FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400
In order to review the 2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400, we have to take it back to 2003 when I was a newborn adult. I was headed into work as a cashier at Lowe’s, and being the immature 18-year-old I was, I drove a Fox Body Mustang. I’m still an immature 18-year-old, so I still own that Mustang, but I digress.
Anyhow, I’m headed into work, and a new-for-2003 Infiniti G35 Sedan passes me as if its driver is in a hurry. Soon, we both encounter a stoplight. I look inside the Infiniti’s cockpit and discover a driver wearing a calm face that contrasts with his hurried driving. Desiring to be the fastest person on the road at all times, I decide to drop the hammer once the light turns green, in order to demonstrate my American muscle car’s ferocity. I knew his fresh G35 was faster than my 400,000-mile, 1991 Mustang GT convertible, but I didn’t think he’d floor it once the signal changed. Certainly I had this in the bag.
The green light illuminates. I hit the gas, release the clutch, and shrieks of tire squealing pollute the air. The Mustang’s Ford Fairmont-based pig iron chassis shudders like it’s in the dentist’s chair. I got a half-decent launch (emphasis on half), but by the time I speed-shifted into second gear, the G35 was two car lengths ahead. I can’t be sure whether the hurried Infiniti driver floored it off the line, but the stark contrast between the G35’s effortlessness and my tired car’s shouty sluggishness would hurl an OLED TV into an inferiority complex.
Drag racing that Infiniti driver who didn’t know he was in a drag race, was an early indicator that sports sedans were the future of the muscle car. In fact, not long after that drag race, Infiniti began to market their 2003 M45 as “The Muscle Car with Brains”. Even though I wasn’t quite racing “The Muscle Car with Brains,” in my Mustang I felt at a loss for gray matter while I felt my opponent had brains to spare.
Remember that scene in Iron Man 2 where Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) enter that building, and Hogan spends five minutes loudly struggling to barely kick one guy’s ass while Black Widow effortlessly annihilates 25 dudes in the same time? Racing the G35 was my Happy Hogan moment, and I really wanted to be Black Widow.
Coming back to 2016, I had my Black Widow moment when Infiniti invited me to drive the Q50 Red Sport 400 in San Antonio, Texas at their recent launch event. The first thing you want to do when you get into the car is hit the gas and feel the 400 horsepower from its new 3.0L twin-turbocharged VR-series V6. The twin-turbo VR is the successor to the naturally aspirated 3.7-liter VQ V6. I’ve always been fond of the VQ because when it first came out in the early 2000s, it was a very high-output engine for its time that came paired with well-tuned exhausts that made V6s interesting choices for performance vehicles.
The twin-turbo 3.0-liter VR is more muted than its VR, predecessor but it offers a nice tone, and actually sounds more refined from within the car. When you listen to the car being revved from the outside, it’s no longer a standout, but at least the VR’s tone is inoffensive. It’s really easy for a V6 to sound as bad as your ex wife’s snoring, and thankfully the VR steers clear of the snore zone.
The engine steers farther from the snore zone when you hit the go pedal. The Q50 Red Sport’s power translates to entertaining acceleration. Naught to 60 is estimated to be 4.8 seconds for rear-wheel drive models, and a few tenths quicker with all-wheel drive. Straight-line acceleration is this car’s party piece. You can click off low-five-second runs to 60 mph by using an 18-year-old Mustang driver’s limited brain power. If you were to own one of these things, you’d have plenty of opportunities to unleash your inner Black Widow, and effortlessly kick many an ass at stoplights … and that’s with traction control on.
I find it quite humorous how Infiniti decided to “under-tire” its 400-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive sport sedan. The car is wearing 245-wide rubber up front, which is fine, but it’s only got 265s at the rear. A rear-wheel-drive, 400-horsepower car should be equipped with at least 285s out back, but I found the lack of grip charming. With traction control off, you can get this thing to spin tire from first through third. It’s a bit of a laugh, and makes acceleration more interesting. It also takes you back to the days of 400-ish-horsepower cars from the ’90s, like the C4 Corvette ZR-1 that would get a bit colorful at wide-open throttle. With traction control off, think of this car as Black Widow kicking ass while wearing neon green.
