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First Drive: 2014 Infiniti Q50 Performance Package

Infiniti\'s new Performance Package looks to restore some of its controversial steering system\'s luster.

A fine sports sedan by virtually every measure offering good looks, high-tech features and a silky-smooth drivetrain, the Q50 is a worthy alternative to typical segment heavyweights like the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But that's not to say the Q50 is without fault.

After putting the Q50 through its initial paces, we came away disappointed with the sedan's numb-feeling steer-by-wire system, known as Direct Adaptive Steering, or DAS, in Infiniti speak. And we weren't alone - the Q50 was widely panned by the media for its subpar steering.

But those complaints didn't fall on deaf ears. Infiniti immediately fast-tracked a new Performance Package that promised to fix the Q50's lone, glaring shortcoming. But has it worked?

Steer-by-what?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the Performance Package, let's take a second to review the Q50's steer-by-wire system. Eschewing the typical mechanical linkage between the steering wheel and the front wheels, Infiniti's DAS works by measuring steering wheel inputs and then relaying that information to two electric motors mounted on the front axle. You steer the wheel and those electric motors do the actual steering.

And therein lies the problem, at least from an enthusiast's perspective. By eliminating that physical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels, you also do away with steering feel. The Performance Package looks to regain some of that feedback.

IPL light
The main element of the Performance Package is a new wheel and tire package that features 245/40R/19 rubber up front and 265/35R/19 out back. For now, the Performance Package wheels are finished in what can be best described as black chrome, but Infiniti is still considering offering other colors.

In order to take advantage of the extra grip afforded by wider tires, Q50s equipped with the Performance Package also ship from the factory with updated software. Infiniti engineers have optimized the Q50's DAS to account for the Performance Package's fatter rear tires and the sedan's stability control system has been reconfigured to take advantage of the package's higher cornering limits.

As with standard Q50 models with DAS, the steering system can be customized for both weight and responsiveness. For example, if you want to go for a blast down a winding canyon road, you can set the DAS system to have a a heavy feel and a quick steering ratio. If you're cruising down the highway, the Q50 can be adjusted to have a lighter steering feel with less input sensitivity.

It should also be noted that Q50 models not fitted with the optional DAS system can also be had with the Performance Package. Those cars receive the package's wheels and tires and revised stability control system, but not the steering improvements.

Rubber hits the road
After testing the Q50 Performance Package on-road and on-track, it's clear that Infiniti did its homework. Although there is still some inherent disconnect between man and machine, the Performance Package makes it much easier to access the Q50's superb chassis.

When set to its most aggressive settings, the Q50 with the Performance Package has a precise, almost video-game like feel. Point and shoot is the name of the game here, with the electronic steering system eliminating the weak points - like mechanical links and bushings - that can take away some of the sturdiness of a standard steering rack.

The Q50 with Performance Package is a fairly neutral car on-track, with controllable oversteer at the limit. In fact, we were surprised by the Q50's abilities as a drift machine.

Our ideal setting for the Q50 with Performance Package is heavy steering with moderate response, which most closely replicates a conventional steering system. The fastest ratio seemed just a little too quick, with the slightest input resulting in the front end darting that direction.

In our previous meeting with the Q50, we preferred the car's standard hydraulic steering system over the optional DAS, but that didn't hold up for the Q50 with Performance Package. When driven back-to-back, it was quite clear that the hydraulic system was much slower to react with the Performance Package and the old-school setup didn't make up for that downfall with better weight or feel. Moreover, we like having the ability to fiddle with the DAS' settings based on our driving mood.

On the roads of the real world, there isn't much of a perceptible difference between the Q50 and Q50 with Performance Package, aside from perhaps a bit more tire noise. Needless to say, if you're just looking for a comfortable cruiser, you can probably skip over the Performance Package.

Leftlane's bottom line
The new Performance Package doesn't transform the Q50 into an E30 BMW (the mid-80s BMW 3-Series coveted by enthusiasts), but it does make for a more compelling sports sedan. Though still not the perfect in terms of steering feel, the Infiniti Q50 with Performance Package gives hope that the next-generation of electronic steering systems will be able to live in harmony with driving enthusiasts.

Infiniti will launch the new Performance Package early next year. Pricing will be announced closer to the package's launch.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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