Infiniti’s best-selling saloon gets a performance boost. But is power really everything? We find out on-track with the Q50 S Red Sport 400 at the Dubai Autodrome
|V6, twin-turbo, 2997cc
|395bhp @ 6,400rpm
|475Nm (350lb ft) @ 1,600–5,200rpm
|New ‘VR’ engine family off to a strong start
|Handling not yet on par with German rivals
Infiniti is adamant: it’s new Q50 Red Sport 400 should not be considered a rival to the BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C63 or Cadillac ATS-V. Yes, the brand new 3-litre V6 – one of two new powertrains being introduced to the range – produces an impressive 395bhp and 350lb ft of torque, putting the Red Sport well into BMW and Mercedes territory. Moreover, more than one million testing kilometres have been spent on the second generation Direct Adaptive Steering system in pursuit of improved handling in the most ‘performance-orientated’ example of Infiniti’s best-selling saloon yet.
The Red Sport though should not be considered a successor to the GT-R-powered Q60 Eau Rouge, long since denied a production run. Nor, more’s the pity, is it the genesis of an AMG / M-division rivalling sub-brand. You could think of it more as Infiniti’s answer to Audi’s ‘S’ range. But mostly, today’s test drive at the Dubai Autodrome celebrates the debut of Infiniti’s exclusive ‘VR’ powertrain family, of which the twin-turbocharged V6 is its headliner.
Downsized considerably over its outgoing – and near-decade old – 3.7-litre predecessor, the new, aluminium-shod V6 combines a lightweight, aluminium-heavy block with a new twin-turbo setup to both increase power output from 326bhp and decrease fuel efficiency by 6.7 per cent. Though it’s available in both 296bhp and 395bhp guise, it’s the power delivery in the latter we’re most interested in today. It’s certainly not the looks anyway.
While the Red Sport retains the Q50’s elegant body curves, ‘unique’ exhaust tips and new 19in alloy wheels are the gist of the Red Sport ‘re-design’, the cabin receiving only an updated InTouch infotainment system and a smattering of driver assistance systems. Those of us still hopeful of an AMG-bater are left, if not disappointed, at the very least disheartened by this gentlest of ‘Red Sport’ facelifts.
On to the important bit. What is the new engine like?
Concerns though that the Red Sport 400 will prove a duffer are nixed when the 395bhp twin-turbo V6 stretches its legs on our opening laps. Pick-up is immediate and refreshingly aggressive courtesy of a low bank of torque that stretches well into the mid-5000rpm range. From there, this frenetic burst softens into more progressive acceleration, but rarely does the V6 run out of steam: we’re nudging 200kph down the Autodrome’s main straight and the 3-litre unit is still pulling. It’s not an AMG level of ferocity but it’s a sharp, gutsy surge that threatens to send the rear wheels scrabbling for grip in both first and second gears (and even hints of third on some parts of the track). As an introduction to the new VR family, it’s mightily impressive.
Less so the seven-speed automatic gearbox unfortunately, which has not received the same updates as the V6 with which it shares a drivetrain. The shifts themselves are smooth but prove too doddery, and lack the immediacy required to make the most of that rear-wheel driven 395bhp (there’s little if any added enthusiasm in Sport or Sport+ mode either). I also wonder if, when designing those ‘unique’ exhaust pipes, whether a less utilitarian – read ‘droning’ – soundtrack could have been developed alongside.
What’s the handling like?
Into the more technical sections of the track, body roll is nicely, though not thoroughly, suppressed by the Q50’s now aging chassis and revised suspension, but we’ll have to wait to test the ‘improved ride quality’ more comprehensively out on the road. The tyres meanwhile though grippy, can struggle to keep the car in-check, and while decent weight distribution and a low centre of gravity means the Red Sport’s front end can be leaned on, there are limits: jump on the power too early, and the front end will begin to nose wide. Admittedly a dash of lift-off oversteer can bring the front end back into line – the rear axle rarely shy in that regard – albeit not with the same controlled discipline one would find in its German rivals. Don’t get me wrong, the prospect of hanging the rear axle out in the Red Sport, particularly with the thuggish power delivery in the lower revs, is an enticing one. But there lacks the precision I’d ultimately expected.
It’s tempting to lay blame squarely on the doormat of the second gen Direct Adaptive Steering, but tangibly improved feedback through the digital matrix that makes up the system and significantly faster response make this difficult. There still lacks the intricate texture of a mechanical setup, true, but solid weight and precise balance mean that, like the V6, it’s incredibly impressive. The option to hustle the 400 is literally at your fingertips.
So, overall verdict?
Whether or not you’ll want to is another matter. That the new Red Sport 400 V6 is a triumph is beyond question, the aggression and straight-line pace of 395bhp an impressive opening to a new family. It’s just a shame that such a new powertrain hasn’t encouraged more fanfare. The handling is solid if unspectacular, the gearbox outclassed by the powertrain it’s mated with, and there’s little in the way of design flair for the most performance-orientated Q50 yet. It makes us wonder what might have been. Infiniti is adamant the new Q50 Red Sport 400 is not a direct rival to the BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C 63. And we’d have to agree with them.
- Technical specifications available on page 2