It’s 3,853 lbs.?
The new Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 also brings something back from the ’90s that we’ve been missing in sport sedans since then: a feeling of lightness. Once you’ve felt the 400 ponies gallop, you’re ready for some opposite lock, and that’s when this car begins to feel even lighter on its feet. It’s snappy in oversteer, but controllable, and quite fun. This car feels more like 3,450 lbs. than 3,853 lbs.
As well as this car oversteers and changes direction, it’s let down by its base electronic power steering system. When you’re taking a steady-state curve at highway speeds, say, while transitioning freeways, you’ll find yourself shuffling at the steering wheel to keep the vehicle on its intended course. In situations like these, it feels like the rack-equipped Q50 Red Sport 400 is using a recirculating ball steering system.
In situations when you’re driving straight — and there’s a lot of that in greater San Antonio — the steering system offers plenty of feedback, but it’s not the type of feedback you want. It was a high-frequency vibration that made my hands tingle when I’d remove them from the steering wheel. I didn’t enjoy keeping my hands on the steering wheel because I found the tingling annoying. I’m fine with feedback, as long as it’s the low-frequency variety. I like feeling how mid-corner bumps and potholes will affect front-end grip — those are low-frequency road feedback situations — I don’t need to feel like my hands are connected to skateboard wheels. I’m not saying the steering felt as bad as doing a handstand on a skateboard traveling 55 mph down the highway, but no steering system should ever make me think of skateboards. Unless you like your hands tingling after driving a car, do not option your Q50 Red Sport 400 with the base electronic rack.
The steering option to get is Infiniti’s Digital Active Steering (DAS) steer-by-wire system. Just like how electronic throttles respond faster because they lack mechanical linkages, Infiniti claims the same is true when it comes to steering. Here’s what you really need to know about DAS, though. It’s better.
Infiniti put us on an autocross course with a conventional rack-based car, and then got us to run laps in a DAS-equipped car. I had the most fun in the DAS car. I even got it to drift through half of their autocross circuit. Between runs, one of the track techs asked me, “How did you get it to hang the tail out so much?” I said, “It just did.” Smiling, the track tech said, “Don’t scare us like that again.” Regardless of the steering system you choose, the Q50 Red Sport 400 with its lower-grip tires will always be a willing opposite-lock companion on the track, but with DAS, it’s more controllable, and as a result, more fun. Even though I was scaring track attendants, I felt calm and in control behind the wheel.
You may be noticing from these photos that the car has a tendency to roll. You don’t really notice body roll while driving it, though. Also, I’d gladly trade a little bit of body roll for a more compliant ride. The Q50 Red Sport 400’s Dynamic Digital Suspension is very comfortable in Standard mode. The suspension doesn’t go as far as erasing road turbulence, but it deals with it very well. Over the larger bumps, you can feel them, but they don’t encroach on your inner peace. The Q50’s chassis makes bumps in the road feel like an engaging part of the driving experience rather than an interruption.
The capable chassis is complemented by a well-laid-out, inviting, and comfortable interior that hasn’t changed much since the Q50 was introduced for the 2014 model year. I appreciate how the car can feel cozy while still offering plenty of interior space. It’s fun to be inside the Q50, especially when you crank the “Infiniti Studio on Wheels by Bose” 14-speaker premium audio system.
Pricing for the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 has yet to be released, but expect it to start below $50,000, and top out in the mid-50s. Infiniti says the Q50 Red Sport fills white space in the segment between cars such as the BMW 340i and the M3. It’ll be interesting to see how adding a 400-horsepower model to the Q50 lineup will boost sales, but with the addition of the Red Sport, along with a 300-horsepower, twin-turbo V6 Sport Model, and a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder variant, the Q50 is more competitive in its segment than ever. It may have only been on the market since the 2014 model year, but with these significant updates for 2016, it’s clear Infiniti wants to make life hard for Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.