Editor's note: This review for the 2016 Infiniti Q50 was written in June 2016, but little has changed for 2017. To see what's new, click here, or to see a side-by-side comparison of the two model years, click here.
Infiniti has updated its Q50 sedan for 2016 with a mild refresh, including some new powertrains, a light styling update and a revamped interior with a fresh multimedia system. Compare the 2015 and 2016 models here.
At entry level, there’s a new 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder from Mercedes-Benz. At the top end, there’s a fire-breathing, 400-hp twin-turbo V-6 and all-wheel drive. My week with a new 2016 Q50 was in the lower-end model. It’s more modestly priced but still well-equipped and more accessible to the masses. There’s also a two-door version, the Q60, covered separately.
The compact luxury sedan class is the entry point for any premium brand, where automakers draw in new buyers they hope will be lifelong customers. It’s also one of the most competitive segments on the market, with lots of distinct offerings. Key competitors include the Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Exterior & Styling
The Q50 is an attractive car and always has been. It started life many moons ago as the Infiniti G35, then became the G37 when its engine got bigger. It finally graduated to the Q50 when Infiniti went to its current (and still confusing) naming structure. But the car’s look has transformed over the years from a simple, clean design to one that’s more passionate, curvaceous and animalistic. The spindle grille and cat’s-eye headlights are more tasteful than anything found on a Lexus these days, and they’re starting to finally help develop an Infiniti design theme that’s spread across the brand (the Q60 coupe version of this line is especially pretty).
The Q50 may not have the classic lines of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but it’s still a very appealing design – especially with the optional larger wheels to fill out the wells.
How It Drives
There are now three powertrains available in the Q50: a basic 208-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; a 300-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6; and a 400-hp version of that same 3.0-liter.
My test car came with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder and that engine’s problem was evident immediately: It’s underpowered. Nearly every other car in the class makes at least 30 more horsepower, and the Cadillac ATS smacks down the Infiniti with a 64-hp advantage with its own turbo engine. The Cadillac also boasts the lightest curb weight of the four competitors listed, while the Q50 is the heaviest.
The engine’s torque figures aren’t much better. The Q50 matches the Lexus IS 200t’s 258 pounds-feet of torque but comes up short of the Mercedes-Benz C300, at 273 pounds-feet, and the Cadillac ATS, at 295 pounds-feet. The result is a sedan that’s only adequately powered. I wouldn’t describe it as quick and I certainly wouldn’t call it assertive or sporty.
The four-cylinder is the same engine that’s found in the Mercedes-Benz C300, which weighs roughly 200 pounds less and is tuned to make more power and torque. The Benz feels considerably more robust. As in the Benz, the Infiniti’s turbo-four is mated to a standard seven-speed automatic transmission that’s smooth but not quick to downshift, even in Sport mode.
Then there’s the sound the engine makes – a coarse, unrefined clatter that feels inadequately insulated. It’s hard to believe this is a powertrain shared with the smooth, quick, enjoyable C300. It’s tuned and integrated so differently in the Q50 that it loses any of the premium feel of the German sedan’s mechanicals.
The ride is stiff, with the Q50 bouncing and hopping along on broken pavement in a most unpleasant fashion. That kind of road surface also affects the car’s steering, sending unwanted jitters through the steering wheel and even affecting the Q50’s tracking ability.
The base, 2.0-liter Q50 is equipped with standard hydraulic power steering. Higher trim levels have more modern electric-assist steering, which Infiniti calls Rack Electronic Power Steering. Infiniti’s fancy drive-by-wire electronic steering is optional on the 3.0-liter Q50. My test car also featured a non-adjustable suspension; the adjustable Dynamic Digital Suspension, which has electronically controlled adaptive shock absorbers, is optional. I haven’t driven it, but one would hope it’s tuned better than the standard car’s offering. Ditto on the by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering, which varies ratio, assist and feedback, and also cooperates with electronic safety systems. The 2016 Q50 debuts DAS’ second generation; the first didn’t impress.
