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2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport long-term review

By Louis Cordony | Photos: Nathan Jacobs, 07 Jul 2018 Reviews

Infiniti Q50 Red Sport long term review feature

Trying to spark a flame with Infiniti’s new exec express

Introduction: The White Knight

The key to a long-term relationship, common sense suggests, is picking someone you actually like in the first place.

It doesn’t matter what characteristics pique your heart, that there are positives to focus on is crucial when one of you starts foraging for ear wax in front of the other. Which makes things awkward for our newest garage addition.

We don’t mean to be cynical, but our first couple of dates with Infiniti’s Red Sport offerings didn’t end happily.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

The coupe version was thumped by BMW and Lexus in a three-way stoush, while our first meeting with the four-door Q50 you see here didn’t leave us any more impressed.

Romance once existed. Infiniti’s aggressively styled sedan caught our eye four years ago when flaunted as the Eau Rouge concept. It was a working prototype shoved full of GT-R goodness, specifically its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6, that promised to pick M3s and C63s from its teeth.

There was all-wheel drive, Sebastien Vettel’s input and 412kW to raise heartbeats. The belief that Infiniti would deliver a genuine right hook to its rivals swelled under Andy Palmer’s leadership, a self-confessed car nut who briefly took charge of the Hong Kong-based firm. But then he left, and the concept was dropped.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

In the Eau Rouge’s wake the Red Sport was born. The names sound similar, but we quickly learnt the recipes weren’t.

Yes, it had power. And the Red Sport thrust Infiniti’s all new twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 into the spotlight, replacing the 3.5-litre hybrid powertrain as the burliest offering.

Like the GT-R’s engine, it has coated bores, lightweight internals and debuts air-to-water intercoolers, turbine manifolds moulded to the cylinder heads, and a square 86mm bore-to-stroke ratio. It sends 298kW/475Nm through a seven-speed auto.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Other markets have the choice of all-wheel drive, but given the lack of snow in Australia, we’ve been dealt rear-drive cars only. Which is where the first of its problems start to surface. That’s a lot of stonk for a pair of 245mm Dunlops sandwiching an open diff. Especially with thrust like this. It arrives like a tidal wave early in the rev-range which can often catch out the rear axle.

There’s spookiness at the limit, too, where its stability system and chassis balance never seem trustworthy. We also suspect ‘run-flat’ Dunlops don’t help. But the biggest problem lies with its steering, the industry’s first by-wire interface.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

It’s all very clever, but it given the weirdness of the helm, it seems to fall into the “answers to the questions nobody was asking” category. Maybe we’ll get used to it. We know, there’s all this animosity and yet here we are on the couch, flicking through channels, realising we’re stuck with each other for a while.

Why have we done this? The Q50 has undergone a small refresh that’s worth noting. The interior and exterior have been slightly tweaked. Details introduced on the coupe Q60 Red Sport have been brought across, like the 19-inch wheel design, and its grown side scoops on its chin.

And we do admire the Infiniti at times. While it didn’t arrive in gorgeous Dynamic Sunstone Red, our Majestic White example looks aggressive – one punter even thought it was a Maserati.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

The engine’s strong, and there are glimpses of talent in the bends. The standard specification list is bulging with every safety tech under the sun, along with a decent sound system and fearsome brakes.

So what will we do over the next four months? Naturally, we’ll take an excuse to unleash that V6 properly, and we’ll dissect the ride, handling, and chassis further. Don’t rule out someone testing its practicality, either.

With more reflection, there are some positives. So we’re sticking this one out to try and get to know the Q50 better over the long run. Because everyone deserves a second chance.

No brief flings here with MOTOR's long-term reviews

Month One

Fuel Consumption this Month: 12.1L/100km
Average Fuel Consumption: 12.1L/100km
Distance this Month: 730km
Total: 4500km

Liked: Muscle-car grunt, executive looks
Disliked: Steering feel, weight and feedback

Update 1: Digital Divide

Month two sends the relationship into murky waters as the connection fails

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

"If it's good enough for planes, it’s good enough for cars." This must have been Infiniti’s thoughts when it rubber-stamped Direct Adaptive Steering, the world’s first fly-by-wire system for a road car. 

