The decision to replace a car is usually taken because it is felt by all concerned that they can make it “better”. Advances in technology have generally ensured that today’s product is objectively “better” than yesterday’s in so many regards: efficiency, both in terms of power output as well as economy and emissions from ever more sophisticated combinations of software and engine technology; ride, steering and handling using the latest techniques ranging from suspension design and tyres to software and electronics; safety, of course, the results of research and ever more sophisticated modelling and testing as well as advances from the chassis and body structures; technology that narrows the gap ever closer between what we use on our desks and have in our pockets and what is available integrated into the car; and standard features, once the preserve of luxury models, as the relative cost of some of them goes down. Many would add styling to that list, though you could argue, looking at the back catalogue of some classics of yesteryear that this is more of a case of reflecting modern fashions and tastes rather than the latest designs being something that is objectively an improvement. And so, when the reviews of a new model come out, even it is to replace a car which was still considered to be “good” at the end of a production life of several years, the conclusions are almost always that the new offering is indeed “better”. There are a few notable cases from over the years where that is not the case, as Peugeot managed to prove to us with the 206 not living up to the 205 in many regards and the 307 definitely being quite a step backwards over the 306. When the first reviews of the Infiniti Q50 were published, it looked like this Japanese brand was about to join the list. The G37 and earlier G35 cars, through two generations, had been widely praised as being excellent. Indeed at one point, the US’ “Consumer Reports” organisation had rated the car at 95 out of 100, the top score of any car on the market. This was a good looking sports sedan that was a very strong contender to the likes of the BMW 3 Series, equalling or bettering it in many regards. It was largely unknown in the UK, of course, as when Infiniti sales did finally start in late 2009, there were only a handful of dealers and the car was only available with a tax-unfriendly 3.7 litre V6 petrol engine. The Q50 was supposed to change all that. Premiered at the 2013 Detroit Show, and going on sale in the US and Europe later in the year, it was the first Infiniti to adopt the new naming convention, a signal of the brands intent to reinvent itself and to push harder in its chosen market segments, with a product designed for global appeal. Initial reviews on both sides of the Atlantic suggested that Infiniti had missed the mark. The styling was a bit non-descript, but the real problem was that in stuffing more technology into the car, it actually made it less appealing to drive, wiping out the advantage that the G37 had over its rivals. Sales in the US have been decent enough, but in Europe the Q50 has made little impact in a huge and profitable sector of the market long dominated by the German trio of 3, C and A4. Mr Hertz added some to the US fleet during 2014, but never in that great a quantity, as their purchasing department probably concluded that this was not going to be as popular a car as its predecessor had been. Indeed, the old car stayed in production, rebadged as the Q40, for a couple of years, and if you booked the rental car class for the Infiniti, you were at least as likely to get a Q40 as the newer car. I never managed to source one, and then a mid-life update was presented at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show. As well as a few visual tweaks, the big news was under the bonnet, with new 2 and 3 litre turbo engines to replace the 3.7 litre V6, and some significant changes to the driving dynamics from a combination of the second generation Direct Adaptive Steering (still an option, though), the introduction of a new electronic steering system as standard, Digital Dynamic suspension, standard on the 3.0t models, a new “Personal” option in the Drive mode and revised suspension settings to try to restore the Q50’s reputation as a car for enthusiasts. When I arrived at the Phoenix Sky Harbor rental facility early on a Saturday morning, I found a brand new 2017 model had been allocated to me, a nice upgrade from the class I had booked. Still remembering just how good the G37 had been, even though it is 4 years since last drove one, slightly apprehensively, I did not hesitate to load my luggage on board, and to head off into some favourite part of Arizona to find out whether the Q50 is now a worthy successor to the G37, or one of those cars to go on the list of “its predecessor was better” cars.
