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2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400: The Spirit of Eau Rouge
By Dan Heyman
Oct. 19, 2016
Boy, it was something, wasn’t it? Bright red, big black wheels shrouding red brake calipers, interior heavily accented with Alcantara suede and exterior colour-matching inserts.
Then, there was what lay underneath: A drivetrain borrowed from the world-conquering Nissan GT-R supercar (I refuse to call something with 540-plus hp and ingenious AWD a sports car), an addition that was sure to bring the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge (“Red Water”) to the forefront of the midsize performance luxury sedan sweepstakes.
Only, it never happened. Not really, anyway, and besides, all reports have the Eau Rouge – which was really a development hack driven by a select few, and never anything more – as being a bit of an unsorted bear to drive.
It did lay the groundwork, however, for a plan to bring the Q50 – which hasn’t been able to fill the big-selling shoes of the G37 it replaced – back into the eyes of both performance enthusiasts and prospective luxury car buyers alike. That plan has led to this: the Q50 Red Sport, and we’re going to see if the red in Red Sport is enough to at least give the impression that we’re driving that other Q50 with that colour in its name.
Pros & Cons
- + Smooth, strong engine
- + Usable technology
- + Fit and finish
- - Steering feel
- - Understated styling
- - Touchscreen display
I hate to say it but, simply put, there isn’t all that much to see here. It’s not that it’s bad-looking — It’s handsome enough with its scowly headlights and over-fender character lines. It’s just that there hasn’t been all that much done to the Red Sport to differentiate it from lesser Q50 models. There are some unique 19-inch wheels, subtle red (but of course!) S badging and different exhaust tips, and that’s pretty much it. It’s almost as if the designers wanted to ensure that while the car may have had some inspiration from the Eau Rouge, it is not an Eau Rouge.
Inside, it’s more of the same. The front seats are still developed in partnership with NASA but are cut a little sportier than the items found on a regular Q50. They’re comfortable enough, but I wouldn’t exactly call them hip-hugging and they don’t squeeze you as much as those found in a Lexus IS 350, for example, especially if your particular IS is in F-Sport guise.
The rears don’t get the NASA zero gravity treatment, but Infiniti has to be commended for making the rear seating area as habitable as it is. That goes especially for the more broad-shouldered among us, as the upper half of the cabin is pleasingly wide. It makes that Lexus look almost a compact in comparison. (That’s because the IS is a compact. —Ed.) The seats also fold nice and flat, which is good considering that the trunk floor itself isn’t completely flat.
As is the case with many Infiniti (and Nissan, for that matter) products, interior fit and finish is very, very good. Panel gaps are small, the materials are of high quality (you gotta love those leather-trimmed shift paddles) and everything is well laid out.
Infiniti has also managed to craft a seating position that allows a good view out but somehow manages to keep you from feeling like you’re sitting on top of the car, as opposed to inside it. The low-profile dash has a lot to do with this; where so many manufacturers are insistent on putting mega-deep dashes with tall fascias on their cars – I’m looking at you, BMW, and you, Lincoln – Infiniti has gone the more classic route, providing a dash with nicely squared-off corners and that should keep itself out of the line of sight of most drivers.
Well, there’s lots of it, that’s for sure. Two screens present you with all of your infotainment, phone and driver’s aid needs; the upper monitor is controlled via a console-mounted wheel, and the lower is a nicely sensitive all-touch item that’s your portal to drive modes, phone, and more. The upper screen is also where you’ll find your navi map and fantastic ‘around-view’ monitor that provides a selection of camera angles to help you park and maneuver it tight spaces.
There are pre-selected drive modes, or if you’d prefer, you can individually adjust steering weight, throttle response and more. It’s also where you can activate or deactivate active trace control (ATC), which makes use of various sensors – for yaw, pitch and roll – and reads your steering angle to help keep the car on its intended trajectory. If you want to do this on your own, of course, you can deactivate the feature.
Once you find where to do so, that is. It’s good that touchscreen is so sensitive, because chances are, you’ll be using it fairly regularly. The menus take some time to learn to navigate, to the point where I feel many drivers will just find a setting set they like, and stick with it. I guess it’s a bit of a shame, then, because so many of the available commands could be wasted. The Red Sport 400 also comes standard with 14-speaker audio, though I did find the audio fidelity to be lacking overall. It’s a little muffled, considering the number of speakers on-hand.
Power comes from a twin-turbo V6, and it comes on strong. It’s rated at 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, enough, when paired with the smart AWD system, to get you up and at highway speeds in a hurry. Actually, hurry is probably putting in mildly: The Q50 Red Sport 400 explodes off the line to the point where you can’t imagine any of its competition really being able to keep pace.
Whether you decide to let the seven-speed auto do the work itself or make use of those sickle-like paddle levers mentioned earlier, each upshift is accompanied with a resounding surge of acceleration. No fancy dual-clutch set-up here; just a standard automatic that does the trick just fine.
Issues arise, however, as you start to consider the Q50 Red Sport’s handling characteristics. The adaptive dynamic digital suspension – along with ATC, if you so wish – does a fine job of keeping the 1,839 kg (it’s the heaviest of three Q50 trims) sedan in shape. I don’t have a problem there. It’s the steering the lets the car down.
The steer-by-wire tech has been documented relatively well; electronic actuators sense the driver’s inputs, which are then translated to steering angle. Our car had the added benefit of having the $3,800 technology package, which adds adaptive steering and its three customizable drive modes. You can also individually select the weight and sensitivity of the wheel. No matter what we tried, though, it just never really felt connected to the road beneath, leading to a less-than-confidence-inspiring attitude on the road. It just feels like the chassis – by way of the steering rack – can never quite keep up with the potency of the engine.
It is potent, though, that engine, and my best guess is that there really aren’t enough buyers who will care too too much about steering feel. Not when they’ve got power like that underfoot.
Once they get a look at that price tag, meanwhile, any worries about not being able to completely feel that pebble under your front-right tire will be thrown right out the window. With a starting price of $54,600, the Q50 Red Sport 400 – the top-most trim of the line, remember – undercuts similarly-equipped models from BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Not to mention that the Infiniti has more power and tech than those at base, even if you decide to forego the tech package.
It’s a little ironic in that the dynamic steering – which is kind of the highlight of the package on the dynamic front – changes so little that it almost makes it easier to not go for it. You do also lose active lane keep assist and blind spot warning, though, which I guess is a little tougher to forgive. Still; even without the pack, you still get a passive blind spot system, forward collision warning and active backup collision protection with cross-traffic alert. A relative bargain, this Q50. There’s also a less powerful 3.0t model, too, which still provides a turbo V6 engine and may be worth considering at $45,900.
With the 300, though, you do lose that fantastic motor, which is such a highlight of the package as a whole, that I’d be hard-pressed to give it up. I just feel like it would be a similar sensation to that of buying a V6-powered muscle car. You’d always have that nagging feeling: “Why didn’t I get the V8?” With the Q50, I really feel it would be the same: “Why, oh why, didn’t I get the 400?” Does it replace my thirst for the Eau Rouge? I’m not sure about that. What it does do, however, is whet my appetite for a properly powerful sedan that can be had for the price of a top-spec minivan.