First drive: 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 [Review]

February 29, 2016

Just a few years ago, entry to the 400 horsepower club was relegated to a handful of exotics. Now, Infiniti will hand you the keys to its new Q50 Red Sport 400 in exchange for around $50,000, and you can haul around a family in luxurious comfort while blowing the doors off of anything in its segment in a straight-line race.

Taking the place of last year’s 3.7-liter V6, an almost entirely new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 headlines a host of modest changes that add up to a much improved 2016 Q50 sedan.

More power, more turbos
Visually, the Q50 holds the line for 2016 aside from badging denoting its new powertrains. The big changes aren’t visible at first glance, but they’ve created an entirely different Q50.

The 3.7 is a goner, replaced by a quartet of options. Anchoring the lineup is a new base model powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder co-developed with Mercedes-Benz. In the Q50, it’s rated at 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque, figures that will help it compete favorably against the 180-pony BMW 320i. From there, the lineup jumps to a carryover Q50 Hybrid with 360 net horsepower.

But the real excitement begins with what Infiniti expects to be its volume model: A 300 horsepower, 295 lb-ft. of torque variant of the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 available in either standard or Sport trims.

Topping the line is the model we drove, a 400 horse, 350 lb-ft. of torque version made possible by more boost – 14.7 psi versus 8.7 psi – going to the same turbocharger. Christened the Q50 Red Sport 400, it significantly ups the bar for performance in the compact luxury sedan segment.

The new engine, which Infiniti parent Nissan calls the VR series (its predecessor was the highly-lauded VQ), boasts electronic variable valve timing, gasoline direct injection, and an integrated exhaust manifold. All these items add up to a 40 lbs. weight reduction despite the extra power on board.

To help make the most of that grunt, the Q50′s steering systems have been revised. A new rack-based electric power steering comes standard, while the company’s world-first Direct Adaptive Steering, a steer-by-wire system with no mechanical connection between the front wheels and the steering wheel, was overhauled with new software for a more natural feel. A new two-mode Dynamic Digital Suspension offers standard and sport settings for the shock absorbers to lessen lean in corners.

Regardless of what’s under the hood, all Q50s will be offered in standard RWD or optional AWD, the former of which includes staggered Dunlop SP Sport Maxx summer tires on the Red Sport 400.

Forget about IPL, Infiniti’s short-lived performance division. Denoted by a red S festooned to the Q50′s rear bumper, the Red Sport nomenclature debuts here but may come to other Infinitis in the future. Think BMW M Sport, a trim that bridges the gap between the more luxury-oriented models and those tuned for track use. Infiniti says it doesn’t plan to offer more zoom in the Q50 than the Red Sport, but customer demand could change that.

Here, Red Sport adds unique 19-inch wheels and a special exhaust, and it’s the only way you can buy a Q50 with the 400 horsepower tune. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but Infiniti estimates that you’ll be able to get a nicely-optioned Red Sport 400 for around $50,000. That means it should undercut the significantly less powerful BMW 340i M Sport.

A tale of two steering wheels
We had the opportunity to put the updated Q50 through its paces on the gently winding roads of the Texas Hill Country. Simply put, 400 horsepower in a car tipping the scales at about 3,850 lbs. is ferociously quick. Stomp on the skinny pedal and it’s easy to get the rear end loose even as the standard seven-speed automatic gearbox shifts up into second gear. If anything, we think a set of grippier tires might be in order.

Our drive was exclusively in the RWD variant, but Infiniti says that nearly half of all Q50s will be ordered with AWD. Interestingly, the brand’s engineers told us that they sought a roughly 54/46 front/rear weight balance with RWD since they wanted to account for weight transfer during acceleration.

The twin turbos spool up with only a distant, muted growl, and once the torque peaks at a low 1,600 rpm, it’s go time. Careful throttle management means that the Q50 won’t snap heads, but there’s no denying that this is a stout motor. We can only imagine how well it would perform in a lighter coupe like, say, a Nissan 370Z. Hint, hint.

Suspension-wise, the Q50 Red Sport 400 differs from the 300-pony Q50 Sport by adding wider alloy wheels wrapped in the aforementioned slip-happy Dunlop rubber. Left in standard Dynamic Digital Suspension mode, the Q50 is planted and reasonably compliant. Switching to sport mode adds a degree of edginess and slightly reduces lean in corners.

It’s steering that makes a sports car, rather than a sporty car, and in that regard the Q50 comes in two flavors: The standard electric setup is a little light and definitely lacking in road feel, but it is sufficiently precise. Opting for the Direct Adaptive Steering package offers a glimpse into the future – it’s a precursor to a fully autonomous setup since it could let the car’s computers have full control.

Autonomous driving isn’t here yet, so for now Infiniti has revamped the system’s software. Our drive was brief, but it indicated a significantly less artificial feel to the tiller than before, although the sensation remains distant, if less video game-like than before.

Steering aside, the Q50 is a capable and composed sedan when pushed, even on an autocross-style track, where its firm underpinnings bely its heft.

Neither steering setup provides the sort of connected feel that BMW has mostly brought back with the new-for-2016 340i, however, meaning the Q50 Red Sport 400 remains more a study in technology than a truly cohesive, blood-pumping sports sedan.

Leftlane’s bottom line
There are plenty of compelling reasons – 400 of them, actually – why the Q50 just became way more intriguing, even if emotional engagement with the driver really isn’t one of them.

2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 base price, TBA.

Photos by Andrew Ganz.

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