First drive: 2018 Infiniti Q50 [Review]

Infiniti gives its popular Q50 sedan its first update.

Buyers may be switching from cars to crossovers in droves, but the Q50 sedan remains an extremely important vehicle for Infiniti. In fact, despite the nation's SUV mania, the Q50 remains Infiniti's best-selling nameplate, edging out the three-row QX60 utility vehicle.

It's extremely important, then, for Infiniti to keep the Q50 fresh. The sports sedan has already received a number of incremental improvements since its 2014 launch, but the 2018 model year marks the sedan's first thorough update since hitting the market four years ago. Will it be enough to keep the Q50 selling in an SUV-dominated world? Read on to find out.

Slightly new looksYes, what you're looking at here is the updated 2018 Q50. It may take an eagle eye to spot the differences between last year's Q50 and this new one, but Infiniti has made some changes.

The 2018 Q50 wears an updated version of Infiniti's signature grille that is now slightly larger than before. In an effort to differentiate sport- and luxury-oriented models, there are two distinct bumpers on offer. Sport models get a more aggressive lower bumper with sharper crease lines; the lux version is toned down for a softer look. Around back there's an updated bumper with a new diffuser for Sport models.

Inside there are a few more subtle changes. The Q50 now borrows a few bits from the Q60 coupe's parts bin, including a more premium-looking shift lever and a revised three-spoke steering wheel. The Q50's gauge cluster carries over, but Infiniti has updated the unit's lighting. Throughout the Q50's cabin Infiniti has sprinkled in improved materials for a more luxurious feel.

Most of the Q50's mechanicals have carried over unchanged, but the sedan sports a few changes that were integrated to improving handling at the limit. The Q50's drive-by-wire steering system has been refined and the car's VDC stability control system has been re-programed to be a little less intrusive. Unless you regularly drive at the limit you're unlikely to notice the changes, but it's nice to know the Q50 will be better behaved if you choose to drive in anger.

On a more practical side, Infiniti has fiddled with the Q50's NVH to provide a more pleasant driving experience.

Although styling isn't radically different for 2018 model year, we still think the Q50 is a sharp-looking sedan, especially in comparison to its German alternatives. The Q50 looks like it was designed by a human, not some robot in a hermetically sealed design studio.

Model lineupInfiniti is reshuffling the Q50 deck for 2018 to better serve the heart of the market. The company has lopped off $4,000 from the base price of the 3.0t Sport model, most of which was achieved by removing the previously-included performance pack. Infiniti says a large chunk of Sport buyers are only interested in the car's sportier looks, so the removal of the performance package should go unnoticed by most buyers. In you happen to desire sharper handling, the performance package can be added back on for $1,500.

The Luxe trim (formerly called Premium) will cover most of the remaining volume of Q50 sales. Unlike the Sport, the Q50 Luxe comes standard with a 2.0t four-cylinder engine for those that value economy over speed. The 3.0t engine is available and adds $2,400 to the Q50 2.0t Luxe's $36,550 base price.

Infiniti estimates that Sport and Luxe models will account for about 70 percent of total Q50 sales.

On the bottom end of the scale, the Q50 Pure replaces last year's base model. it's available exclusively with Infiniti's 2.0L four-cylinder engine and lists from $34,200. The Red Sport 400, meanwhile, retains its spot atop the Q50 hierarchy. It retails for $51,000. If you prefer green to red, a Q50 Hybrid is also on offer for $50,600.

All Q50 models can be upgraded with all-wheel drive for an additional $2,000. Regardless of engine or drive wheels, Q50 models ship with a seven-speed automatic transmission.

Powertrains are unchanged from last year. The lineup starts with a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 208 horsepower. A 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6 is the step-up motor and boasts an even 300 horsepower. The Red Sport is the top dog with 400 horsepower from its 3.0L turbo V6. The Hybrid splits the difference with a combined 360 horsepower from its 3.5L naturally-aspirated V6 and electric motor.

Drive timeInfiniti decided to highlight-its top-spec Q50 model during its press introduction, so our day-long drive around the Nashville area was spent behind the wheel of the Red Sport 400. Our test car was the most enthusiast-focused Q50 model you can get, boasting both rear-wheel drive and Infiniti's optional carbon fiber package.

But before we dive into our review, its important to note that Infiniti didn't design Q50 Red Sport as a rival to vehicles like the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63. Rather, Infiniti views the Q50 Red Sport as a competitor to vehicles like the BMW 340i and Mercedes AMG C43. With that distinction out of the way, let's get to it.

Open the door to the Red Sport and you'll notice new-look sport seats that now feature quilted leather on the outer bolsters. There's also red contrast stitching to break up the mostly black interior. That's a good thing as black is currently the only color on offer for the Red Sport.

