The 2014 Infiniti Q50 sedan (Infiniti / Wieck)
Searching for a new identity, Nissanís Infiniti luxury brand hit the reset button with its all-new 2014 Q50 compact sports sedan.
In showrooms now, the Q50 is an evolution of what used to be called the Infiniti G sedan. It has attractive new styling inside and out. It is a half inch lower, a half inch longer and 2 inches wider, yet it is lighter, more efficient, loaded with new interior comforts and some amazing new technology that allows the car to virtually drive itself.
Infinitiís entry to battle the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class has always been a stylish and powerful, rear-wheel-drive car with optional all-wheel drive. It still comes with the same 3.7-liter V-6 engine found in the Nissan 370 Z two-seater sports car.
But the 2014 Q50 also can be ordered with an even more powerful 360-horsepower hybrid gas-electric powerplant with an EPA rating of 29 mpg city and 36 highway.
This is not a weak-kneed economy machine. The well-appointed Sport Hybrid model I drove ó with a sticker price of $53,655 ó accelerated like a V-8 and handled well along curves. During a mix of urban and highway driving, that included some heavy acceleration, I saw an indicated 29.8 mpg.
Infiniti claims the Q50 is the first car with completely fly-by-wire electric steering. The mechanical link between the steering wheel and tires connects only in the emergency of a power shutdown. Driver inputs are delivered by digitally proportional servo motors.Computer analysis gives the driver artificial feedback through the wheel. This contributes to the Q50ís quiet cabin. No road vibration is funneled into the cockpit through a solid steering column.
The steering can be programmed for low effort, high performance feel or even personal customized settings. In the default setting, it feels comfortably numb. It feels nicely weighted in the sport setting.
Hereís the amazing part: Add the optional Active Lane Control system and there truly is a ghost in this machine that can drive the car all by itself for miles.
Really, I didnít touch the wheel, throttle, accelerator or brake for 10 miles traveling with moderate expressway traffic ó even around some big sweeping turns.
Infiniti isnít billing the system as a self-driving device. But unlike other high-end vehicles with automated lane centering, the Infiniti never buzzed or flashed any warning lights to remind me to put my hands back on the wheel. It simply kept going.
The system integrates the steering servos with the carís onboard cameras and sensors to provide the most autonomous system Iíve experienced in a car sold for public use.
This takes getting accustomed to. It wasnít perfect. You had to remain vigilant for when the car wandered out of the lane on a tight curve. Even so, after I drove my own vehicle home, I wondered why I was being forced to work so hard on the road.
Attention to detail
With the Q50, simply set the adaptive cruise control and the system adjusts the speed of the car according to the traffic in the lane ahead.
Then, with your hands on the wheel, you can feel the car making adjustments. My grip got lighter and lighter.
The system will apply the brakes to bring the car to a complete stop ó based on analysis of not just the car ahead but of several cars ahead. The system does something we canít. It has the technology to look underneath and beyond the vehicles ahead.
Concerned the carís ability to drive itself will result in motorists paying even less attention, Infinitiís latest InTouch infotainment and communication system allows vocal reading and response to text messages hands-free through the carís standard Bluetooth connectivity. This is supposed to keep drivers from surfing on cellphones while behind the wheel. Email also can be accessed, but only when the car is stopped.
The system features not one, but two large touch screens at the center of the dashboard.
With the introduction of the Q50, the rest of the Infiniti lineup also gets rebadged, pulling the letter Q from its past as the basis for all its naming nomenclature: The midsize M series sedan becomes Q60; the compact EX crossover becomes QX50; the midsize Nissan Pathfinder-based, seven-passenger JX crossover becomes QX60; the muscular-looking FXs crossovers become the QX70; and the full-size QX sport utility becomes QX80.
The old G coupe and convertible will continue in their current forms as the Q60 Coupe and Q60 Convertible, until eventually switched to the new Q50 architecture.
Donít let the larger number fool you. The older platform is noticeably smaller inside and out.
The Infiniti brand was launched in the U.S. in 1989 with the Q45, a midsize sedan loaded with V-8 power, luxury appointments, and innovative technology seen only in larger luxury cars. As the years passed and a virtual alphabet soup of new cars and crossovers appeared, the brand always featured performance over practicality. The G series has remained the most popular model, comprising more than half of all Infiniti sales in the U.S.
The G series has consistently been the No. 3 compact luxury model in the U.S. behind the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. So far this year, 2013 Infiniti G sedans have outsold competitors: the Audi A4, Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS, and the larger Lincoln MKZ, and Jaguar XF.
Infiniti Global Limited incorporated last year with headquarters in Hong Kong under Johan De Nysschen, the new president who was lured away from his job as head of Audi in North America. The goal was to give the brand independence from Nissan and Renault. Itís also aimed at connecting with the growing luxury market in China.
So this is really all about a luxury brand moving away from home, changing its model names, and trying to make an impression on its own. The Q50 is a good start.