a huge difference for drivers and passengers with longer legs. Although the back seats are supportive, the rear of the cabin isn’t as roomy as the front, with the sloping roofline cutting into headroom, especially for tall passengers.
If there’s one thing in abundance here, in addition to the engine’s power, it’s the tech. The generous raft of goodies include active Lane Control, tyre pressure monitoring, hill start assist, six airbags, dual zone adaptive climate control, as well as Infiniti’s handy Around-View monitor. The optional Technology Pack will get you Intelligent Cruise Control, lane departure warning and prevention, blind spot warning and intervention, Forward Emergency Braking, and predictive forward collision warning.
For those of you who expect to stand out from the rest, the Red Sport 400 disappoints, as it looks exactly the same as lesser variants of the Q50, except for the red S badge at the back and the exhaust tips. But if you don’t care about the looks, the Q50 Red Sport 400 is the best-driving Infiniti you can buy now. It hasn’t magically propelled Infiniti to the rarefied world of Ms and AMGs, or even the space occupied by Lexus with its F cars, but this is a great start, which we hope will get it there soon.