2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400: Understated Power

Published on March 3, 2016 in First Drives by Sylvain Raymond

Formerly known as the G37, the Infiniti Q50 is the second-best selling model for Nissan’s luxury brand. It ranks just under the QX60 seven-passenger crossover. Barely two years after Q50’s last makeover, the manufacturer is making some significant changes to the sport sedan, including new lines, more technology and, most importantly, a complete overhaul of the powertrains with more choices than in the past.

This should help Infiniti contend a little better, especially against the German competition, who has been offering a wide range of engines for all tastes and all budgets for years.

A Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder turbo engine

The Q50 hybrid remains unchanged, but considering how few units have been sold these last few years, let’s quickly move on to the new additions. With the goal of making a more affordable entry-level version, Infiniti struck a deal with Mercedes-Benz instead of developing a new engine on its own.

The Q50 2.0t thus gets a German engine, the very same one found in the GLA/CLA duo. This 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder develops 208 horsepower for an impressive 258 lb.-ft. of torque and is paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission, the only one offered for all versions of the Q50. 

While Infiniti decided to outsource its basic engine, it designed the new engine replacing the valiant VQ 3.7-litre six-cylinder. Christened the VR, this new 3.0-litre V6 features reduced piston displacement and, as you can imagine, is more fuel efficient and powerful thanks to a pair of turbochargers. That’s the trend, and Infiniti is hopping on the bandwagon this year.

In the Q50 3.0t Sport, this new engine shows a little more restraint, but it still generates 300 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque just the same. Since all Q50s sold in Canada come with all-wheel drive, the engine sends power to all four wheels, but favours the tail end for the sake of superior performance. 

A technological feat

In the Q50 Red Sport 400, the most powerful of the lot, the engine produces 400 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque due mainly to the addition of a water-to-air intercooler. Two pumps control the flow, maximizing the supply of fresh air to the engine when the demand is greatest.

What’s more, this version is equipped with an optical sensor on the turbocharger that amplifies the turbo’s power by 30% by turning the blades faster in certain conditions, thus generating superior pressure instantly. With the addition of fuel injection and by coaxing 400 horsepower out of a 3.0-litre displacement, the engineers accomplished quite the amazing feat.

Q50 Red Sport 400, the reluctant speedster 

Style-wise, the Q50 has changed, but only slightly. The front grille is new and a few other modifications have been made here and there. Despite the rather plain colour selection, the effect is very nice overall. From an esthetic standpoint, the Q50 is every bit as nice as its German rivals. 

The Q50 Red Sport 400 is distinguished by the red “S” emblem placed near the model name as well as distinctive rims and a discrete spoiler on the trunk. A little more exclusivity would have been welcome for a version with such distinguished DNA. If you’re spending several thousand dollars more on the Red Sport, you’d expect a car that really stands out from the more plebeian versions. 

Mercedes and BMW have a keen understanding of this, and use their AMG and M divisions in all kinds of ways. In this segment, buyers love exclusivity, especially that of the outwardly obvious variety. The problem runs even deeper in the case of Infiniti, which, despite a few inconclusive attemps (you remember IPL, of course), does not have a high-performance division. And yet, Nissan’s NISMO division is doing very well. 

The interior of the Red Sport also comes up short on exclusivity. But the quality of materials and assembly are spot on. Right from the moment you get in, you feel at ease and all of the controls are right where they should be. The seats are very comfortable and offer good lateral support, but slightly sportier buckets would have been nice in the Red Sport 400.

To manage the various on-board systems, there is not one, but two touchscreens, measuring seven and eight inches, respectively. The upper screen displays content while the lower one lets you select different functions and applications. Overall, it’s much more intuitive, which gives it the upper hand over rival systems.

At the wheel of the Q50 Red Sport 400

Only the Red Sport version was available at the launch, so as much as we would have liked to test out the turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it was not meant to be. The 400-hp V6 is surprisingly smooth. It responds instantly and torque is delivered quickly, proving that the engineers did a heck of a job to counter the turbo lag annoyances normally associated with this type of engine. 

The seven-speed automatic gearbox supports the engine very well with efficient, delay-free shifting. Using the tip of your foot, you feel in complete control of the car’s momentum. Depending on your mood, you can adjust the accelerator, transmission and steering responses by selecting one of six driving modes, ranging from the most dynamic (Sport+) to the most fuel-efficient (Eco mode).

Speaking of steering, Infiniti is introducing the second generation of its adaptive steering system. It actively adjusts the steering ratio according vehicle speed and road conditions. It’s smoother at low speeds and more responsive in dynamic conditions while mitigating any imperfections in the road. As a result, you can feel somewhat disconnected from the road.

Infiniti did an excellent job with its new Q50. Its success will depend on the price, and that is still unknown. The manufacturer will have to choose wisely to remain competitive, especially in the case of the Red Sport. Otherwise, buyers are may not be drawn to the model.

Test drive report
Test model 2016 Infiniti Q50
Trim level RED SPORT 400 AWD
Price range $40,000 – $57,000
Price as tested CA$57,000
Warranty (basic) 4 years/100,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 6 years/110,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 12.8 / 9.1 / N/A L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models Acura TLX, Audi A4, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus IS, Lincoln MKZ, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volvo S60
Strong points
  • Choice of engines
  • New high-performance V6 engine
  • Factory-standard all-wheel drive
  • Meticulously crafted cabin
Weak points
  • Styling is overly discrete
  • Few standalone options
  • Bland paint colour selection
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 4.0/5 Good fuel economy when driven moderately
Comfort 4.0/5 Roomy and comfortable, good driving position
Performance 4.5/5 Intense power, factory-standard all-wheel drive and excellent automatic transmission
Infotainment 4.0/5 Simple and intuitive
Driving 4.0/5 Fun to drive
Overall 4.0/5 All that’s lacking is a little visual punch for the Red Sport 400
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