After spending 10 years developing the tech, Infiniti spruiks it removes “unwanted” vibrations, ultimately quickens response times, and allows a wider scope of “feel” and weight.

But are you suspicious a steering rack without a mechanical link might have a worse connection than a Vodafone cell network? We are too. Throttle pedals have never been the same since they went down the digital path.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

So when Infiniti says it improved the system for 2018 with more “feel and feedback” like a conventional steering system, we chose to investigate the claim on the Reefton Spur, a delicious piece of tarmac that connects the eastern Victorian towns of Warburton and Marysville.

Viewed on a map, it looks like the tracings of a seismograph. A bunch of left and right turns rarely punctuated by a straight. The perfect car for a run at the Spur is something with agility, grip, feedback, and most of all, great steering. That’s because the road often hosts motorcyclists and there’s always a chance you might need to swerve at short notice.

Low on fuel and with that 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 able to chug juice faster than an Irish football team at a brewery, we tackled the pass in the Q50’s ‘personalised’ driving mode, which allows you to individually adjust the car’s powertrain, steering, adaptive dampers and autonomous tech.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

For our purposes, we wound back the powertrain’s response, jacked up the damping, and delved into the myriad steering combinations available only to discover that, in complete overkill, the steering’s sub-menu offers three modes for both the system’s weighting and rack speed.

Things start off not-good in its Comfort weight setting, which frustratingly can only be partnered with a Comfort speed. It’s way too slow; so much so that if you come up on a decreasing-radius bend too quickly, the sudden input of so much lock can spook the car into roll oversteer.

Even if less pitch doesn’t load the front axle as much, and robs the car of initial turn-in, the suspension’s sportier mode does a good job in dissolving body float and reveals a trustier balance of grip.

Response improves slightly just off-centre in Sport and Sport Plus modes, but ultimately the steering actuator does a subpar job at simulating real feedback, failing to give you any idea of how much bite there is across the front axle.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

It doesn’t help, either, that the Dunlop Sportmaxx CTT run-flat tyres, at extremely low cornering speeds, squeal louder than pigs watching an abattoir documentary. You spend most of the time managing their purchase. What follows is a game of carrying the brakes to get the front-end to bite to avoid it washing wide, but not slowing too much to kill the car’s momentum.

Comparison: Q60 Red Sport v RC 350 v 440i

Ironically, the steering’s most trustworthy setup is found in the ESC’s off setting. You’ll need to tread lightly with the throttle (the rear-end has as little grip as the front) without the safety nets, but the rack is its fastest and lightest – a forbidden pairing in the personalised sub-menus.

It’s a small consolation for a technology that answers a question no one really asked. Okay, cutting it some slack, it does get rid of rack rattle and it might have potential in autonomous safety applications where computers need greater steering control.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

But while we suspect the majority of Q50 buyers in China and North America won’t care if their steering rack is turned by a hamster wheel, they might care about the lower levels of response, feel, or feedback compared to a conventional steering rack when it’s needed. Such as in snowing, raining, or overtaking conditions.

No fast flings on MOTOR Long-term reviews

Even though the steering weight did feel o-k-a-y at times once the car was loaded, as the system varies the weight according to G-force, it was rare and no use when you don’t feel confident to place the car before a corner. Its weighting felt a touch more realistic around town while at low speeds.

We’d look into using the system’s emergency back-up clutch on the column to engage and disengage on the fly, like when the front wheels hit a bump under lateral load with steering lock. Then again, there’s a reason why we’re only put in charge of keyboards.

Ultimately, though, Infiniti’s goal to bring aviation-style technology to a sports sedan like the Q50 Red Sport seems like an idea that should have stayed high up in the clouds. 

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport Pros & Cons

Three things we fell for: 
1 - All that torque
2 - Comfy ride
3 - Turns heads

Three things we got sick of: 
1 - Steering
2 - Throttle tune
3 - Driving modes

Update 2: Smooth Operator

We find a cruising speed and focus on the cabin of this Japanese luxo-rocket

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Aussies are in love according to Francois Bancon, Infiniti’s global product boss.

