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2018 Infiniti Q50: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Infiniti Q50, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Infiniti Q50 Review

It isn’t obvious, but the 2018 Infiniti Q50 premium compact sedan isn’t the same as last year’s model. A midcycle refresh addresses several areas. The most notable differences, though, are changes in trim-level names. The basic car is now called Pure. Then Luxe (replacing Premium) and Sport, which are fairly self-explanatory. And the top dog is the Red Sport 400, with its own suspension and engine tuning.

Luxe and Sport are the versions expected to sell the most. But for reasons only known to itself, Infiniti only provided the Red Sport 400 for our initial test drive. While most of this review applies to the Q50 range as a whole, our impressions behind the wheel are limited to that one variant.

 Pull up to the Bumper

The "restyled" nose and tail might be indications the designers were too busy working on the next Infiniti crossover to devote much time and energy to the Q50’s revamp. Admittedly, they got virtually everything right on the first attempt. But this makeover is so subtle that it’s hardly worth mentioning. Likewise, the revised designs for the alloy wheels aren’t much different.

Although the top trim level is called Red Sport 400 and comes in a rich metallic crimson, other paint choices include silver, white, blue and black.

Warm Leatherette

For 2018, the dashboard is now covered with simulated leather, enlivened by contrast stitching. The Pure model also has leatherette seating surfaces. The real stuff becomes available in Sport trim. Nevertheless, the vinyl looks fairly classy, unlike the metallic and plastic accents that adorn the center console and door panels. But in these times of configurable driver information displays, the Q50’s analog instrument cluster is beginning to look seriously dated.

For a car that faces rivals like the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, overall cabin quality doesn’t quite hit the mark. It is, however, sufficiently spacious, with plenty of room for a couple of adults to sit in the back. And trunk space is 13.2 cu ft., which is on par with the German competition (although the lithium-ion battery pack means the hybrid model has to settle for 9.4 cu ft.).

 Gasoline Alley

Predictably, the 2.0t models have a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 208 horsepower (a bit low for the class) and averaging 25 miles per gallon in combined driving.

The 3.0t is a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 serving up 300 hp and 23 mpg combined. The Red Sport 400 takes that V6 to 400 hp, while achieving an average of 22 mpg combined.

The hybrid version (which comes in Luxe trim only) has a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 and an electric motor for a total of 360 hp. It returns 29 mpg combined.

Every version uses a 7-speed automatic transmission and drives the rear wheels as standard. For average fuel consumption with all-wheel drive, subtract one mpg. See the 2018 Infiniti Q50 models for sale near you

Behind the Red Engine

The Red Sport 400’s twin-turbocharged V6 is fabulous. Power delivery is smooth, muscular and progressive, with plenty of push (350 lb-ft of torque) from standstill to 60 mph. Overtaking moves are accomplished swiftly and effectively.

Set the driving-mode button to Sport Plus and the steering weights up, the transmission stays in lower gears for longer, the suspension becomes firmer and throttle response more eager. For an enthusiast who might be interested in the Red Sport 400 model more than any other Q50, this is a sweet spot for many conditions. But there’s also the opportunity to create a personalized setting.

This model (along with the Luxe and Sport trims) is eligible for the steer-by-wire system that Infiniti has been working on since introducing it with the 2017 Q60 coupe. Electrically assisted steering is fiendishly difficult to master, but it’s the way forward. This setup, although improved, still needs more development. It’s not quite as numb, but feels odd and nonlinear in transitions from straight ahead to turning left or right.

The leather-covered sport seats in the Red Sport 400 offer plenty of lateral support during energetic cornering, while finding the right driving position takes only a few seconds. We’d just like better lumbar support for the front passenger.

And although the tires are suitably performance-oriented for a 400-hp machine, the noise they make shouldn’t be so noticeable in a premium car.

Get in Line for a Q

The 2018 Infiniti Q50 is on sale now and pricing begins at $35,105 for the rear-drive 2.0t Pure, going up to $51,905 for the Red Sport 400 version.

The basic model’s standard equipment includes a rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers, LED lighting, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, keyless entry/ignition, two displays set into the center console, 17-inch alloy wheels and a dual exhaust system. A moonroof and an upgraded Bose audio system are among the options.

All-wheel drive, costing $2,000, is available with each drivetrain. The basic Pure trim is not eligible for many other options, but the rest of the range may be ordered with advanced safety features and the steer-by-wire system. Don’t bother asking for ventilated front seats, though — they’re not offered in any trim level.

The Reckoning

Infiniti says the Q50 is one of its best-selling models, making up 30 percent of its total business throughout the world. So it’s a mystery why this revamp is rather halfhearted. Perhaps it’s such an old platform that it’s not worth investing much more into it, and the company will muddle along as things are until an entirely new generation arrives in a few years. Or maybe it sees the writing on the wall for sedans as crossovers continue on their path toward world domination. Either way, if Infiniti couldn’t get fired up about it, why should anyone else?

The usual plus point of the Q50 (and of the G series that came before) is that it was one of the better-handling premium compact sport sedans from Japan, but that’s now debatable. And when there are superb German alternatives (and English — check out the Jaguar XE), then the Q50 becomes an also-ran. Our ultimate verdict could depend on driving the most popular Q50 variants as well as the most expensive and powerful, but in the meantime, we’d advise buyers to cast a wide net.

For access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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