Infiniti Q50 AWD Limited - limited driving joy
By Jim Bray
With its Q50 sports sedan, Infiniti has managed to make at least one car writer pine for an older car.
In this case, it's me doing the pining, and I'm lamenting the now-dead G, either the G35 or G37. Why? Because the G was more of a driver's car - a sports sedan - than the new Q, which is admittedly a technological marvel - but at what cost to the person for whom a spirited drive is a necessary component of owning a sports sedan?
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My angst comes mostly from the car's innovative Direct Adaptive Steering, a kind of "drive by wire" system that sounds great in theory, but which in practice takes too much of the "feel" out of the process of driving, replacing it with a bizarre sensation that the car thinks it's smarter than its driver. While this may be true in some cases (hey, no finger pointing!), it's still not something I'd want when dropping fifty grand on a sports sedan.
Here's how Infiniti describes the direct adaptive steering feature: "Control. Precision. Adaptability. Handling's triple-crown. Now, after over ten years of research and development, it is firmly within reach. This world's-first system uses electronics to streamline the steering mechanism for a more precise feeling behind the wheel. Over uneven roads, this moderates the need for constant, subtle adjustment, imparting a commanding feeling while helping shield the driver from excessive road vibrations."
Yeah, well that's as may be. As someone who loves new technology, I applaud Infiniti for its forward thinking. But as a driver, the steer by wire technology is a definite deal breaker - because instead of being the true driver's aid that Infiniti claims, it's actually an overly ambitious innovation that (especially on its higher settings) made it feel as if I were driving on ball bearings - or pea gravel - even on bare and dry pavement. It's overly sensitive and intrusive, as if the car were taking the joy and the responsibility of the drive out of my hands and putting it into the computer's. That's something I'd expect in an autonomous car, not one I'm still driving manually.
Maybe subsequent generations will make up for this weird sensation but as the system sits right now I hate it and that made me hate driving the Q50. Well, that and some other techno stuff that didn't work as the engineers may have envisioned.
Fortunately, you can order your Q50 without Direct Adaptive Steering, unless you opt for the "Sport" model; in Canada, however, that means you'll also miss out on some other options, since they're bundled as packages rather than as individual selections - a common tactic among carmakers. So, for example, if you don't want that damn steering, you'll also have to do without the nifty Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, the Power tilt and telescopic steering column, the maple wood trim, the 60/40 split-folding rear seats with centre armrest pass-thru, the front seat memory, the rain sensing wipers and more. That's a lot of stuff to miss out on just to avoid the damn steer by wire.
Eschewing Direct Adaptive Steering means you'll also have to do without Forward Emergency Braking (FEB), Distance Control Assist, and the Predictive Forward Collision Warning, but this is actually a bonus. These systems are generally very obtrusive (this isn't just an Infiniti thing) and sometimes they're too smart for their own good. For example, while I had the Q50 I got caught in a sudden, driving snowstorm that quickly covered the front end of the car with the white stuff. This caused the front- pointed sensors to go blind, leading the Q50 to freak out and warn that my passenger and I were about to die horribly.
Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not much of one.
You can shut these nannies, off, fortunately, and they stay off when you fire up the car again - a nice touch that can make these intrusions less annoying.
It's too bad Infiniti followed this path, because the Q50 has a lot going for it, starting with a sweet 3.7 litre V6 engine rated at 328/269 hp/torque, plenty of nice luxury touches and a reasonable price (the car starts at under $40,000; Infiniti Canada's Limited AWD sample came in just shy of 50 grand, with options).
That sweet engine, which in various configurations is pretty well ubiquitous as Nissan/Infiniti's standard V6, performs beautifully and the electronically controlled seven speed, rev-matching automatic transmission (with Adaptive Shift Control) is very good as well. It even, supposedly, learns your driving style and adjusts the shifts accordingly - and it has a good manual mode, though another oversight is the lack of paddles.
The Q50's suspension is definitely up to snuff, with double wishbones up front and a multi-link posterior. Brakes are ventilated discs all around and they work just fine, with good pedal feel.
Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and while I think the Q50 is an attractive car I don't think it's as lovely as the last generation G37 it replaced. It also has a bunch of odd lines and creases that, while quite fetching, can make brushing snow off the car more difficult than it need be.
Inside, however, the car is great, despite having two stacked LCD screens on the centre stack, where only one is really necessary. That quibble aside, the interior is luxurious and comfortable and (if you aren't driving by wire) the car is a very nice place to spend some time on the road.
Infiniti's sample included a lovely "Studio on wheels" 14 speaker premium Bose audio system, though (as is unfortunately common now) it wouldn't play my high resolution DVD-A or SACD discs. It worked fine otherwise, however, and sounded very good.
The interfaces are thought out and executed well.
Infiniti gives you a variety of drive modes (standard, eco, sport, snow and personal), and they do a good job. I preferred sport mode, naturally, but also found the snow mode to work very well during our brief but vicious blizzard.
Infiniti's sample also included heated front seats, an attractive sport spoiler on its bum, Infiniti's "InTouch" Navigation System with touch-screen lane guidance and 3D building graphics, a traffic service and a one year subscription to the "Infiniti Connection" service.
As a former owner of an Infiniti, I hope the brand does well. But the current Q50 seems like it's stuffed with technology for the sake of it, especially when it comes to that horrid steer by wire feature. The system will probably get better over successive generations - I remember the first generations of ABS and traction control as being pretty awful, too - but in the meantime if you're looking for a Q50 that's rewarding to drive, you might want to eschew that particular innovation.
Your mileage and opinion, of course, may vary.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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