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Driving the Infiniti Q50S, the steer-by-wire pioneer

February 21, 2014

The year 2014 marks the beginning of the Infiniti’s brand relaunch of its efforts to join the top tier of luxury car brands with Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. The automaker’s newest Q50 sedan also is the start of the company’s efforts to rebrand all of its model designations to begin letter Q.

The all-new 2014 Q50 replaces its predecessor the G37. The Q50 can be ordered with the 328-hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque 3.7-liter V-6. There is also a hybrid version that couples the 302-hp and 238 lb.-ft. of torque 3.5-liter V-6 with a 67-hp, 214 lb.-ft. of torque electric motor. All the models can also get on-demand all-wheel-drive, where 50 percent of the power is transferable to the front wheels depending on road conditions while remaining most of the time as a rear-drive sedan.

The only transmission available on the Q50 is the 7-speed automatic gearbox featuring adaptive shift algorithm and available paddle shifters on the steering column. Keeping a firm grip on the asphalt is the responsibility of the car’s aluminum front double wishbone and rear multi-link suspension. The available sport model (either the gas-powered or hybrid) comes with more aggressive tuned suspension for better handling. The standard 17-inch wheels and tires can be swapped with the sport model's 19-inch combination providing better grip.

On an autocross course in Southern California, the immediate kick-in-the-pants acceleration in the Infiniti Q50S Hybrid surprises me.  Through the chicanes around the track, the Q50S Hybrid can be teased to oversteer with aggressive throttle. Speeding around a long left-hand sweeper at the far end of the autocross course, the Q hybrid can hold a rear-wheel drift easily with stability control completely deactivated. Perhaps seeing a little too much fun on the track, Nissan warned that the stability control should not be turned off as I line up for my second lap around the autocross. Too bad…

The Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering is a drive-by-wire approach (much like the latest generation of commercial airplanes), decoupling a mechanical link between the steering wheel and front wheels. With electronic drive, the Q50’s steering characteristics can be adjusted to match driver preference in steering effort and ratio. There are four modes to choose from: normal driving to the sportiest possible setting. Oncruising, the steering feel can dampen unwanted road vibrations. When more aggressive responsive is needed for spirited driving, the steering can tighten up with quicker response. The Direct Adaptive Steering has three redundant electronic systems tested over 245,000 miles, plus a mechanical steering link to engage (never in use during normal operations) via a clutch for last-resort fail-safe protection.

The 3.7-liter V-6 powered Q50S is estimated to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about 5.2 seconds. This means that the Q50S Hybrid could clock in a faster time due to its added torque from its electric motor. But the added weight from its 50kW lithium-ion battery back residing in the back could hamper any significant performance gain.

The 3.7-liter Q50S starts at $43,200, with a fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. The Q50S Hybrid lists at $46,350, with 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. With more spirited performance and fuel economy all combined into one, the Q50S Hybrid is definitely hard to overlook as a premium sports sedan.