All the right ingredients, but Infiniti’s sports sedan needs to simmer a little longer.
– Detroit, Michigan
No matter how carefully I grill meat, prepare beans and rice, slice a ripe avocado, and season the entire affair, my home-cooked tacos never taste quite as good as the ones at my favorite Mexican joint. The ingredients list is correct, yet the secret recipe isn’t quite right. I get the same aftertaste from driving the 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400: All the pieces to build a great sports sedan are there, but the final dish isn’t as mouthwatering as I hoped.
That’s not to say the Infiniti Q50 isn’t an interesting car. The new-for-2016 Red Sport 400 trim level features a biturbo V6 engine with, as the name suggests, 400 horsepower. And Infiniti engineers have worked tirelessly to refine the much-maligned Direct Adaptive Steering steer-by-wire technology that I hated when the Q50 first launched in 2013. Yet all those components put together still aren’t enough to make me fall for the Q50’s spicy new Red Sport flavor.
- The new biturbo engine is a smooth and energetic performer, hurtling toward its redline without any discernible lag from either of the two turbos. The engine is never thrashy or harsh, as could be the case with older Infiniti VQ-series V6 engines; it’s punchy and responsive and feels every one of its 400 ponies. Oddly, the engine runs into a soft limiter a little before the 7,000-rpm redline that’s marked on the tachometer. The seven-speed automatic transmission also sometimes needs a split second to think before it responds to the shift paddles – combine those traits, and I banged into the limiter more times than I care to admit.
- With the deep hues of its Venetian Red paint accentuating the many scallops and convex curves of its bodywork, the Infiniti Q50 looks great. Though I’m not always a fan of excessive chrome trim, it works well on this car. I dig the crescent-cut C-pillar (meant to look like the moon) and double-arch front grille (styled after a bridge over water) on any Infiniti, and the Q50 uses those design elements to make a strong and unique style statement. Too bad that statement is more of elegant luxury cruiser than apex-hunter; even dressed up in RS 400 garb, the Q50’s soft lines and curves don’t extremely scream performance. It’s a pretty, lovely car to look at – I just wish this go-fast version had some much visual punch to match its horsepower rating.
- Leave the suspension in Standard mode, and the Infiniti Q50 is a calm luxury sedan. It smooths out rough roads and blocks out wind noise, keeping occupants really isolated from the outside world. The ride sharpens up in Sport and Sport+ modes should you find an exciting road, but it’s always nice to have the option of keeping your luxury sedan, well, luxurious when you’re not in the mood to play.
- Steering feedback is one of the biggest things that separates a regular car from a great sports car, and the Q50’s Direct Adaptive Steering is its greatest downfall. Technically, the steer-by-wire technology is very clever, able to filter out road crowning and crosswinds, change its steering weight and ratio depending on how you’re driving, and so on. Subjectively, there’s zero realism to turning this steering wheel, no matter which drive mode you use. It’s vague and the weighting bears no relation to steering angle or tire load. I might as well be driving a Nissan Altima for all the driving excitement that comes through to my fingertips.
- On top of the wonky steering, the rest of the Q50’s chassis can’t quite keep up with its gutsy engine. It feels like the car has been kidnapped from its life as a suburban sleeper and forced into duty as a performance car wholly against its will. The rear axle hops and skips when you try to put down all the power, and the suspension becomes confused and floats through quick transitions. Couple that with stability control that’s as strict and as unforgiving as a Catholic-school teacher, and I get the sense this car would rather not have any fun on the road. One bright spot: The upgraded brakes grab hard and feel great underfoot.
- A split-screen infotainment system seems like a great idea because you can see much more information at once, but Infiniti’s InTouch interface leaves me cold. The upper eight-inch display, which primarily shows only map information, has a far lower resolution than the lower seven-inch display. And the lower, primary interface is a complicated jumble of tiles with menus buried within other submenus. I’d rather have one, clear, simple display than two so-so ones. Finally, for all the pieces of information available in the instrument cluster (trip computer, navigation, radio station, etc), the lack of a digital speedometer is an odd omission.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com