“For many reasons,” he said to MOTOR at the Melbourne F1, “[Australia] is probably one of the last countries in the world where people love to drive – they love power, they love the ‘primitive’ part of the drive. It’s a significant market, because people love cars.”

We do. And it’s clear Bancon understands Australians also love a bargain. Because the Q50 Red Sport, at $79,990, is priced well clear of anything else with close to 298kW, 475Nm, and a luxury focus. The Jaguar XE SAudi’s S4, and Mercedes-AMG’s C43 are all around $100K.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Yet, last month I punted the Infiniti through some corners and I didn’t enjoy the experience. Its steer-by wire steering was vague, its tyres didn’t grip, and its suspension could never keep its weight settled.

There was power, heaps of it, but that doesn’t fully satisfy the ‘primitive’ feeling we crave from fast cars. It left me confused with Bancon’s thorough understanding of our automotive psyche.

It sent me in search of the bright side of this long termer, or some love, so to speak, to cure the blues it gave me in the corners. Some solid highway time was pencilled in as the fix, which would give me time to meditate on driving without throttle steer or trail braking.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

On the highway you feel like you could definitely live with the Infiniti as a day-to-day cruiser. Its ride, for one, is plush with plenty of suspension travel. Yes, a lack of body-control (at least in standard mode) means the car takes a while to settle, but it gives the car’s primary ride more compliance than those Dunlop run-flats deserve.

Brake-pedal feel is good, too; it’s full of feedback and power. Meanwhile, the Infiniti’s headlights are great. The spread of light is long, bright, and low to the ground, perfect for approaching cars without intimidating them.

The Q50’s power is fearsome. That twin-turbo six always seems on call – if you can get the throttle input right – and rushes into its power band almost instantly with minimal lag. In standard mode, 80-120km/h vanishes in 3.2sec.

The interior’s a mixed bag. There’s generous leather splashed around, with semi-aniline dead cow under your rump, and metal speaker covers to make it feel fancy enough at this price.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

On the other hand, the foot-operated park brake, Windows 2000-esque LCD in the dash and sat-nav, and fat horn button hint the five-year-old interior’s getting on a bit. Ergonomics, however, don’t age. And the Infiniti acquits itself well in this regard. There’s plenty of room between the seat and door for your hands to adjust the controls, while everything is within easy reach and easily spotted.

Functionality is not as simple, though, as it’s difficult to know what controls what. The top-screen seems dedicated to navigation, but will display HVAC stuff. Meanwhile, the bottom screen, seemingly dedicated to everything else, can program sat-nav.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

I like that its (adaptive) cruise control displays your set speed on the dash and the central LCD has a digital speed readout. I don’t like that it can hunt around your set velocity and you can’t set cruise if a car’s within the maximum radar distance until you decrease it.

The BOSE sound system packs almost as many features as speakers (16!) and thumps with clarity. It’s not the last word on power, or fullness, but it’s worth a good song. You don’t get any botchy engine noise through the speakers at cruising speeds in standard mode, either. When up-it some colleagues rue the artificial engine note, but I can’t really tell it’s fake. I like it.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Seat-wise the hip-point puts me too close to the roof, and I’m only 178cm, however, the new seat foam is serene. The lack of bolster means they’re big-bloke friendly, too. Which sort of sums up the car’s vibe: it’s a comfy cruiser that’s big on punch, and sprinkled with pinches of luxury.

Toast of the town or roast of the evening on Long-term reviews

Next month, it’s time to say goodbye. Before it goes, we’ll be asking the public what they think of our Infiniti at a glance. Let’s see if it can make a lasting mark.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport Pros & Cons

Three things we fell for: 
1 - Plush seats
2 - Gun headlights
3 - Brake feel

Three things we got sick of: 
1 - Headroom
2 - Foot brake
3 - Sat-nav graphics

Update 3: The Drag Queen

Uncorking the Infiniti’s brutal twin-turbo V6

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

There are some serious rumours circling Nissan that say it’s given a 370Z successor the green light. And if there’s truth to the reports, then the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport is the biggest clue as to how this Mustang-slayer might drive.

