Out of all of the luxury brands on the market today, Infiniti is one of the biggest underdogs of the group. Even though Nissan’s luxury branch has created a slew of solid offerings over the years, it remains overshadowed by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus, and Acura. Branding aside, this probably has a lot to do with the public’s perception of what a luxury sports car should be, as Japanese rival Lexus hits the market with turbocharged F Sport compact crossovers and V8-powered RC F monstrosities.
Somehow Americans have forgotten that Infiniti has its own line of kick-ass competitors, distinguished by a subtle “S” on the rear of the car, and that while the badge may be unassuming, like Superman it packs more of a punch than you might expect. This is what Infiniti has been about since day one, with refined styling and an unassuming demeanor playing Clark Kent to mask the mighty hero that lies within.
After spending a number of luxury-laden hours behind the helm of Infiniti’s Q50 S, we can confidently say that this performance sedan is here to save the day in style. It may not have the racing pedigree of an AMG or the ferocity of an M-series, nor can it compete with the hulking supercharged V8 found in a Cadillac CTS-V, but that’s not what Infiniti is about. The Q50 S never pretends to be something it isn’t, and for that, we’re grateful.
To start, the 2015 Q50 S only costs $43,650, while non-sport models come in at an insanely inexpensive $37,150. While the S model is surely fantastic in base trim, we advise you tack-on the additional $7,700 for all the Navigation, Deluxe Touring, and Tech packages Infiniti offers, as we quickly discovered it’s well worth having access to Infiniti’s outstanding safety and tech features.
Safety-wise, the Q50 smokes the competition by offering Direct Adaptive Steering for instantaneous turn-in times, Backup Collision Intervention (BCI), a predictive forward collision system that monitors the car in front of you and the one in front of it, and Infiniti’s own “Around View” monitoring system, which features more cameras than a paparazzi blitz. Compared to BMW’s 3-series, Audi’s A4, Mercedes’ C-class, and Lexus’ IS line, a well-equipped Q50 feels like a true technological bargain, making that additional few grand feel like money well spent.
Driving a rear-wheel drive version, where safety can be more of a concern, it became clear early on that these aforementioned systems work seamlessly. Lane departure warnings are noticeable but not annoying, the adaptive steering causes the car to cut corners sharper than expected (flip a u-turn in one and you’ll see), and Infiniti’s “Around View” is an outstanding option, as it covers your front, sides, rear, and overhead at the push of a button anytime. Equipped with the tech and touring packages, you also get extras like rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors all around, adaptive front lighting, pre-crash locking seat belts, and dual driver memory seats.
Safety aside, many of the Q50’s strongest selling points remain cabin-based, as this is very much a businessman’s automobile. Here, drivers can sync their phones to the car’s office-oriented “Infiniti InTouch” dual display system to upload and utilize apps, or access email and infotainment without having to pick-up a phone. There’s also an analog dial and plenty of well laid-out buttons, so if pinching or swiping screens isn’t your thing, you still have a way to tap into the car’s intuitive computer system.
In the comfort department, the fourteen speaker Bose audio system hits hard without rattling the cabin to smithereens, the cockpit is quiet and composed, the fit and finish are Infiniti-grade with piano black accents and soft touch materials at every turn, and the stitched leather seats are both supple and sporty at the same time. Since your typical businessman is a family man as well, it was important to see how easy it is to outfit the car with a full-size child seat, at which point we were thrilled to discover that the doors on the Q50 can swing open almost ninety degrees, and that slits in the rear bench make bolting and unbolting a baby seat a cinch.
So with all the interior amenities out of the way, let’s talk performance. Since a good sports car must always begins with balanced brakes, the Q50 S shows its strength with four-pot calipers and 14-inch rotors up front, balanced by two-pot versions in the rear. The Q50 S also has a driving mode selection toggle switch, so drivers can choose Normal, Eco, Sport, and Custom modes on the fly to save gas or shred tires. Driving-wise, the car handles exceptionally well for weighing almost two tons thanks to the double-piston shocks and double wishbone sport suspension, and since the version we got was rear-wheel drive, Sport Mode quickly became our go-to setting.
The Q50 S responds to switching modes almost instantaneously, with Eco Mode being best reserved for cruising at higher speeds, Normal Mode remaining sporty enough for the average daily commute, and Sport Mode showing its muscles, as it beefs-up everything on the car, including throttle and steering firmness. Since our car came with the optional 19-inch forged Rays racing wheels and some Bridgestone Potenza summer tires, it only seemed fitting to see how sporty that “S” truly was when the hammer was down.
While the 3.7-liter engine in the Q50 S isn’t a monster, with 328-horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, it still feels plenty quick when accelerating. We found that hitting sixty in well under six seconds was easily achievable, even in the rain. It may not be a burnout machine, but turning the traction control off will make you quickly realize that the “S” is aggressive enough to keep anyone on their toes when driving at a spirited clip, and that the 3.7-liter engine in this car is indeed almost identical to the one found in the 370Z. Transmission-wise, the magnesium, column-mounted paddle shifters are a fantastic touch, as you always know where they are, and the seven-speed gearbox was predictable and adjustable in order to accommodate downshift rev matching, which is not what one might expect in an Infiniti.
There were far fewer cons with the Q50 S than expected, and it’s easy to see why Edmunds gave this car an “A” rating, as it offers a whole lot for its $43,650-$54,000 sticker price. But when looking at the car from nose to tail, we can’t help but wonder if the designers lost interest in the car before they finished drawing it. The “Zero-lift” front end, piano black accents, LED lights, and sporty lower air dam all look fantastic, but as your eye travels the length of the car it gets softer and softer, with the back bumper being the blandest part. It is almost like the design team started-off at the front with an “S” model in mind, and ended-up with a “Meh” model at the rear, with the two barely holding any similarity to one another save for some Infiniti badges and a splash of chrome.
We also weren’t wild about the non-adjusting headrests that keep guys with brimmed hats and ladies with fancy hairdos from leaning back too far, and that the backseat could be a bit roomier. Other setbacks included piano black interior pieces gathering a ridiculous amount of finger prints, a shallow trunk, the MID not having a digital speed read-out, and the sport tires only having a very low 35/40 sidewall. But our biggest qualm with this car is neither mechanical or aesthetic, but instead is safety-related. Even though the Q50 received a 5-star rated NCAP safety rating, and remains a Top Safety Pick+ car, the frontal crash rating for the front passenger received just three stars – a far cry from what you’d expect in a car this big and “safety oriented.”
Infiniti really needs to address the latter issue first, as it’s a bit of a scarlet letter; then maybe redesign the rear of the car so it better matches the front. Once these issues are addressed then maybe they can launch a new add campaign, where businessmen in suits start off driving serenely to work, with slow swooping angles of the interior, as they receive flight schedules from their “Infiniti Personal Assistant.” Then, halfway through the commercial they leave work early, slap the S into Sport Mode, and hit the highway, with smoke pouring from the rear fender wells. Mild mannered business man, meet your new alter ego.