The 2014 Infiniti Q50 was conceived as a way to push the Japanese manufacturer higher up the food chain of luxury -- think more Mercedes-Benz, less Nissan. In fact, Infiniti established itself as a Hong Kong-based business to free itself from its Nissan corporate overlord, and with the intention of bolstering its identity as a more upscale brand.
Did those efforts work?
We sampled a Q50 on quiet canyon roads and busy city streets in Los Angeles to find out.
Inside: Techy Luxury
Infiniti incorporated a slew of technological features into the Q50, and the first evidence of those efforts is on the center console, which features not one but two touchscreens (on top of yet another digital display on the instrument panel). The upper central display is an 8-inch screen of decent resolution, while the lower display offers a much sharper image quality.
While both screens are intended to complement each other (the upper offers more real estate for the navigation system, while the lower specializes in manning apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Pandora), there's also some redundancy with hard buttons, leaving more flexibility for driver or passenger preference.
The interior accommodations are also a step up for Infiniti, offering softer touch surfaces and more satisfying materials compared to the G37, which was originally intended to be replaced by the Q50 but will carry on at least through the 2015 model year.
Under the Hood: Gas, Hybrid ... and Self-Driving Tech
The Infiniti Q50 3.7 can be ordered with a 328-horsepower V6 available in six trim levels (among them, three all-wheel-drive variants), ranging from $36,700 to $45,000. Hybrid buyers score more power (with a total of 360 hp from the 3.5-liter V6/electric motor combo) but will pay more dearly for the more exotic powertrains -- between $43,950 and $48,150. Incidentally, the most fuel-efficient Q50 Hybrid achieves an impressive 29 miles per gallon city, 36 mpg hwy.
More noteworthy than the Q50's powertrains, however, is the world's first production steer-by-wire hardware that enables -- you guessed it -- the Q50 to steer itself. Direct Adaptive Steering is available as part of the $3,100 Touring Package and works with other optional driver-assistance systems to help keep the Q50 in its lane and, under certain circumstances, tracking along with gently curving roadways.
On the Road: Releasing the Reins
While the Q50's interior is undeniably more plush than its G37 ancestor, the driving experience is a mixed bag, especially with Direct Adaptive Steering. The system ditches a hydraulic or electric mechanical setup for an entirely digital connection between the steering wheel and the wheels, though a mechanical backup can jump in if the computers go haywire. The setup allows the driver to specify steering effort and ratio, along with other drivetrain variables such as throttle response and shift patterns.
While the digital steering system delivers on its promise of isolation from stop and road irregularities (thanks to its lack of rubber bushings), it seems to lose that accuracy the faster you drive. Around town, steering feels crisp and tight, but on twisty roads it becomes disconcerting and doesn't respond consistently to driver input, as though it has a mind of its own.
Similarly, the system's ability to maintain lane control requires a leap of faith that rarely feels natural, and its occasionally lazy response will likely lead you to grab the wheel in a panic as the car drifts to the edge of the lane. It does, however, take some of the effort and attention out of straight-line, low-speed driving in traffic.
The 3.7 models offer reasonably strong acceleration, though the Hybrid is the lineup's stealth speed weapon, serving up surprisingly potent acceleration. Too bad the brake feel is racked with vagueness, requiring more second guesses from the driver on exactly how hard to press the pedal for smooth stops.
The 2014 Infiniti Q50 serves up a host of improvements over its predecessor in a package that's muscular and attractive. But the key to configuring the most compelling Q50 lies in restraint, as the expensive assistance options make us want to grab the wheel and stay involved with the driving process.
It may offer everything but the kitchen sink when it comes to electronics, but we like the Q50 most when it is lightly optioned and most closely resembles its former, driver-focused self.