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BBC Autos

Joyride

Infiniti Q50: Less-is-more luxury

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

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“Less is more” might seem a bizarre guiding principle for luxury carmakers, but ignoring it is folly.

Apply too much chrome and lower bumper sculpting, or too many passive safety systems and infotainment sub-menus, and the beast is cannibalised by its myriad parts. Good engineers can sense the inflection point where content would overwhelm character, and intervene before the machine gets in its own way. These engineers also tend to be German.

Infiniti has not always recognised this boundary in its pursuit of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. To wit, Nissan’s luxury arm has developed both the sexy, surprisingly rowdy G coupe, as well as the overstuffed, over-fussy JX crossover.

But Infiniti says it has changed. It calls its 2014 Q50 sports sedan, which will soon replace the long-running G37, “the best sedan we have ever built.” Never mind the financial dissonance that this statement introduces (What does that make the more expensive M sedan, chopped liver?), Infiniti could use a hit. Depending on how a shopper specifies a Q50, the car can be deeply satisfying to drive, but if it’s driving that a customer wants, the Germans – particularly BMW – likely would remain top of mind. If the customer, however, wants a technological powerhouse that undercuts the Germans by thousands, then the Q50 demands to be in the conversation.

Infiniti starts with a very fine powertrain, its 3.7-litre V6, here producing 328 horsepower and 269lb-ft of torque, channelled through a seven-speed automatic transmission. On bucolic stretches through northern New England, a Q50S AWD proved plush and confident, with minimal body roll through tight turns. The “S” brings some enticing upgrades to the base Q50, including larger brakes, 19in wheels, stiffened suspension and marvellous magnesium shift paddles that, working with the sequential automatic, held middle gears deep into the Q50’s rev band. For all this spirit, the sedan’s all-wheel-drive system kept the car dead-centre, even when loutish feet and hands tried to shake the tires loose.

This is not necessarily Q50-buyer behaviour, mind. Infiniti sees technology – not outright performance – as its comparative advantage in the luxury marketplace, and the Q50 carries that ethos right down to its rivets, for better and for worse.

Optional Bose 14-speaker audio sounds the equal to systems in $250,000 Bentleys. A novel stacked-screen multimedia interface neatly splits the difference between smartphone-mimicking touch commands and toggle tactility. There is a sense in the Q50’s cabin of deeply considered design, where the only frivolous flourish might be the grooved, faux-metallic bezels around the dashboard’s analogue gauges.

Infiniti’s past troubles with the content-character balance percolate through as a buyer moves up-market. In the Q50S Hybrid, a 302hp version of the V6 – here stroked down to 3.5 litres – works with an electric motor producing 67hp, for a netted system total of 360hp. Infiniti positions the Hybrid as the real performer of the Q50 line, yet even with all throttle, transmission, steering and suspension parameters switched to “vaporise mpg”, the sedan felt heavy and tentative where the Q50S was spry and sure-footed. The trade-off comes at the pump: the Hybrid averaged 31mpg in conditions virtually identical to those faced by the non-hybrid, which returned 23mpg.

A lane-departure correction system was fitted to the Hybrid, which at highway speeds, with hands off the wheel, magically held the car between the lines – but not necessarily on line. The sedan wandered and lurched until it encountered the lane markings, at which point it would ride the paint like a Formula 1 racecar. In fairness, Lane Departure Prevention is not intended as a substitute for an attentive driver, yet a motorist travelling behind a Q50 so equipped – and so engaged – might think its pilot inebriated.

These experiences all brought the charms of the non-hybrid Q50S into starker relief. It is a sleeper sports sedan – even when wearing luminous, purple-flecked Malbec Black paint. And at about $48,000 so equipped, it is something of a performance bargain, with pricing on par with far less alluring models, like a generously spec’d Hyundai Genesis V6.

Infiniti, nonetheless, will champion the all-singing, all-dancing Q50 Hybrid; it is what its technology-craving customer wants, after all. But with this sedan, less is all the more.

Vital stats: 2014 Infiniti Q50 3.7 AWD, Q50 Hybrid RWD

  • Base price: $37,605 (3.7), inclusive of $905 destination charge; $44,855 (Hybrid)
  • Price as tested: $47,995 (3.7); $55,560 (Hybrid)
  • EPA fuel economy: 19mpg city, 27mpg highway (3.7); 29mpg city, 36mpg highway (Hybrid)
  • Powertrain: 3.7-litre 328hp V6 gasoline engine (3.7); 3.5-litre 302hp V6 gasoline engine with 67hp electric motor (Hybrid); seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode
  • Standard features: Vehicle Dynamic Control, 17in alloy wheels, dual chrome exhausts, eight-way power driver’s seat, Infiniti InTouch dual display system, rear-view monitor
  • Major options: 19in alloy wheels, leather interior, Maplewood trim, Moving Object Detection, Lane Departure Prevention, power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, Bose 14-speaker audio system
The Q50 demands to be in the conversation.

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