By CL Member Request, a Review of the 2014 Infiniti Q50
IN A NUTSHELL: Well-built and with good fit/finish, but the marketing is needlessly complex.
CLOSEST AMERICAN-MARKET COMPETITORS: Lexus IS350, Cadillac CTS, Audi A4, BMW 335, Mercedes C300,
(The Jaguar XF 3.0 roughly competes in specs, but is in a higher price-range)
(Non-Hybrid trunk with floor protector)
Sorry, folks.....I know I've been a little behind on my auto reviews lately. I haven't forgotten you, and those of you who made requests (Currently, I have at least three requests pending.....Infiniti Q50, Audi A3, and Chevrolet SS). I've had a lot happening in my life lately, not only with my usual postings on CL, but also with a couple of new devices (Apple i-Phone and MacBook Air) I'm still trying to get used to and figure out. In addition, though the new MacBook is nice and works fine (the Verizon technician did a good job installing the FIOS Wi-Fi system itself, and everything worked properly), it took THREE WEEKS for the company and its contractors to come back and finally get the outside cable (which runs outside my townhouse and is attached to the common Verizon box in our condo) buried properly. I won't bore you with the details, except to say that it was not a pleasant experience, a trip-hazard for some my neighbors and their pets, and a PITA when the weekly grass-mowers came by.
Anyhow, fortunately, that nightmare is over, and I hope I don't have to go through it again. So, now, on to the reviews...let's get the Q50 done.
The new Q50 line, indirectly and not exactly, traces its origin to Infiniti's long-running, almost 13-year-old G35 sedan line (the G-line also included sport-coupes), which was introduced to the American market in 2002 as a response to Lexus's then-new IS300 and the popular BMW 3-series sport-sedans. When the new Q50 sedan line was announced (Infiniti is taging some of its newer models with Q/number designations), I was under the impression (as was much of the auto press) that it would replace the G-sedan line, but that has not been the case. The marketers have apparantly decided to keep the G-series in the American market as the entry-level line, while slotting the Q50 one step up as an intermediate line between the G and the new Q70 flagships (which replace the old M-series sedans). The Q60 line now replaces the former G35 sport-coupes.
You will (probably) have quite a time selecting the exact version of the Q50 you want. The marketers sure must have fun coming up with this one....there are ten different trim-lines in all. For 2014, six different trim lines of the non-Hybrid Q50 are offered in the American market....Q50 3.7, Q50 3.7 AWD, Q50 3.7 Premium, Q50 3.7 AWD Premium, Q50S 3.7, and Q50S 3.7 AWD, All non-hybrid models use a 3.7L V6 with 328 HP, 269 Ft-Lbs. of torque, 7-speed Sport-Shift automatic transmission, and, of course, come in either RWD or AWD as indicated. Hybrid models come in 4 different versions....Q50 Hybrid Premium, Q50 Hybrid AWD Premium, Q50S Hybrid, and Q50S AWD. All Hybrid models come with a 3.5L V6 and 50 KW electric motor with 360 total HP, 258 Ft-lbs. gas and 214 Ft-lbs. electric-motor torque. Hybrid models also have, as standard, Infiniti's controversial Direct Adaptive Steering, which retains a conventional steering wheel, steering rack, and shaft, but eliminates some of the direct mechanical connections. The car essentially steers by computer when you turn the wheel (more on this system below). All non-Hybrid models come standard with conventional vehicle-speed-sensitive power steering, with the Direct Adaptive system optional on upper-line models....see the web site for details. Base prices range from $37,150 to $46,800 depending on the model.
The Infiniti shop I was at had a fair selection of new Q50s, but, with some ten different separate trim-models, it's hard to keep a good selection of all of them in stock. In addition, one brand-new, unsold, dark gray AWD Premium sitting on the lot had a set of huge aftermarket Vossen wheels and ultra-low-profile tires mounted on it....apparantly for someone who either wanted to show off or simply wanted a lot more grip than was available with factory rubber and hardware. They just had the standard factory price-sticker on it (which said factory 17" run-flat tires)...and didn't bother to formally note the Vossens with a separate sticker. I didn't choose that one for two reasons....first, I figured it would have a very stiff ride, and second, it wouldn't be an accurate example of the ride/handling that comes out of the factory, which is what the review request wanted. The request was also for a non-sport Q50, so I assumed that ultra-sharp handling/steering was not a major issue either.
