The Infiniti Q50 is not just the successor to the G37 – it’s the first production car in the world to use aviation-inspired steer-by-wire technology. But is it any good?[Not a valid template]
At first glance, the Q50 is the rebranded sequel to Infiniti’s G37 saloon, a competent, stylish machine with a decent dose of performance that’s proved a popular option in the Middle East.
But there’s more to it than that. The Infiniti Q50 is a world first in production cars – it’s the first car you can buy with steer-by-wire technology. That means that for the first time ever there’s no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels, with all inputs and feedback controlled by sensors and actuators.
The theoretical benefits of this include safety, flexibility of design and improved fuel economy, but for those of us concerned about driver involvement, it’s a red flag. Can you really get a good feeling of what’s happening at the front wheels through what is essentially a simulation?
Well, we’ll get to that. First, an overview. Infiniti has overhauled its nomenclature system across the range, so the Q50 takes over the G-insert-engine-size-here moniker boasted by its predecessors. And as befits the new name, it’s an all-new car, the design inspired by the Essence and Etherea concept cars or recent years. The result is a really good-looking machine, oozing class and style, with a performance intent to its stance, thanks in part to strong shoulder lines emphasising the rear-wheel drive layout.
It’s classy inside too, with excellent build quality and materials, and some nice touch points, such as the magnesium paddles. There’s also a very fancy Android-based infotainment system, which uses a variety of apps and two in-dash screens to display and control them. The whole car is tech-heavy – as well as the digital steering, there is a range of safety systems including adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, plus forward collision prediction that keeps an electronic eye not only on the car in front, but on the car in front of that as well.
Our test car is the S model, which uses a 3.7-litre V6 engine with 326bhp and 266lb ft. Compared to the entry-level Q50, it features sport-tuned suspension, bigger brakes and a funky body kit. The engine is the familiar one found across the Infiniti and Nissan range, with decent pull especially high up in the rev range and a pleasingly sonorous whirr.
But enough about that, what about this high-tech steering? Well, considering it’s the first-generation of an all-new system, it’s remarkably good – I’ve driven plenty of cars with direct connections between hand and road that have less heft and texture. Sensors in the steering wheel detect inputs and transmit them to actuators on the steering rack. Meanwhile, information from the front wheels is sent to more actuators on the steering wheel to give what is, in effect, force feedback in the manner of computer game steering wheels. Infiniti claims it can filter the feedback according to the situation, so you’ll still get the information you need, but without unwanted kickback.
It works well. For everyday driving, cruising and so on there’s plenty of information and although it’s entirely made up of ones and zeroes, it’s hardly distinguishable from organic reality. The ability to get rid of unwanted kickback is impressive – during an on-track demonstration we drove with one side of the car battering over rumble strips, but there was no juddering through the wheel. You can tell what’s happening, but there’s less discomfort. Push harder though, and at the car’s limit the effect isn’t quite so great – it’s almost a pixelated feel, like there’s information missing. But again, for a first effort it works well, and Infiniti is already working hard to improve the system further for future cars. An interesting feature is how much the feel can be changed – a flick of a switch on the transmission tunnel instantly stiffens the steering feel and changes the ratio to a degree you won’t see on a regular set up. It provides a very interesting glimpse into future possibilities.
Although it might seem a touch scary to know that there’s normally no connection between driver and front tyres, there’s a clutch built in to the mechanism that, in the event of something going wrong, will engage to provide that direct link. So if you lose power, you’ll still be able to steer. Eventually though, once the technology is well proven, the plan is to dispense with that, which will widen possibilities for cockpit design, weight reduction and so on. It’s a type of technology well proven in aircraft, so don’t be surprised to see it become commonplace in the mid-term future.
Away from the steering, the Q50 rides well, the harder suspension in the S model (compared to the standard Q50) not giving way to a crashy experience, and body roll is well contained. Composure through the bends is more than adequate, but the front end feels heavy and the front tyres are quick to squeal if you try and push into the corner. The stability systems can only be partially turned off, so forget about and drift dreams – a wiggle from the back end under power, if provoked, is all you’ll get before the reins are pulled back. It feels a bit nannying – in fact, there are so many technical safety systems included on the Q50, many of which we don’t have space to cover here, that it feels like overkill, like you’re merely the curator of the driving experience rather than the driver him or herself. I’m not a particular fan of this approach, although I recognise that the everyday consumer may be more so.
As well as the S, we had a very quick go in the hybrid model, which is visually differentiated from the S by way of a Hybrid badge on the front wings and a blue S badge on the boot lid. Rather than being an aside to the main engine options, the hybrid is the top-of-the-range Q50, with its 3.5-litre V6 combined with an electric motor located in the gearbox housing to produce 350bhp. The electric motor adds 75kg to the weight, which it hides well. The different power train provides added low down torque, up to 395lb ft, to create a better feeling of power throughout the rev range – in comparison the 3.7 V6 in the S feels a touch sluggish off the line.
Taken on its immediate merits, the Q50 is a stylish, well-appointed premium saloon that’s comfortable and good value for money. Prices for the non-S version start at $45,058, rising to $51,184 for the S and $57,174 for the Hybrid. It’s not quite as dynamic as Infiniti would have you believe, but it’s far from sluggish and sloppy. What’s more important though is its position in future history books – expect by-wire technology to become an increasing feature of machines across the automotive world, and Infiniti has done a solid job at being the first to introduce it.
|Engine:||V6 / 3696cc|
|Power:||326bhp @ 7000rpm|
|Torque:||266lb ft @ 5200rpm|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed automatic with adaptive shift control / rear wheel drive|
|Front suspension:||Independent double-wishbone with coil springs / Dual Flow Path® shock absorbers|
|Rear suspension:||Independent multi-link with coil springs / Dual Flow Path® shock absorbers|
|Brakes:||4-piston opposed calipers with 14.0 x 1.3-inch ventilated discs (front) / 2-piston opposed calipers with 13.8 x 0.8-inch ventilated discs (rear)|
|Wheels:||19 x 8.5-inch, triple 5-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels|
|Tyres:||245/40R19 summer run-flat performance tires|