Sporting a fresh design, new technology and a new name, the all-new 2014 Infiniti Q50 is a rear-wheel-drive compact luxury four-door that replaces the Infiniti G37 sedan.
The new nomenclature is the brainchild of erstwhile Infiniti president Johan De Nysschen, the former Audi executive who stuck around just long enough to shake up the company’s naming scheme before heading out the door to Cadillac. While the concept of using a single letter across the brand is logical on paper, the change has left some confused. When you tell someone you’re driving a Q50, expect the response to be, “Is that an SUV?”
Name aside, the Infiniti Q50 sedan has much to offer someone looking for a unique alternative to usual German suspects: Sophisticated design, a powerful V6 engine and plentiful technology features. And while it might not perform like a BMW 3 Series sedan, the Q50 is more engaging to drive than its Mercedes-Benz C-Class counterpart.
Two powertrains are available: the standard Q50 uses a 3.7-liter, 328-horsepower V6 and comes in base, Premium and performance-oriented S variants. The Q50 Hybrid pairs a 3.5-liter V6 with a 50-kw electric motor, along with a lithium-ion battery pack for a net output of 354 hp. Both standard and hybrid Q50s are available with all-wheel drive, and all models come with a 7-speed automatic transmission.
Driving characteristics are mixed. Acceleration is plenty fast (especially in sport mode with the Q50S), brakes are confident, and handling rivals that of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Lexus IS, particularly around town. But steering is perhaps the Q50’s biggest shortcoming; it lacks feedback and feels numb, especially for those used to the BMW steering feel. The car goes where you point it, but has a hollow characteristic like a USB-powered steering wheel hooked up to a home video game console. When pushed hard around corners, the Q50 starts to show its weaknesses in the form of slipping tires and body roll, so we’d say the Q50 is a better freeway cruiser than a track-day star.
Fuel economy for the base gasoline-powered Infiniti Q50 with rear-wheel drive is EPA-rated at 20/30 mpg City/Highway for and 20/29 mpg City/Highway for Q50 Premium and Q50 S models, which is within a mile per gallon or two of most competitors’ V6 engines. Gas mileage drops to 19/27 mpg City/Highway on all models with all-wheel drive. Hybrid Q50 Premium models achieve 29/26 mpg City/Highway, while Q50 S hybrids get 28/34 mpg City/Highway. Fuel economy also drops on hybrids to an EPA-estimated 28/35 mpg for Q50 Hybrid AWD and 27/31 mpg for Q50S Hybrid AWD.
Interior execution is well done, with a simple and elegant cabin design. It’s cleaner than a BMW 3 Series interior, and feels more inviting than the Audi A4’s stark, Bauhaus-style cabin. Seats, however, are large, good for large males but won’t fit an average-size female.
The Infiniti InTouch infotainment system uses two large screens in the center stack: one that displays the map, and another that controls audio, navigation, phone, apps and vehicle settings. We like this setup, which allows users to access other information while still being able to see where they are on the road. The interface is a combination of touchscreen, hard buttons, and a round control knob on the center console, like a mini version of iDrive. The redundancy aims to pacify both screen-touchers and button-pushers, and for the most part is easy to use. However, we found some functions laborious to access, and we found the voice recognition was mediocre at best.
Competitors to the Infiniti Q50 include the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Though it technically competes in the compact luxury segment, the base 2014 Infiniti Q50 is larger than most of its competitors; it measures about six inches longer than the BMW 3 Series, and about five inches longer than the Lexus IS. The Q50 falls short of the larger BMW 5 Series by only about 3 inches. Q50S and hybrid models are even longer than the standard Q50, by about an inch.
Compared with its predecessor, the 2014 Infiniti Q50 has subtle styling changes. The front end is redesigned with a wider front grill opening that's more upright, beset in black mesh instead of the G's horizontal metal lines. Headlight housings are sleeker, and foglamp housings are redesigned with LED accent lights.
From the side, the Q50s lines are more fluid and flowing. The hood is longer and sleeker. Unlike the G sedan, which had a character line flowing through the door handles, the Q50's distinctive crease is higher, flowing from behind the point of the wraparound headlights running above the door handles right beneath the side windows and into a softer, slighting rising rear character line that arcs from the rear door and into the deck lid. The rear window is also redesigned, with a subtle curvature that looks suspiciously like a take on BMW's signature Hofmeister kink.
The Q50 also gets a curvier, more three-dimensional rear end, with redesigned wrap-around tail lamps that blend more seamlessly into the arcing trunk lid. The rear bumper is more sculpted and sits lower, with twin exhaust pipes sitting beneath.
Inside the cabin, features and materials are tasteful. The design is simpler than the interior of the BMW 3 Series, but feels a bit more inviting than the Audi A4's stark, Bauhaus-style cabin.
Seats are supportive, especially in the Q50S which has additional side bolstering for spirited driving. But, they're quite large and feel like they're built for six-foot-four men, and won't fit an average-size female. Anyone with short legs will be driving with their feet sticking straight out, thanks to the unusually long seat cushion that prevents knees from bending.