Although at launch, the Q50 carried over the 3.7 litre V6 engine from the G37, and the only other powertrain offered was the 3.5 litre Hybrid, with the 2016 facelift, Infiniti have broadened the range of powerplants offered in the car. There was no doubt which one was under the bonnet of my test car, as it bore 3.0t badges on the front wings. That meant that I had the 3 litre twin-turbo V6 engine which was introduced to replace the older 3.7 litre unit as part of the changes brought in for 2016. This engine is actually a little less powerful than its predecessor, putting out 300 bhp as opposed to the 328 bhp that went before, but it would take a back-to-back test to find out exactly how much of a penalty this is on the road, if one at all. Certainly, out on the road you don’t feel short-changed. This is a super-smooth engine, but it is also a very eager one, and it is well matched to the standard seven speed automatic transmission, with the result that whenever you put your foot down, no matter what speed you were starting from, or what gear you happened to be in, there is an instant response and a rush of power available as you accelerate away. The only disappointment is that in the G37, there was a real roar to the engine when you fired it up, and something of this still pertained when you accelerated, sounding very much like the 350Z sports car whose mechanicals it shared. That has gone with this car, which is that bit more refined sounding. Many customers will probably appreciate this, but for me, this lesser noise was a touch disappointing. What was anything but, though, was the fuel economy. That 3.7 litre engine was a thirsty brute, and in my last test of a G37, admittedly one with the optional all-wheel drive, I struggled to achieve 20 mpg US. Reviews suggest that this one might not be much better. In my hands, it was. A lot better. I drove the Q50 a distance of 501 miles over 2 days, with much of that mileage covered at a steady freeway speed., though there was also a lengthy period of stop/start queuing as everyone filed past the recovery of a lorry from over the side of the I10 freeway, and needed to put 16.63 US gallons in so as to be able return the car full. That equates to 30.12 mpg US or an impressive 35.98mpg Imperial. I did check the calculator to make sure I had got that right, as it was a very good number indeed, and sure enough, that is what it amounted to.
The change between G37 and Q50 that occasioned most comment when the model first appeared was its steering. Infiniti came up with what they call Direct Adaptive Steering, which is a “driver by wire” system, and it was pretty universally condemned as having some odd characteristics which no-one felt made the car more responsive or more fun to drive. A second generation of the system came out with the 2016 facelift. It was not fitted to my test car, so I got something which uses tried and trusted mechanical connections and electric assistance. I would describe the result as perfectly acceptable, but not class leading. The steering is a bit too light for my tastes, but it is precise, and you could certainly tell even with small adjustments what the steered wheels were going to do. You can change things using the Driver Mode button which you will find on the centre console, or if you search through the menus on the lower display screen. Modes offered include Standard, Eco (you can guess what that does!), Snow, Sport and Personalise. I did not try the last of these, but I did test out Sport mode, and it does what you would expect, in terms of adding an extra edge to the throttle response and the steering. You would need a track, or at the very least, some empty and wide roads to find the limits of this rear-driver’s handling. I had access to neither of these, so was suitably circumspect when driving someone else’s car on public roads. Certainly the Q50 goes round corners very nicely, with minimal body roll, and the feeling that there is plenty of grip, and you will run out of space before the car runs out of stickiness from its 225/55 17″ Potenza tyres. There is no penalty from a ride point of view, with this car coping well with the streets of Arizona. Couple that with low noise levels and this is a very refined cruiser that, with a fuel range of over 550 miles if you can achieve my level of fuel consumption – would allow you and your passengers to travel a long way without feeling stressed by so doing. There will be no issue when you need to stop or slow down, as the brakes were just as you would expect, with nice weighting to the pedal and a progressive feel. There is a foot operated parking brake, with a pedal to the left of the footwell. Visibility was generally OK, though I thought the door mirrors were a touch on the small side, which inevitably limited their field of vision a bit. There was not much of a blind spot. Standard equipment includes a reversing camera fitted, which projected a clear image of what was behind onto the upper display screen in the car, so judging the back end was a whole lot easier.
One of the other criticisms I’ve read of the Q50 is of its interior. Granted that my test car was only a few days old, and therefore still had that characteristic “new car” smell, but even lacking this, you still have the sensation that you are about to step into something premium when you open the door and look inside. Leather covers many of the surfaces, not just on the seats, but much of the dash and the upper part of the door casings as well. Infiniti also use what looks like milled aluminium, as an inlay on the central part of the dash and centre console as well as on the doors, and although it clearly is actually plastic, it looks good, and makes a change from carbon fibre or fake wood. Everything fits together very well, and the overall design is cohesive, and all the controls, switches and stalks feel good to the touch, which contributes to that overall up-market ambience. That most characteristic Infiniti feature, the small ovoid clock in the centre of the dash is missing, replaced by a large digitally generated unit in the upper display screen, but if you look hard enough for more than a couple of minutes you will see enough other traits, and parts, to guess that you were in an Infiniti even if you would not see the badge on the steering wheel boss. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A single cowl covers the instruments, of which there are two large dials, which glow with a blue-y purple inner ring. These show revs and speed, and there are smaller gauges for water temperature and fuel level inset in their lowest portions. The dials are clearly marked and easy to read. Between them is a digital display area, and you can cycle through the different data points by pressing two small buttons on the right hand steering spoke. There was not a digital speedo repeater, so you could choose between things such as the fuel range, tyre pressures, any warning messages, or some trip data. Twin column stalks, which look like they are from the Nissan/Infiniti parts bin, but again which felt very nice to use, are for indicators and lights on the left and wipers on the right, meaning that there is no need for anything other than the boot release and the traction control switch on the lower left of the dash. The steering wheel contains a lot of rather small and fiddly buttons. Those on the left are used as repeaters for some audio unit functions, and those on the right for cruise control.