For the actual review, I checked out a couple of different interiors on various Q50s sitting on the lot, and, for the test-drive, chose a 3.7 AWD Premium model in a nice brownish Chestnut Bronze color with black leatherette interior. It did not have the Direct Adaptive Steering, but, for some reason, even with their fairly good stock, dealerships in this area don't seem to be ordering non-Hybrid models with that feature, preferring to leave it to the Hybrids, where it is, of course, standard. The review request did not specify a hybrid model, so I figured I'd test-drive a conventional-steer AWD model, as AWD can be a handy feature in bad weather. The salespeople were all third up with customers for the Memorial Holiday sale, so nobody rode with me...they got me a dealer-plate and the electronic start-fob and sent me out alone, as they felt I was trustworthy. It was a fairly nice test-drive....but with a close call.....more on that below.
MODEL REVIEWED: 2014 Infiniti Q50 3.7 AWD Premium
BASE PRICE: $41,350
NAV Package: $1400
All Weather Package: $230
Cargo Package: $180
Splash Guards: $190
Illuminated Kick-Plates: $400 (a gimmick, IMO)
Spare Tire Package: $200
DESTINATION/FREIGHT: $905 (a little stiff for a car of this size)
LIST PRICE AS REVIEWED: $44,855
DRIVETRAIN: AWD, Longitudinally-mounted 3.7L V6, 328 HP @ 7000 RPM, Torque 269 Ft-lbs. @ 5200 RPM, 7-Speed Sportshift automatic transmission with rev-matching downshifts.
EPA MILEAGE RATING: 19 City, 27 Highway, 22 Combined
EXTERIOR COLOR: Chestnut Bronze
INTERIOR: Black Monotone Leatherette
Good reliability of most Infiniti products.
Torquey, fairly refined V6.
Smooth-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission.
Transmission rev-downshift match feature saves jerks to the drive-line.
Smooth, responsive brakes.
Reasonably comfortable ride with 17" wheels.
Fairly good road/wind-noise isolation.
Fore/Aft transmission shifter....no zig-zags.
Impressive interior trim materials and hardware.
Superb metallic paint jobs despite the mostly dull colors.
Generally comfortable front seats.
Well-designed, legible gauges.
Arctic-grade air conditioning.
Killer stereo sound quality.
Nicely-done imitation leather.
First-class assembly quality.
Fairly solid-closing doors.
Confusing and complex model/trim-level choice.
Occasionally jumpy throttle from rest.
Very poor underhood layout for do-it-yourselfers.
No body-side moldings for parking lot protection.
Temporary spare tire (except with run-flat tires)....and it is a $200 option at that.
Run-Flat tires expensive to replace and ride stiffly.
Cramped rear seat headroom and legroom.
Mediocre trim in the cargo area.
Cargo area not particularly roomy (less so in Hybrid model).
Standard rear seats do not fold for added space without trim-packages.
Relatively sparse dealer network for service/repairs.
The basic Q50 body-style is fairly typical of newer Infiniti products, and it is relatively easy to recognize it as a member of the Infiniti sedan family. Though slightly different from its sister G-series, it looks quite a bit like a scaled-down Q70. Up front, like on the QX60 SUV, is a somewhat smaller, scaled-down version of the Lexus spindle-grille....Yes, I'd probably call it a copy, since Infiniti considers Lexus, not Acura, to be its closest target competitor. The body sheet metal is a little on the thin side, yet seems to be of sufficient solidness that it won't necessarily buckle very time an acorn drops off an oak tree. (but, trust me.......don't put it past some of those acorns). The four doors shut with a precise and reasonably solid sound/feel....but you can tell that they aren't bank vaults. I was VERY impressed with the paint jobs, even though, like with many luxury/upmarket cars, I found most of the seven shades offered a little on the dull side. But, nevertheless, even though the paint jobs didn't shine as intensely as, say, on an Audi or Lexus, the mirror-smooth metallic-effect they have is excellent, and really gives it a quality look and feel. Too bad the bean-counters decided to leave off side-mouldings that would have helped protect that nice paint job in parking lots. The new side moor housings were mounted in a manner that don't give them quite as solid or slick a feel as on previous Infiniti products when swiveling/snap-locking, and the housings have rather thin-feeling plastic. But nice integrated turn-signals are included in both housings. Tap the horn (as with the fob-button locking on the doors), and it will assault the ears loud enough to bring Zombies back to life. This horn might get you a ticket in noise-sensitive areas.