Standard upholstery on the base and Premium models is vinyl. Leather upholstery came standard with our Q50S, but we found it feels plastic-y, not buttery soft.
Gauges look upscale and are easy to read, with white text on a black background, accented with rings of violet-blue. Between the speedometer and tachometer is a display screen that can switch between fuel economy, audio, navigation and vehicle information. Most of the functions, plus phone, voice recognition and cruise control, can be accessed by the variety of buttons on the multifunction steering wheel.
The Infiniti InTouch infotainment system uses two large screens in the center stack: one that displays the map, and another that controls audio, navigation, phone, apps and vehicle settings. We like this setup, which allows users to access other information while still being able to see where they are on the road. The interface is a combination of touchscreen, hard buttons, plus a round control knob on the center console, like a mini version of iDrive. The ability to access the same information multiple ways aims to pacify both screen-touchers and button-pushers, and for the most part is easy to use. However, we found some functions laborious to access, and we found the voice recognition was mediocre at best.
As with most vehicles in this class, the Q50 lets users tether their smartphones via USB and/or pair via Bluetooth to use phone, music and address book functions. We're fans of the Google maps mobile app over proprietary navigation systems. So we like that if your compatible smartphone is paired via Bluetooth or tethered with the USB cable (in our case, an iPhone 5s), the Google maps voice navigation will play through the car's speakers. The Q50 also offers a text message sending and reading function, but we couldn't get it to work with paired iPhone 5s, iPhone4 or Samsung smartphones.
The standard sound system is competitive with that in any luxury sedan. The upgraded Bose system on our Q50S test car sounded rich, full and crisp, even when playing MP3 files from our iPod and streaming audio at loud volumes. We think it's one of the best stereo systems in the segment.
Backseat space is average for the class, and is relatively comfortable for medium-sized adults on shorter trips. If the driver is tall, there won't be much legroom for the rear passenger. But with the front seat midway or all the way up, the space is livable. Maximum rear legroom measures 35.1 inches, the same as in the BMW 3 Series, and considerably more than the 32.2 inches in the Lexus IS.
Trunk space in the Q50 is relatively roomy at 13.5 cubic feet, slightly more than the 40 cubic feet in the BMW 3 Series and much more than the 10.8 cubic feet in the Lexus IS. Although, we wish there were some side cubbies or nets to store smaller items so they don't go flying around while driving. Premium and S models can also be equipped with a center pass-through for long items and 60/40-split folding rear seats with the optional Deluxe Touring Package.
Driving characteristics are mixed with the 2014 Infiniti Q50. Two powertrains are available: the standard Q50 uses a 3.7-liter, 328-horsepower V6 and comes in base, Premium and performance-oriented S variants. The Q50 Hybrid pairs a 3.5-liter V6 with a 50-kw electric motor, along with a lithium-ion battery pack for a net output of 354 hp. Both standard and hybrid Q50s are available with all-wheel drive.
Our test car was a Q50S, with a sport-tuned suspension and adjustable steering settings. With its 3.7-liter V6, the Q50S is plenty fast. Power is readily available and it's easy to merge and pass on the freeway, even on steep uphill climbs when everyone else around you seems to be struggling.
The throttle is a little neurotic, though; sometimes there's a split second of nothing at tip-in, then whoosh, off you go like a jackrabbit. In our Q50S test car, we could choose from three drive modes: Eco, normal and sport. Even in normal mode, it felt plenty peppy, and we were surprised at first we weren't in sport mode. Kick it into sport, and you get a more enjoyable experience. And if you give it a lot of throttle, it will give a nice satisfying exhaust growl after the kickdown. Although, predictably, fuel economy will suffer if you zoom around in Sport all the time with a heavy foot.
In eco mode, shift points are relaxed and throttle becomes less responsive, but it still feels plenty satisfying for driving around town, and not gutless like the Eco modes used by other manufacturers.
Steering is perhaps the Q50's biggest shortcoming; it lacks feedback and feels numb, especially for those used to the BMW steering feel. The car goes where you point it, but has a hollow characteristic like a USB-powered steering wheel hooked up to a home video game console. Different settings vary the steering effort, but we still felt disconnected, especially compared with the dialed-in steering feel of the BMW 3 Series.
Handling is fine, and is on par with the Lexus IS and Mercedes Benz C-Class. But when pushed hard around corners, the Q50 starts to show its weaknesses in the form of slipping tires and body roll, so we'd say the Q50 is a better freeway cruiser than a track-day star. Braking is good, thanks to ventilated discs all-around.
Fuel economy for our 2014 Infiniti Q50S is rated at 20/29 mpg City/Highway, which isn't bad for a V6 engine, though after a week of driving in mixed environments in mostly normal mode (with occasional stints in both Eco and Sport), we achieved an average of only 17.1 mpg according to our test car's onboard computer.
For those looking for a unique alternative to more popular compact luxury sedans, the 2014 Infiniti Q50 is a solid choice. It offers elegant design, many technology features, and a powerful V6 engine. However, it fails to measure up to some competitors when it comes to ride and handling.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein filed this report after her drive in an Infiniti Q50S around Los Angeles.