Centre of the dash contains two digital display panels, for the In-Touch infotainment system. The upper one, the slightly larger of the two, at 8″, would be used for navigation were it fitted, but it was a surprise omission on this otherwise well- equipped car. That means that the default screen shows a clock, but there are options for some of the audio functions to be shown here instead. The lower screen, slightly smaller at 7″, has a whole series of options, presented very much like Tablet icons. These range from a User Guide, Settings to personalise your experience, Phone options using the standard Bluetooth connectivity, Information (about the car and journey), SXM Info for the Satellite Radio, a series of Apps, and on to an assessment of your driving in terms of fuel economy, smoothness and a G-force display. Both screens are touch sensitive and easy to use, though I did notice that they were particularly susceptible to finger marks within minutes. There is a turn wheel controller on the centre console as an alternative input device. Beneath this unit are a very reduced set of buttons for the audio system, and – now getting rare in cars – a CD slot. These covered on/off, volume and channel selection, other functions being operated from within the display screen. Dual zone automated climate control is controlled from a series of small buttons arranged in vertical stacks on either side of the display screens. Although the whole set up was not instantly as intuitive as the traditional way of doing things, it only took a couple of minutes sat in the car as I collected it to adjust the temperature and tune the radio for what I wanted before I could set off, and the resulting reduction in buttons does help to deliver a less cluttered ambience to the interior. New for 2017 is a 16 speaker Bose sound system. I only usually look for a couple of things from the radio part of the audio set up in US rental cars. FM was fine, but there seemed to be a subset of XM Satellite radio channels available, lacking the one I wanted to listen to. This may have been my failure to figure the set-up rather than a genuine absence, though.
Seat adjustment for the driver was electric, with simple buttons on the side of the seat for fore/aft and height, as well as backrest rake, whereas the steering column required manual effort, with in/out as well as up/down offered. Combined, these allowed me to get the perfect driving position. Although there was a sunroof (moonroof, as the Americans call them), this did not have any noticeable effect on the amount of available headroom, and it did add plenty of additional light into the car when the cover was open. I found the seat very comfortable, and with its (optional) leather trim, was a nice place to sit. Although there is a height adjuster on the seatbelt mounting, it did not go anything like far enough up for me, meaning that the belt was not placed quite where I would like it.
Those in the back may not be quite so in agreement. One characteristic of the G37 was that space was a little tight, and that has not really changed with the Q50. For sure, with the driver’s seat set well forward, as it was for my driving position, there is ample leg room, but I noted that with the passenger seat set further back and the backrest at more of an angle, the amount of space for legs and knees was rather less, and would probably prove a little lacking for the very tallest. There is enough width for three adults, but there is quite a tall transmission tunnel and the centre console, with a pair of air vents in its rear face, comes back a long way, so the central part of the seat would probably be better suited for children than adults. There is quite a sloping rear roofline to this car, but thanks to the angle of inclination of the rear seat backrest, headroom is not unduly compromised, and my head did not touch the rooflining. There is a drop down armrest, with a pair of cupholders in the upper face. Rear seat passengers also get map pockets in the seat backs, but they do not get door bins.
The boot is definitely one of the smaller in this class. The opening is not huge, and once you have lifted the lid, you will see that it is not that deep from back to front, or that high from top to bottom and that the area between the wheel arches is much reduced compared to the very rear-most part of the car. There is a ski flap through which you could poke long items, but the rear seat backrests do not fold forwards, although that capability is available as a cost option. There is not really any space under the boot floor, either. Inside the cabin, there is a rather modestly sized glovebox, small bins on the front doors, and a cubby under the central armrest, behind the pair of cupholders, and that is it, so oddment space is a bit limited.
