Many are tempted to compare Infiniti’s new, more performance-orientated Q50 S Red Sport 400 with the BMW M3 benchmark. Our man goes further, explaining why the Red Sport is the car the M3 should aspire to be…uh oh…
|V6, twin-turbo, 2997cc
|395bhp @ 6,400rpm
|475Nm (350lb ft) @ 1,600–5,200rpm
|A real dynamic step up for the Q50
|Should have a more premium cabin
You may have noticed that I write for a car magazine. With it comes a fat pay cheque, an unlimited speeding fine budget, the freedom to work when I choose, and lush brand-sponsored weekend retreats. The only requirement for such a role, given my obvious lack of skill behind the keyboard, is that you really, REALLY have to like cars and driving.
Therefore, I have to, by law, love the BMW M3, simply because it is very powerful, very manageable, very fast, very precise and incredibly fun. My only concern is that, at over $110,000 it’s a bit out of reach of a lot of its fanbase.
Enter the Infiniti Q50 S Red Sport, the latest 400bhp fun machine from Nissan’s premium sister that – and this is blasphemy – is what the BMW M3 should aspire to be.
Okay, hold on, whoa, calm down, hear me out.
Explain yourself immediately
To start with, Infiniti’s new flagship performance sport saloon is not only premium-ish, but also extremely forward thinking in terms of technology that sets you back no more than $74,000. Not a trifling amount, true, but certainly nowhere near BMW M3 territory, and that also includes Infiniti’s 10,000Km service policy. It’s certainly easy to claim highest sales growth in the Premium segment when your price is a good 25 per cent cheaper than your closest competitor…
Then there’s the technology side of the Red Sport. First item of note is the dual-touchscreen setup for the ‘infotainment’ system that also controls quite a bit of the car setup. And these are capacitive screens – iPhone/Expensive Android type – that glide beautifully. Visually, and ergonomically, Infiniti’s setup is stunning. Compare this with the infotainment setup in the trendsetting BMW M3, and particularly in the Mercedes-AMG C 63, which are either too button-heavy or stick ungainly out of the dashboard like an afterthought. Even in the newly introduced E-Class, the now much larger screens are mounted so far away from the driver that Mercedes has removed the touch feature from them altogether. Score one for Infiniti.
How does the Red Sport handle?
The other update that made an impression on me is the drive-by-wire steering, which takes the traditional rack and pinion accoutrement and complements it with a set of electronic sensors, motors and actuators. Think of it as a road going version of the ForceFeedback steering wheel for a gaming console. Upon its introduction on the Q50 in 2013, Infiniti received a fair amount of criticism over the Direct Adaptive Steering, with many believing it could never replicate, let alone improve, on the connection offered by electric or hydraulic steering. Unfortunately I too have a few concerns.
My inner pedant for instance can’t get past the name. If there is no physical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels, how can this be ‘direct’? And if you still have the mechanical setup as a back-up, why bother with the electronics in the first place? Then there are complaints about the ‘feel’. I could do with greater connection to the wheels, and thus less filtering of what’s happening between wheels and tarmac. However, the sensation is no longer translated from the mechanical bits, meaning the steering can now be tuned to taste: if enough people complain, on the next service Infiniti will change the seven to an eight in the feedback setting and off we go.
The Q50 Red Sport does have a premium feel in the cabin, with a profusion of leather and wood panels, but then you get to the boot and see that the lining does not make it to the top, leaving the speaker wire hanging in plain sight. Would BMW allow such a thing? Unlikely.
What about that new engine?
What really matters though is what lies beneath the bonnet, namely a brand new 3-litre V6 with twin turbo arrangement offering 395bhp on tap, 350lb ft of torque and a seven-speed gearbox sending power to the rear wheels. This engine is something to behold, and not just because Infiniti has spent close to two decades developing this new generation. Power delivery across the rev range is surprisingly linear, but tinker with the various driving modes – particularly full-fat, oversteering lunatic ‘hero-type’ (not the actual name) – that allows you control of the rear wheels through the throttle without cutting the power prematurely. You wouldn’t call it BMW-M or AMG-like – it’s not savage enough for that – but it’s unhinged enough to make you feel like very little has been left in reserve. Unlike the BMW-M or AMG.
The big ‘but’ on this is in the rack-mounted paddles, which make switching gears in a corner rather confusing: c’mon Infiniti, it’s just a button, put it on the steering wheel. That said, the gearchanges themselves are swift enough once your hands can reach the paddles.
The chassis meanwhile is competent (that’s about all I can say given the ‘merry’ rear axle) meaning body roll is minimal. I also like that the tyres are just thin enough at 245/40 front and rear for opposite-sex attraction posturing, but thick enough to carry you fast through the turns. Once you are done with the lap time, though, the ride is comfy and sedate, which will save you a visit to the chiropractor. We could do with a bit of more braking capabilities. Not on the actual braking, but on the ventilation of such, as fading comes not too long after the red mist settles in.
So, overall verdict?
All in all then, a solid effort from Infiniti, even if the Q50 S Red Sport hits a few speed humps along the way: the steering is clever but lacks finesse, the gearbox could use a refresh and some premium touches are better than others. Better than an M3? No, I’d still opt for the faster, pricier, and better handling BMW (I write for a car magazine, remember). But is the Q50 S Red Sport the car BMW’s M3 should aspire to be? Yes, and I’ll stand by that. Munich’s 3-Series for instance used to be the company’s entry level salon, the M3 riding high at the top of the line. BMW’s showcase model meanwhile was – and still is – the M5, leaving the M3 as the fast, quirky, and on a budget fun seeker.
The issue here is that, as much as that is still the case, the M3’s rise into $110K territory pulls it well out of reach of every youngster not starting in the hedge fund sector. This Infiniti on the other hand is more gimmicky, more ergonomic, and, arguably, as much fun albeit a tad slower, all with a $36K price difference that would make a neat down payment to an apartment. Something, a long time ago, you might also have said of a BMW M3.
- Technical specifications available on page 2