Nestle into the driver's seat and you'll find a cabin that feels cozy but not cramped. The Q50's cockpit wraps around you, giving it the feeling of being a smaller car. We found ample front seat room for those six-feet and over.

The Q50's center stack is dominated by a pair of screens that handle navigation and infotainment duties — the top screen does the navigating while the lower screen has readouts for the radio, vehicle settings, and the like. Thankfully in this digital environment Infiniti has managed to keep physical knobs and buttons for climate and radio controls.

Despite being a brand new 2018 model, the Q50 is still lacking in one area — it doesn't come with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Considering that Android Auto and CarPlay can now be had in entry-level models from mainstream brands, it seems very odd that a $60,000 Infiniti doesn't have either. Ditto for cooled seats. And why on earth does a car with steer-by-wire technology have a foot-activated parking brake instead of a new-fangled electronic unit?

The dual screen setup works well enough, and we appreciated having dedicated screens for both navigation and the radio readout. However, we did have some trouble fumbling through the car's navigation system, a problem that would have been solved with CarPlay integration.

Those quibbles aside, the Q50's interior is still a nice place to spend time. Materials are nice throughout, although admittedly the quilted leather and aluminum accents aren't to our tastes. Unfortunately you can't get wood accents in the Red Sport model.

We found the Q50's driver's seat to be comfortable thanks to its multi-way power adjustments that allowed us to find our optimal seating position. The passenger's seat, however, was a different story because it lacked any kind of lumbar support. After an hour or so of seat time our lower back was feeling the pain. On a positive note, the sport seats do offer adjustable thigh support for both front seat passengers.

Gauges are somewhat simple by modern standards, but the dual dials function well and are easy to read. There's also a digital readout in the center to keep an eye on vehicle functions.

The Q50 Red Sport may not be pitted directly against other high-performance nameplates, but it certainly goes like a performance car. Acceleration is more than brisk, with the Red Sport's 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque providing enough thrust to firmly pin you to the back of your seat. The Q50's engine note is somewhat muted, but the noise that is there is aural satisfying.

That excellent engine is unfortunately let down by the Q50's seven-speed automatic transmission. When left in auto mode, it feels lazier than the rest of the drivetrain. When we switched to manual mode to use the car's steering wheel-mounted shifters, we often noticed the seven-speed clunking into gear. Some extra tuning would certainly elevate the Q50's driving experience.

Steering in the Q50 varies greatly depending on drive modes, which are selectable via a console-mounted toggle switch. Since the steering wheel isn't physically attached to the front wheels, the tiller is devoid of any road feel, but the unit does provide some nice weighting. Moreover, you can set up the car just how you like in a personal mode, so you should be able to find your perfect blend of sport and comfort. We also like how the steer-by-wire system isolates the driver from jolts from more severe road imperfection.

And speaking of a perfect blend of sport and comfort, the Q50 Red Sport's suspension does an excellent job of soaking up bumps while still providing a sporty driving feel. The Q50 Red Sport is just as at home cruising the highway as it is carving a back road.

The one knock we have against the Q50 is some excessive tire noise. However, it should be noted that our test vehicle was equipped with a dedicated summer tire. Our experience might have been a little more peaceful had our car been equipped with an all-season tire, although that would have admittedly diminished overall handling.

The Q50 can be equipped with the latest in semi-autonomous technologies, including an emergency braking system that can see two cars in front of you. We came away quite impressed with the Q50's technology suite — the lane keep assist system kept us perfectly centered in our lane and the smart cruise control was quick to lock on to preceding vehicles. But the Q50's best tech has to be its stop and go function, which automatically brings the vehicle to a stop in traffic situations, even if the smart cruise control isn't activated. Of course if you prefer to do all the driving, most of the Q50's electronic systems can be switched off (except for emergency braking, which can't be disabled).

Leftlane's bottom lineThough not a radically different vehicle from the one that's been on sale since 2014, the 2018 Infiniti Q50 remains a viable alternative to the stalwarts of the small premium sedan segment. We still think the Q50 looks sharp and its autonomous tech is among the best in the category.

However, the Q50 isn't without its faults, including a stubborn transmission and the omission of a few key comforts and convenience items. Still, the Q50 offers a terrific engine lineup and competitive pricing, so it's certainly worth a look.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 base price, $51,000. As tested, $59,920.Sensory package, $2,650; Proactive package, $2,700; Illuminated kick plates, $465; Infiniti radiant grille emblem, $400; Spare tire package, $300, Carbon fiber package, $1,500; Destination, $905.

Photos courtesy of Infiniti.

Read more!