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2016 Infiniti Q50: First Drive Review

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author photo by Russ Heaps March 2016

It should be no problem for the 2016 Infiniti Q50 to hold on to its position as the brand's top-selling model. Having left its compact-sedan entry untouched for 2015, Infiniti is swinging for the fences with this year's version. An expanded engine lineup, an updated 7-speed automatic transmission, the new Dynamic Digital Suspension and an improved Direct Adaptive Steering system conspire to make the next Q50 more engaging, and fun to drive.

You won't find much in the way of change in the parts you can see, as the exterior and interior styling remains about the same. However, under the Q50's fluid lines, all manner of improvements blend together to dazzle driver and passenger alike.

Eeeny, Meeny, Miny Motor

Infiniti is giving 2016 Q50 buyers a wide range of engine choices; in fact, it's the widest engine selection the brand has ever offered in an Infiniti of any stripe. Carried over from last year is the 360-horsepower 3.5-liter V6/electric motor hybrid system, delivering a government-estimated 29 miles per gallon in the city, 36 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. Opting for all-wheel drive peels 1 mpg from each of those numbers.

Replacing last year's solitary 3.7-liter V6-power choice is a trio of all-new turbocharged engines. So new, in fact, that the government has yet to finalize fuel-economy numbers for any of them. All three can power the rear wheels or all four wheels in all-wheel-drive versions.

The smallest, which is built in Infiniti's powertrain plant in Tennessee in a joint effort with Mercedes-Benz, is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It generates 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes is using a version of this engine in its CLA250, where the four-wheel-drive model delivers 30 mpg in combined driving, and the all-wheel-drive version gets 27 mpg combined.

The remaining choices are actually two iterations of the same new 3.0-liter twin-turbo VR-series V6. A standard-output version generates 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of peak torque. Infiniti badges sedans armed with this edition of the V6 as Q50 with a silver S. The other, well...

Let the Big Dog Eat

The star of the show is the all-new Q50 Red Sport 400. Packing a 400-hp wallop and making 350 lb-ft of maximum torque from the performance version of the 3.0-liter twin turbo, this Q50 is identifiable by its red S badging. Other red S-only ques are dual chrome exhaust tips and staggered (wider tires in the rear) 19-inch wheels in either high-performance or run-flat summer rubber. A unique core of foam lines the run-flats for less vibration, noise and harshness.

Two key elements set the 400-hp V6 from the 300-hp one. For more efficient cooling, the 400-hp V6 has a second water pump. Additionally, it has an industry-first turbo speed sensor, giving the turbo system a 30-percent power boost by allowing the blades to spin faster. Both V6 iterations require premium fuel.

Swapping the Cogs

No matter which of the four engines you choose, output flows to the wheels through a driver-shiftable 7-speed automatic transmission. Two shift modes allow the driver to specify higher revolutions per minute up-and-down shifts in Sport mode or less radical shifts in Eco mode. Manual shifting is done through magnesium paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel. All-wheel drive is available across the Q50 lineup.

You Can't Tell the Players Without a Program

The number of assorted settings and modes governing how the transmission, steering and suspension systems respond and interact is a bit dizzying to say the least. There are too many combinations to experience and master in the 100-or-so miles we spent with the two 3.0t versions on roads around San Antonio, Texas.

Basically, the driver may choose among several drive modes: Personal, Standard, Snow, Eco, Sport and Sport+. Except for Personal, each drive mode then has specific settings for the engine, Direct Adaptive Steering, Dynamic Digital Suspension and Vehicle Dynamic Control. Personal mode allows for fine tuning responses.

Available in the Hybrid and 3.0t models, Infiniti says its second-gen Direct Adaptive Steering delivers improved road feedback, as well as a more natural steering feel. The different drive modes access one of three steering modes: Standard, Sport and Sport+. Sport and Sport+ add to steering effort for enhanced control; Sport+ also quickens steering response.

In all Q50 sedans, the suspension has more aluminum bits, and heftier front and rear stabilizer bars. The new Dynamic Digital Suspension upgrade is standard in 3.0t versions. Dialing in Sport or Sport+ drive modes automatically selects this suspension's Sport setting with its firmer shock setting for more responsive handling. It also ensures a more stable ride as the suspension is constantly adjusting to changing conditions.

Safety and Other Gee-Wizardry

Loading the 2016 Infiniti Q50 with the full suite of safety technology is a simple as checking off a couple groups of options. To add blind spot intervention, lane-departure warning and Lane Departure Prevention with Active Lane Control, you tick off the box for the Technology package. Also included in the Technology package are an auto-leveling adaptive front lighting system, high-beam assist and distance-control assist.

Predictive Forward Collision Warning is another Infiniti first; it looks around the vehicle immediately in front of you to warn of potential dangers farther up the road. It is part of the Driver Assistance package that also includes blind spot warning, Backup Collision Intervention with cross-traffic alert and Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection.

Bottom Line

Infiniti showrooms already stock the Q50 2.0t and Hybrid with both versions of the Q50 3.0t following in the next few weeks. Infiniti has yet to announce pricing for the Q50 3.0t models, but judging by the starting MSRP of $33,950 for the 2.0t with rear-wheel drive and $35,950 with all-wheel drive, a good guesstimate for the silver S is in the $40,000 range. The Red Sport 400 will probably be $5,000 to $7,000 more than that. As always, the hybrid version fetches a premium price starting at $47,050 for the rear-wheel drive version.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2016 Infiniti Q50: First Drive Review - Autotrader