Lift the hood, which has fairly thin sheet metal yet still feels rather solid but not heavy, and two nice gas-filled struts hold it up for you. (Thanks, Infiniti....I get tired of seeing manual prop-rods in 40-50K vehicles). On the underside is the usual sound-insulation pad (only really low-price entry-level vehicles seem to lack a pad nowadays). The engine compartment, though, typical for luxury/upmarket vehicles nowadays, is clearly not designed for Do-it-Yourselfers or shade-tree mechanics. The longitudinally-mounted 3.7L V6 is crammed in with and under a sea of engine, battery, and component-covers that block access to just about everything but the oil-dipstick and a couple of filler-caps/reservoir containers....and even THEY can be fairly difficult to each through holes and openings in the covers.
The Q50's interior was, IMO, definitely one of the car's better features. In general, I was well-impressed with it, although it shares one shortcoming with much of its competition...a tight back seat and lack of rear headroom/legroom. But, overall, Infiniti didn't seem to cut corners inside, and the trim materials were generally nice. Above, the sun-visors and headliner had a pleasant, fairly soft fabric/velvet covering. The steering wheel seemed well-designed, with firm, positive buttons/switches and a comfortable leather stitching. The two primary gauges were clear and easy to read. Headroom was OK up front for tall people like me in baseball caps, but, as I said earlier, inadequate in the rear....ditto for legroom. I found the front seats were generally comfortable despite short lower cushions and a lack of thigh-support, though a little firm in the cushion for my tastes (perhaps because I've gotten used to relatively soft Buick seats lately). Upholstery comes in real leather or Leatherette, depending on the model. Unlike with some German cars, I found the Leatherette to be virtually the same as the real stuff in feel and appearance....I was quite impressed with it. Such is also the case with Lexus....I am also impressed with the NuLuxe fake-leather that is used in their vehicles. And that's probably good for Animal-Rights advocates (I agree with some, but not all, of their philosophy)....cows aren't being raised and killed just to line car seats. Most of the switches/buttons/controls inside were fairly solid-feeling and operated with reasonable precision.....although the round ****-controller on the console for the graphics had a somewhat loose, floating feel to it and some markings on it that took some getting used to.
Three different interior colors are offered (Wheat, Stone, Graphite), and two different accent-trims (Kacchu Aluminum and Maplewood) On most cars (as many of you know), I end to prefer the lighter interiors because they usually go with the wood trims I prefer (darker interiors, with some automakers, often go with metallic trim, though some have wood tone as well). With the Q50, I found something unusual....I liked the dark interior and the nice knitted-aluminum trim on the console, dash, and door panels just as much, if not more, than the light interior and woodtone. The aluminum had a VERY nice touch and texture to it, did not feel cheap or second-rate like some metallic trim does, seemed like real aluminum and not fake, and had almost the look of carbon-fiber (another texture I've always liked). In contrast, the striped pattern on the Maplewood was not the best-looking texture I've seen, and did not give a very convincing case for real wood. But it wasn't cheap-feelng either, and, IMO, made for a perfectly good alternative to the aluminum. The stereo sound was Killer to say the least.....IMO one of the most impressive units I've heard short of the Lexus LS460's insanely good Mark Levinson. I didn't have my CDs / DVDs with me today, but, on a great stereo like that, I could just imagine James Brown hollering into the mike and doing his classic Funk routine.....and not being able to hear any emergency sirens outside the car. The center-dash graphic screen, like most of them, was more complex than I'd like, but, IMO, not one of the worst I've seen by any means.
The rear roofline, like on most of today's sedans, compromises the size of the trunk lid itself and, to some extent, limits the size of large objects that can be stuffed through it. But the trunk lid itself opens with a pleasant fluid-motion, courtesy of articulated damper-hinges that allow it to open past vertical to keep it out of the way of your head. Inside, as expected, there is somewhat more cargo room in the non-hybrids due to the large hybrid battery packs behind and under the rear seat. Although there is a small lockable pass-through in the center of the rear seat for long items like fishing rods and skis, the rear seats don't fold down in the non-hybrid versions for extra space unless you get the optional Touring Package. In the hybrids, of course, the battery pack prevents folding. Most of the Q50s I looked at had a custom-fitted, Subaru-like rubber floor liner to protect the trunk from dirt and moisture. The liner is probably not necessary, since the thin black fabric/carpet lining the floor and walls is not that impressive looking/feeling for a car of this price. So, it won't doesn't matter much if it gets dirty (though I myself like to keep a clean car regardless). On the versions without run-flat tires, under the floor is (you guessed it) the usual temporary spare tire. On top of the usual insult of having a temporary spare instead of a real one is a nice round $200 extra that Infiniti extorts out of your pocket for the privilege of having even THAT temporary one. Ralph Nader....where are you when we actually NEED you?