There’s an extensive range of Q50 models available, all of them with the same four door saloon body style, even for European customers. Reflecting the different market needs of either side of the Atlantic, though, there are differences, of which the main one is that US customers do not get the chance of a diesel powered model. When configuring your Q50, you need first to choose the engine – 2.0t, 3.0t, Red Sport 400, or Hybrid – and then, you can choose between base, Premium, Signature Edition, and Sport trims. Not every trim is available with every engine option. For instance, the Q50 Hybrid is only available in Premium, and the Signature Edition is only available with the 3.0t. All trims are available with all-wheel drive for an additional $2,000. You can also add an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hot spot to any trim for $495. The entry level Q50 is the 2.0t, which starts at $33,950, comparable to or less than the starting prices of many class rivals. Power comes from a 2 litre turbo four-cylinder engine which generates 208 bhp. Standard features include push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, HD Radio, satellite radio, two USB ports, a rearview camera, and Infiniti’s InTouch infotainment system with voice recognition, an 8-inch upper touch screen, a 7-inch lower touch screen, and smartphone app integration. The only available package with the base model adds a power moonroof, and it costs $1,000. The 2.0t Premium is the next step up from the base trim, and it starts at $38,400. It includes all the features of the base trim, and additionally includes a moonroof, a 16-speaker Bose audio system, and an advanced climate control system with an air purifier. There are a few packages available with the Premium. The Leather Seating package ($1,000) upgrades the upholstery to leather. The Premium Plus package ($2,150) adds navigation and heated front seats. The Driver Assistance package ($2,150) adds active safety features like forward emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and a surround-view camera. The 3.0t Premium has a starting price of $40,650. It comes standard with the same features as the 2.0t premium, but, as the name suggests, comes with a larger engine, a twin-turbo 3 litre V6 that puts out 300 bhp instead of the base four-cylinder. There are several packages available, some of which cost as little as $300. The Driver Assistance and Leather Seating packages cost the same and add the same features as in the 2.0t Premium. The Premium Plus package is available too, but it only costs $1,650 in this trim. You can add Direct Adaptive Steering for $1,000, and there’s also the Technology package ($1,700), which adds lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and other active safety features. The 3.0t Sport starts at $44,650 and comes standard with all features found in the 3.0t Premium, as well as a sport suspension, sport seats with leather upholstery, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. The 3.0t Sport offers the same major option packages as the 3.0t Premium trim, though the Premium Plus package costs $2,250 in the 3.0t Sport. The Red Sport 400 has a starting price of $48,700, making it the most expensive Q50 trim. However, it’s also the only trim that features the 400 bhp version of the twin-turbo V6 engine. The Red Sport 400 comes standard with all the same features as the 3.0t Sport, and it also adds some unique styling upgrades. It also offers the same option packages as the 3.0t Sport and at the same prices. Of the many Q50 trims, the 3.0t Premium probably provides the best value, as it comes with many standard features, has the more powerful 3 litre engine, and is available with plenty of option packages that let you add additional driver assistance, comfort, and convenience features. Despite offering so much, it’s closer in price to the base model than the top-of-the-line Red Sport 400. It is the version that Hertz seem to have purchased for their fleet, adding the Leather Seating package to the car, but not bothering with the available features. Whilst I can understand them not wanting the much criticised Direct Adaptive Steering, it was a bit of a surprise to get a car of this class and price that lacked navigation.
Despite my initial apprehensions – largely formed by reading all those somewhat luke-warm reviews of the Q50 from inception – I rather liked this car. It does lack the roar of the exhaust that made its predecessor, the G37, seem like a sports car in saloon clothing, a feeling that was reinforced once you set off and could experience the agile handling that also seems to have been softened somewhat in this car, but there is still much that is good. The 3 litre turbo engine is smooth and very eager, the transmission is also excellent, and also despite what I have read, when driven at steady speeds, the Q50 is surprisingly economical. The interior is a nice place to be, with a quality feel to the controls, and the seat proved comfortable as you motored from A to B and back again – the long way around, just for the fun of it. Whilst those in the back may feel a little less accommodated, and the boot is on the small side, this car is certainly not one to dismiss out of hand. It is very popular with Hertz’ customers, and indeed their staff. The guy who managed its return told me that he just loved it, but added rather ruefully, that he will have to wait many years before it has depreciated enough so he could afford one! Hertz in the US don’t have that many direct rivals to the Q50 on fleet, but of course in the car sales wars, there are plenty of competitors, ranging from the German triumvirate of 3 Series, C Class and A4, the domestic rival of the Cadillac ATS, established competition from the Volvo S60 and the new pretenders of Jaguar XE and Alfa Giulia, not forgetting what some would see as the closest rival, the Lexus IS. There’s not a bad product among them, and such are the standards that have to be attained to stand a chance (and I mean a chance, not a guarantee) of success, all of these cars are so strong in just about every respect that sorting them into any sort of ranked order is almost mission impossible, and will also be sufficiently subjective that were you to ask five people to do so, you would probably get five very differently sequenced lists. I’ve not driven all those rivals, and those I have sampled have been in individual models which were not strictly comparable, so I am not sure I can actually produce my own list with any level of confidence, especially as I suspect that the two cars that would top it, the XE and the Giulia, are two of the three I’ve not sampled at all. However, I can say that if Hertz offer you their Q50 or their Mercedes C300, both of which they have on fleet in the US, I would take the Infiniti. It has a better engine, and rides far better than the disappointing Mercedes did. That Hertz categorise them in different rental groups and would want more dollars for the Mercedes further eases the decision.