Car Culture: Refreshed Q50 tries to jolt sedan scene
The battle for sales among the luxury/premium car brands can be fierce, especially for the non-German automakers. But that competition can produce sweet deals for U.S. consumers.
Among the Japanese premium brands, only Lexus has been able to establish a solid, respected presence among the high-echelon automakers. By contrast, Infiniti and Acura have long struggled to establish their respective images and gain lasting traction among buyers.
In Infiniti’s case, the lack of consistent progress has not been for want of trying. The management of Nissan’s premium division knows that gaining entry to the luxury car club is not just a matter of adding fancy leather trim and more powerful engines. Infiniti has put substantial effort into establishing a reputation for distinctive design, with a series of stunning concept cars that have translated into genuinely attractive production models, such as the Q60 coupe.
Nor has Infiniti neglected the performance element. The company has introduced high-output powertrains that exceed their class competitors, as it strives to establish a reputation as a BMW-like performance luxury brand.
Infiniti’s efforts to up its game have paid off to a degree. U.S. sales last year were up 4 percent to 138,000 units, and are up by 22 percent in 2017. The bright spots in the model portfolio include the strong-selling Q60 coupe and the QX30. The latter is a compact crossover built on a shared platform with the Mercedes GLA and arguably a better looking and performing model than its German cousin.
The big push for 2018 focuses on the Q50 sedan, which Infiniti considers its core model. Though midsize sedans from all automakers have struggled in the face of the consumer craze for crossovers, Infiniti has given its Q50 a thorough mid-cycle refresh, with new exterior design elements and interior upgrades.
From its launch in 2014, the Q50 has been positioned as a technology showcase, and that emphasis continues with the 2018 model. Features such as an advanced adaptive steering system, which had been criticized for inconsistent feel, have been improved and the 400-horsepower twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 Red Sport flagship model retains its position as the most powerful sedan in its class.
Layered beneath the Red Sport are three Q50 versions, starting with the “Pure” model, equipped with a new 208-horse 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. Next is the “Luxe” version, which shares the same four-cylinder engine or an optional 300-horse twin-turbo V-6. The Sport model uses the V-6 and offers more sporty oriented trim and suspension as the name suggests. There is also a 360-horsepower hybrid-electric Luxe model available, although Infiniti expects very “modest” demand for it.
All Q50 models can be purchased in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive form and come with seven-speed automatic transmissions.
For buyers in the midsize segment, there are several attractions to the latest Q50 editions. First, they generally offer more performance than their rivals. For example, the Red Sport model’s 400 horsepower comfortably exceeds the 354 horsepower delivered by the Audi S4, the BMW 340i’s 320 horsepower and the Lexus IS 350 F-Sport’s 306 horsepower.
Even with substantial improvements for 2018, the Q50’s pricing remains very competitive, starting at $34,200 and ranging up to $51,000 for the Red Sport, which is up just $300 on last year’s version. The Luxe V-6 model, expected to be the most popular in the range, starts at $38,950, a price that Infiniti executive Keith St Clair boasts “no-one can touch.”
Beyond the Q50, Infiniti has more developments coming soon with its QX crossover models. For shoppers in the premium market, this is a brand worth keeping a close eye on.
John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at email@example.com.