ON THE ROAD:
Start up the ubiquitous 3.7L Nissan/Infiniti V6 with an electronic fob and a nice engine START/STOP button....pretty much standard now for this class of vehicle.The V6 starts and idles fairly refined, but not quite Lexus-smooth or quiet. The throttle can be a jumpy in some cases from rest...other times, smooth and normal. When it does decide to jump, though, the car can scoot forward quickly, so give yourself a little breathing room behind the car in front of you.
On the road, the 3.7L has some spunk, even with the added weight/drag of AWD (which, IMO, is worth the extra cost on this car). Give it some gas, especially in the lower gears, and it will press you firmly into the driver's seat, though it stops a little short of what I'd call classic muscle-car acceleration like, say, with a Hemi Charger or Challenger. I found the relatively loud exhaust under acceleration (especially on this non-Sport model) somewhat annoying. It was, IMO, louder than necessary, since this this relatively sophisticated sedan is not intended to be a rumbler like the Mustang GT.
The 7-speed Sport-Shift transmission was a pleasure to use. The shifter works fore-aft (without those annoying zig-zags), shifter action is smooth yet crisp, both manual and automatic shifts are smooth, and a nice rev-matching fears saves jerks to the drivetrain when downshifting.....this is a feature that automatics, IMO, should have adopted long ago. A drive-mode **** on the console programs the engine/transmission between ECO, Normal, and SNOW modes. The brakes were also a pleasure to use, with a smooth, soft (but not mushy) feel, and almost instant response despite the soft-feeling pedal...which, in my experience, is unusual. Usually, to get quick response, you have a very firm pedal like on German sports-sedans.
The chassis/suspension was fairly well-designed, though I wouldn't quite compare it to an older BMW 3-series. My car, of course, had the conventional power steering without the Direct Active Steering's all-electronic connections, and, as such, didn't exhibit any quirky responses (I haven't directly sampled the Adaptive Steering myself, but you can read about its quirks in other reviews). The steering on my test-car was responsive, but not particularly quick by the standards of today's semi-sport sedans. The car's relatively center of gravity, however, kept body roll in check, and, while road and wind noise were kept in reasonably good check, it was not the quietest car I've seen in this class....which only added to the exhaust noise. Ride comfort, with the 17" factory-wheels/tires, was reasonably comfortable, though a little stiffer than I'd like.
Now, a word of caution. Most of my test-drive and reviews go by safely, without a hitch. But today, I had a fairly close call...the closest one since several years ago when I had an encounter with a Honda Civic driver while reviewing a 107K Porsche Panamera. I was taking the Q50 down a winding, fairly narrow 2-lane road......one of the roads I typically take in this area while reviewing cars to check handling. I was doing about 40 or so when, just a couple of hundred feet in front of me, heading towards me, a Mercedes C-Class (ironically, one of the Q50's closest competitors) wandered partly across the center line. His tire and fender were clearly in part of my lane, though not quite far enough for a head-on collision. Though the road was narrow, I had JUST enough room to veer to the right, keep control of the car, keep my wheels on solid pavement, and miss the errant car by a few feet. This shows how important it is always buckle up, watch what you are doing, keep your eyes on the road (particularly on narrow roads) and NOT be fiddling around with cell-phones, GPS/NAV systems, texting, or overly-complex controls while driving.
Overall, IMO, the Q50 is a pretty good attempt on Infiniti's part to come up with a nice, mid-grade, semi-luxury / semi-sport sedan with an interior and fit/finish that beats the long-running G-series. The G-series, of course, still remains in production (at least in the American market....not sure about elsewhere), but I think that most people who compare the G with the Q50 will end up buying the Q, even with an added cost. The Q50 compares, on average, favorably with most of its competition, especially since the new BMW 3-series aren't quite the pure Driving Machines they were for decades. Fit/finish is excellent, interior materials are clearly a step above the G, and the driving experience, while not ultra-luxury or sport, is generally nice.
But several flies are still in the ointment. The marketing and model-classification of the various trim-levels is needlessly complex, which makes just choosing one possibly a difficult job. The dealer network, though not extremely sparse, is far enough apart that, particularly in less-populated areas, you may have to go some distance to find one. The jumpy electronic throttle from rest needs some reprogramming. The back seat (like much of its competition, I might add), is better suited for Munchkins than adult Americans. The underhood layout, IMO, is acceptable only you don't do any work at all on the engine....though techncians/mechanics probably won't care much for it, either. And the $200 that Infiniti grabs out of your pocket for the temporary spare on cars without run-flat tires is not only extortion but, IMO, an insult to human intelligence.
So there you have it. And, as always......Happy car-shopping.