That’s because the engine billed for the future Z car is mooted as our Red Sport’s very own 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, complete with its current 298kW and 475Nm. Z fans might groan louder than pop’s sofa at the idea of a turbocharged Fairlady, but there’s not much they’re going to miss.

During recent testing for Bang For Your Bucks 2018 (coming soon!), we had the opportunity to play with the Infiniti while its testers were taking a tea break. Okay, we know better than anyone how allergic the Infiniti is to corners, but that VR30DTT in its nose deserved a chance to let its horses gallop in a non-policed environment.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

With a drag strip laid in the middle of the infield, we took the opportunity to unleash the Q50 Red Sport up its guts a couple times. And boy, it gives nothing away to its naturally aspirated stablemates for response.

Each turbocharger gets its own intercooler. And because their radiator fins are bathed in water, rather than air, they can be placed anywhere without needing to consider incoming airflow – such as the top of the cylinder heads.

With the turbochargers nestled into each side of the 60-degree banked block, the charged air spouted by their compressors only have to make a short trip upwards into the V6’s plasma-coated cylinder bores.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Last month the Infiniti proved it could fire from 80-120km/h in a lazy 3.2 seconds in the car’s Standard drive mode. In the car’s more frenzied Sport Plus mode, though, that figure drops to 2.8. The acceleration obviously isn’t 911 Turbo brutal, but it’s rapid enough to halt your breath if you haven’t uncorked a fast car in a while.

Extending the measurement to 400 metres only reaffirmed how much of a rocket the future Z might be. With a seven-speed automatic that’s brisk, but hardly the last word in speed, the Infiniti’s launch strategy is fairly straight forward. It’ll stall up to around 2700rpm on the brake before it starts to break traction, then when you let go it tears off with a bit of wheelspin. No doubt a result of the engine’s 475Nm from as early as 1700rpm.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

This turbo six mightn’t match the brawn of FPV’s late Barra-powered bruisers, but with the Infiniti’s 1784kg kerb weight undercutting those rigs by at least a rugby prop, it makes best use of its healthy power peak. The secret is ‘optical speed sensors’ on the Q50’s turbochargers. They’re claimed to increase the impellers’ maximum speeds to 240,000rpm and power to 298kW.

We once asked Infiniti Australia how they actually work and unlock more power, but we’d need a few more pages to explain it.

Will familiarity breed contempt or appreciation on MOTOR's long-term reviews

Either way, letting the Q50 scamper off the line drops 60km/h in 2.89 seconds, 100km/h in 5.37sec, then the quarter mile in 13.5sec at a recorded 175.22km/h. Quick, but we knew it could go faster.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Next run we reinstate ESP to tame the rear-end and after a soft stall-up 60km/h flashes by in 2.73sec, 100km/h takes 5.12sec, while the quarter mile drops in 13.23sec at 178.km/h. But it still wasn’t getting the best launch. So we switched strategies for the final run, opting to walk it away from the line.

The final run nailed it. It takes 2.5sec to clip 60km/h, 4.9 to 100km/h, and then 13 flat to pass 400m at 179.58km/h. Just a little bit of slip permits the right amount of traction as its rear 245mm Dunlops hook up.

Away from the actual Bang For Your Bucks results (the Infiniti took part in the 15-car strong competition) the Infiniti stacks up as a seriously quick car that’ll scare a few regulars at the local dragway. Roll-out would slash its times into 12-second territory. Pack it into a time machine and deliver it to previous Bang For Your Bucks, and it would even spank a 304kW Holden SS-V Redline Ute or a 345kW Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Combine that punch with its demure looks, and the Q50 Red Sport presents as a genuine sleeper – something we love at MOTOR. But not every road is straight as the ones used here, and next month we’ll be saying goodbye (we delayed it by a month to tell this yarn) and weighing up its strengths and flaws.

