- What’s Best: Curbside appeal, athletic engines, made in Japan
- What’s Worst: Buggy InTouch telematics, fragile run-flat tires, no manual stick
- Typical Used Prices: 2014 - $24,500; 2017 - $44,000
Arguably, no Asian automaker has pursued the German performance-car nameplates with more fervent purpose than Nissan.
A case in point is the Skyline GT-R, dubbed “Godzilla” when it was revived for 1989. Bristling with technology, including all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, the R32’s twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine cranked out 276 hp – laughably underreported to appease the authorities – from just 2.6 litres of displacement.
Acknowledging that their target was the Porsche 959 supercar, Nissan’s engineers air-freighted the coupe to Germany’s Nürburgring, where it set a new track record. They might as well have churned up the front lawn at Porsche headquarters, too. The Skyline GT-R won races and found stardom in the digital gaming realm after that.
The turn of the century brought a new direction. Product planners dropped the straight-six engine and adopted Nissan’s global FM (“front midship”) rear-drive platform. The chassis cradled a V6 engine mounted longitudinally behind the front axle for better balance.
Thusly equipped, the Skyline was recast for the growing luxury-sport market and, for the first time, exported to North America as the all-new Infiniti G35 sports sedan and coupe for 2003.
The G35 became Infiniti’s first bona fide hit, thanks to its brawny V6 and rigid rear-drive chassis, which provided an agile yet raw driving experience.
For some buyers the updated, rough-around-the-edges G37 was almost perfect. But to better compete with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the next-generation G was sent to finishing school and graduated as the new Q50 mid-size sports sedan for 2014.
Technically, the Q50 is still a G-series car with an updated FM platform and familiar V6. But much had changed, too, principally the styling, which grew more sinewy and aggressive. With a drag coefficient of just 0.26 it was as slippery in the wind as it looked.
The cabin was thoroughly reworked to be more comfortable, airy – with slimmer pillars – and crammed with driver aids and dual display screens. There was a new infotainment system called InTouch, Infiniti’s answer to BMW’s iDrive. Unfortunately, Infiniti equates luxury with technology overload, an indication perhaps that its driver’s car has grown soft and aimless.
Augmenting that perception was the Q50’s electronic Direct Adaptive Steering, the world’s first production steer-by-wire system. It was roundly criticized for lacking feedback and natural-feeling resistance proportional to cornering loads. It felt wholly artificial, much like driving a Skyline GT-R using a videogame console. Talk about life imitating art.
Fortunately, Direct Adaptive Steering was part of the optional Deluxe Touring Package (standard on the Q50 Hybrid model), while base models used a conventional hydraulic system that felt much more linear and natural.
At least the Q50 retained its VQ-series aluminum engine, an updated 3.7-L DOHC V6 that made 328 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, working through a seven-speed automatic transmission. Sadly, Infiniti dropped the G’s six-speed manual gearbox, citing the stick’s poor sales. All-wheel drive was optional.
The only other powertrain available at launch belonged to the Q50 Hybrid, the marque’s first. It used a 3.5-L V6 that worked in tandem with a 50-kilowatt electric motor fed by a lithium-ion battery pack for a combined output of 360 hp. The hybrid powertrain is available in both rear drive and all-wheel drive.
Stung by some untoward criticism of their new creation, Infiniti moved quickly to address faults with the Q50’s electronic steering, then unveiled a host of new engines for the 2016 model year.
To help reduce the price of entry, the base car adopted a 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, good for 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It was sourced from Mercedes-Benz, which was already making a turbodiesel engine fitted to Q50s sold in Europe.
The aging and gruff 3.7-L V6 was replaced by Infiniti’s 3.0-L twin-turbo V6 that produced 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque – less power, but more grunt than the outgoing engine supplied. A modified version of the 3.0T powered the high-performance Q50 Red Sport 400, making 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Certain V6 models also received driver-adjustable suspension dampers to better tailor the handling characteristics.
After a rough start, the Q50 had grown into a competitive product in the hotly contested premium sports sedan category thanks to its new, more refined powertrains and better suspension tuning.
DRIVING THE Q50
Thanks in part to the quick-acting automatic tranny, the 3.7-L Q50 could attain 97 km/h in 5.2 seconds from a dead stop – pretty speedy work for a normally aspirated V6. By comparison, the 2016 four-cylinder model required 6.6 seconds, while the 300-hp 3.0T-equipped sedan did it in 5.0 seconds, helped or hindered by its weighty all-wheel-drive hardware. The 400-hp Red Sport edition could do the deed in a laudable 4.5 seconds.
On the handling side, the Q is fairly accomplished – as long as you find a model without the dreaded Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) system. Most Q50s left the Japanese factory without it, fortunately. The standard steering arrangement is electrically assisted, but it’s mechanically tied to the front wheels and feels more natural because of it. By comparison, consider what one driver had to say about DAS.
“The vehicle has an unnerving habit of wandering, floating and swerving or yawing from side-to-side, requiring nearly constant steering corrections,” complained the owner of a 2015 model online. A number of drivers attributed the squirrelly handling to a combination of DAS and the car’s run-flat tires. Definitely try it before you buy it.
Fuel economy can run the gamut from far too thirsty (premium grade, to boot) to surprisingly thrifty, depending on the powertrain. Apparently, the old 3.7-L V6 drinks like a V8, while Mercedes’ 2.0T is a gas sipper, partly because of its automatic stop-start system. The Hybrid doesn’t necessarily deliver exemplary results, say owners.
OWNERS TALK RELIABILITY
The Q50 didn’t always impress its owners early on, but like a doting parent, Infiniti was sensitive to disparagement of its bestselling car and sought improvements. Owners liked the car’s shapely profile, enhanced luxury and high-tech safety gear. Downsides included the sedan’s shallow trunk, fussy InTouch telematics, run-flat tires and oddball steering.
On the dependability front, the Q50 hasn’t quite lived up to the reputation earned by its G series predecessors. The most common headache owners mention is the InTouch infotainment system, which was filled with bugs at the outset.
“After starting the car the info system fails to boot up a few times a month. When it does boot, it takes forever for the icons to appear. There is also a time lag for the rear camera to come on after putting the car in reverse,” reads a common online gripe. It’s important to note that Infiniti has largely fixed the InTouch system after the 2014 model year.
Another big negative, and one shared with the Q50’s direct competitors, is the use of run-flat tires. Lots of owners have grown tired (sorry) of the noise, harsh ride, rapid wear, frequent failures and punitive high cost of replacement rubber. One complainant recorded seven tire failures in two years, each one costing more than $500 to replace. What are the benefits of run-flats, exactly?
Other grumbles revolve around the inaccurate steering – DAS got a reboot for 2016 that appears to work better – as well as an odd smell emanating from the sunroof’s drainage system (there’s a technical service bulletin to address it). A few buyers have had trouble with the car’s power door locks.
For entry-level sports sedan shoppers, the Q50 is a fetching looker that has most of the right stuff to make it a good buy, but it’s best to avoid the loaded models. Get a basic Q50 full up with motor and you’ll likely enjoy the ride.
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