Car Reviews First Drives

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 First Drive: The Higher-Performance Alternative

Infiniti finds the sweet spot between coddling comfort and thrilling performance

Infiniti finds the sweet spot between coddling comfort and thrilling performance

Are expectations even worth pondering? It’s almost like trying to predict the future. However, when expectations are surpassed it’s always a pleasant surprise. Flying to Nashville, Tenn., for the 2018 Infiniti Q50 drive, I was thinking about the hotel I would stay in and how the sedan would drive. When I got to the hotel, my expectations were smashed as I walked in—it was unlike any I had ever seen. Owned by the owner of a liquor conglomerate (Jack Daniels and other brands), the 21c Museum Hotel chain allows anyone to walk in and view the various and sometimes bizarre art work collected by the owner from around the world. But this is not a hotel review. Did the Q50 surpass my expectations like the unique hotel did? Yes, but in a completely different way.

For 2018, Infiniti refreshed the exterior and interior of the Q50 lineup and introduced a new trim level structure. All models receive the automaker’s updated double-arch grille and redesigned headlights and taillights. For the 3.0t Sport and Red Sport 400 models, the front bumper and lower air intakes were updated for a more aggressive look, and the rear end receives a new two-tone rear diffuser that complements the dual exhaust. Inside the cabin, leather now surrounds the instrument panel with double stitching, there’s a new steering wheel with redesigned steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and the shift knob now has double-stitching, new chrome trim, and an inlaid Infiniti logo. The Q50’s instrument panel and ambient lighting were also updated along with reduced noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). Engineers also improved the sedan’s vehicle dynamic control system to be less intrusive, allowing for more fun, especially in Sport+ mode.

The new trim levels now consist of the entry-level Pure, the more luxurious Luxe, the Sport, and the rang-topping Red Sport 400. The standard 208-hp, 258-lb-ft of torque, 2.0-liter turbo-four can be had in the Pure and Luxe trims. The Hybrid model only comes in the Luxe trim, but the 300-hp, 295-lb-ft, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 is available in the Luxe and Sport trims. The most powerful powerplant in the lineup is the same twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 but tuned to churn out a potent 400 hp at 6,400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpm. It’s exclusive to the top Red Sport 400 model. All engines are backed by a seven-speed automatic that routes power to the rear wheels or an available all-wheel-drive system.

The Red Sport is not a BMW M or Mercedes-AMG contender, the automaker explains. Infiniti sees the Q50 Red Sport 400 rivaling models such as the Audi S4, Lexus IS 350 F Sport, and BMW 340i Track edition. This is important to know when driving this car because it is not as sharp or aggressive as an M or full AMG sedan. That’s not a negative, just don’t get your expectations mixed up.

The Q50 Red Sport 400 features several technologies that allow for fun and sporty driving dynamics. Infiniti’s second-generation drive-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering system might not be very popular among driving enthusiasts due to its lack of steering feedback, but the system should be a hit with anyone else due to its adjustability and precision. Without a mechanical connection to the steering rack, there is no need to worry about steering wheel kickback. Almost all steering vibration is eliminated. The automaker’s Dynamic Digital Suspension, standard on the Red Sport 400, constantly adjusts the shock absorber valve to control body motion when cornering. It monitors body roll, pitch, and bounce rate in order to give the driver a controlled and comfortable ride. Standard mode is comfort-biased but can provide quite a rigid ride in some instances. However, the stiff suspension is great for handling and only gets better (and firmer) with Sport and Sport+ modes. In Sport mode, steering weight is increased and the transmission shifts sooner, more aggressively, and holds gear longer. Sport+ mode amplifies all this.

The independent suspension consists of a double-wishbone design in the front and a multi-link design with coil springs in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard on all models. The Q50 Red Sport 400 comes equipped with four-piston front brake calipers and two-piston rear calipers painted in red. The rear-drive Red Sport 400 comes with staggered 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels shod in 245/40R19 summer tires up front and 265/35R19 run-flat summer tires in the rear. All-wheel-drive versions are not staggered and come with 245/40R19 all-season run-flat tires on all four corners.

All of this equates to very balanced and stable driving dynamics when in Sport and Sport+ modes. The Q50’s turn-in is secure and precise with minimal body roll. Exiting the corners requires careful throttle modulation because the Red Sport tends to get tail happy due to the lack of a limited-slip differential, but the electronic aids kick in entertainingly late when in Sport+ mode. On long sweeping turns, you start feeling the weight of the luxurious sedan, but the very vocal Bridgestone tires equipped on our tester did a good job of constantly reminding me that I was on the edge of grip. I just wish they had a bit more grip. We weren’t able to pick up much speed on the back roads we were on, and I was only able to test low-speed trail braking, but the Infiniti handled it without any complaints. Braking feel and power is superb, and the ABS was never intrusive. The seven-speed automatic did a great job of shifting in Sport and Sport+ modes and never felt like it was hunting for the right gear. Manual mode allows for quick shifts with the paddle shifters, but I wish they were a tad faster. It was a great transmission overall, but it’s hard to beat the ZF eight-speed automatic found in some rivals.

The base Q50 2.0t Pure standard features include eight-way power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, 17-inch Lunar Black trim wheels, and Infiniti InTouch, which consists of two touch-captive screens—an 8.0-inch upper and 7.0-inch lower display stacked on top of each other. Opting for the Luxe trim will get you 18-inch sport wheels, all-season run-flat tires, a power moonroof, chrome bumper finishers, and maple wood interior trim. The 3.0t Sport adds a sportier front fascia, sport seats, new 19-inch wheels, and all-season performance tires (summer tires for rear-wheel-drive models). The Red Sport 400 comes equipped with quilted semi-aniline leather seats, aluminum-accented pedals, dark chrome interior trim, dark metallic paddle shifters, custom exhaust tips, and a wide range of driver assist safety features. Available on lower trims as well, these driver assist features include an all-around view camera system with parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, forward automatic braking, blind-spot warning, Blind Spot Intervention, rear cross-traffic braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and adaptive headlights.

Did the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 beat my expectations? Absolutely. The car knows it is not a super sedan such as an M3 or AMG C63, and it doesn’t try to be. The car is mostly comfortable during regular driving but still a thrill when pushed hard—not an easily achievable combination. It also offers some of the latest safety technology and features that should make most buyers feel coddled. The Q50 Red Sport 400 is for someone looking for a good balance between luxury and hooligan fun. I can’t say the Q50 is as unique as the museum hotel I stayed in, but like the hotel, I left the sedan feeling good because of surpassed expectations.