Will we ever want it back? Stay tuned for the final verdict.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport Pros & Cons

Three things we fell for: 
1 - The acceleration
2 - Heated seats
3 - Good looks

Three things we got sick of: 
1 - No steering reach
2 - Thirsty engine
3 - Dated interior

Update 4: Conclusion

Mixed feelings follow our Infiniti out the door

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

The Infiniti Q50 Red Sport isn’t MOTOR material. That’s the brutal, yet truthful, summation on DQV 36E after five months in our garage.

Sure, it’s a goer. That hulking twin-turbo six powertrain ensured easy sub-5.0sec runs to 100km/h and 12.0sec quarters at Bang For Your Bucks.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

This makes it a weapon from traffic lights. It will lazily squirt ahead of an A45 or RS3 if neither has programmed launch control when the trees flash up in green. But this behaviour quickly works up a thirst.

Our chunk of driving has been commuting to and from work, with racetrack testing, highway driving, and cross-Melbourne runs mixed in along the way. This saw it sink 11.8 litres of fuel per 100km on average, with a peak of 14.75 one month, which is hardly criminal for a powerful twin-turbo V6 and better than what we managed in our resident Ford Focus RS LE.

If you’re watching fuel bills, though, don’t think you can help that with careful throttle inputs. The car’s Eco mode activates a pedal which pushes back against excess pressure, but is annoying and switched off almost immediately. On the other hand, Sport Plus mode holds engine revs way too long while the seven-speed automatic can shift a bit clunkily.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

You instead settle for Standard mode and its poor throttle calibration. Here you constantly feather between 10-20 per cent throttle as the powertrain either gives you too much thrust, or too little like it’s developed lethargy.

We’ll happily admit the Q50 is a decent looker in Red Sport form. Even though its Pure White hue sucks the contrast out of its sculpted surfaces while other colours bring them to life.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

But stay away from corners. The brakes don’t last long against the massive velocities it can reach, as Luffy bravely demonstrated at Winton Raceway. The run-flat tyres aren’t exactly sporting, either, and that steer-by-wire system is worse news than Y2K for keen drivers.

Geek Speak: How steer-by-wire works

Yes, the steering has been easy enough to live with on Melbourne’s grid-like streets, but it’s hopeless when any precision is required or feedback is wanted. Which is all the time on a racetrack, curving road, or when you need to park in a tight space.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

Perhaps more unsettling is how much control the dual-motor steering rack hands to the myriad safety systems. There’s everything from active-lane control that silently adjusts your steering angle in the background at speeds over 70km/h, to activating trace control that does the same for brake pressure (but reduces in Sport mode and turns off completely when ESP is disabled).

The occasional tugging at the wheel feels like you’re in something controlled by Skynet from Terminator, rather than you.

And that’s why this isn’t a MOTOR car. You can sense the Q50 was created to prioritise autonomous technology rather than the needs or wants of the driver. That fearsome engine bolted between its strut towers feels more like an afterthought, fitted because someone could, rather than because they should.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

We marvelled at Infiniti’s bravery in handing us the keys to a Q50 Red Sport. We didn’t exactly fawn over it in our first review. Nor did we give its sexier cousin, the Q60, much love in a three-way comparison against chief European rivals.

No brief flings on MOTOR long-term reviews

Frankly, we wouldn’t buy one. A BMW 340i isn’t sparkling with driver connection and it costs $10K more, but it feels so much more resolved and freshly designed – it’s hard to believe the current 3 Series is actually two years older than the Q50.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

It could ruffle a few feathers at the local drags, but this is not a car that would make us look forward to a weekend fang. We’d wait to see what comes of the rumoured Z replacement and the news it will use this exact twin-turbo six. 

If you want a well-priced sedan with cracking power and good safety tech, we’d pocket $20K and look at a Kia Stinger GT. It’s a little bigger, but it’s just as fast, steers better, and champions the driver, rather than the computer, more than the Infiniti.

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport

2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport Pros & Cons

Three things we fell for: 
1 - The grunt
2 - Adaptive cruise
3 - Features

Three things we got sick of: 
1 - Headroom
2 - Throttle tune
3 - Steering

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