The Mercedes-Benz C300 is far more refined than the Infiniti in its handling, steering performance, ride quality and overall driving experience – astonishing, considering their shared powertrain. But the tuning, damping and isolation of the Benz is far superior. The BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS and the latest Audi A4 also feel a cut above the entry-level Infiniti.
The base Q50 feels like a premium vehicle, not a luxury vehicle. It’s out-performed in nearly every tactile, seat-of-the-pants metric by its numerous competitors. The only possible competitor with which it matches up well is the Lexus IS 200t, which still outguns the Infiniti in the horsepower department but features a similar driving experience.
Fuel economy is about average with the four-cylinder, rated 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined; I managed to average 26 mpg during my week with it. The Mercedes-Benz C300 manages to get a better 25/34/28 mpg rating despite getting more power from the same engine and transmission – chalk that up to its being lighter. The Cadillac ATS 2.0T scores a nearly identical 22/31/26 mpg rating, as does the Lexus IS 200t, at 22/33/26 mpg.
The feeling that the Q50 is merely a premium car and not a true luxury car is amplified by the cabin, which features a mix of nice leatherette (imitation leather) and cheap plastic; they feel no better than offerings from the mass-market Nissan division. The seats feel a bit small, though the quality of the artificial leather is actually quite impressive. (In this class, faux leather is usually the norm in base trim levels.)
Less impressive is the faux-metal look of the trim panels on the dash and center console, which look like a fake applique. The steering wheel feels smaller and thinner than those in most modern competitors, but it’s not an issue. What is an issue are the various cheap-feeling switches and controls scattered throughout the cabin. Some are in places that are hard to find and operate while driving, such as a bank of buttons to the lower left of the steering wheel that are invisible to the driver.
Visibility is good all around thanks to a low beltline and backseat passengers will find the space entirely adequate, especially when it comes to leg and foot room. The whole cabin feels bright and airy thanks to a selection of light, neutral colors for much of the interior. One wonders how such light colors will wear over time, however, and how much dirt they’ll show.
By contrast, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class feels more somber and upscale. It’s truly a baby S-Class in more ways than one, with a quality feel to all its materials and switches. The BMW 3 Series can make this claim, too, but competitors like the Cadillac ATS and Lexus IS fall short of those segment leaders, just as the Q50 does. The Q50 may not be as pricey as a Mercedes C300, but neither does it feel like it should be.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Infiniti has come up with a new multimedia system meant to bring modernity to its cars and it only partially succeeds. The usability of the new Infiniti InTouch system is certainly improved, with modern smartphone connectivity options, gesture control and downloadable apps. But the user-interface screen needs work. The font and even the display itself are far too small to be easily seen. Even seeing what song you’re playing requires serious concentration.
There are two touch-screens involved in this system: a lower one for multimedia and an upper one for vehicle-related systems like navigation. The lower one is flush with the console, shows fingerprints ridiculously easily and washes out in bright sunlight. While the system is an improvement over the old one, it needs another round or two of development work – with input from some Silicon Valley tech companies to get the user interface right.
Cargo & Storage
The Q50 has grown some from previous versions, making it one of the largest vehicles in its class in terms of interior and cargo room. There’s 13.5 cubic feet of space in the trunk and it’s expandable thanks to fold-down rear seats. The IS 200t is a smidge bigger, at 13.8 cubic feet, and they’re both significantly bigger than either the ATS (10.4 cubic feet) or the C300 (12.6 cubic feet).
The new Q50 scored excellent marks in crash tests. It earned five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and marks of either good or acceptable in all tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
There isn’t much in the way of standard safety equipment in the Q50 aside from a backup camera and plenty of airbags. Opt for the expensive Driver Assistance Package, though, and you come away with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking; rain sensing wipers; blind spot warning; automatic backup collision intervention; parking sensors front and rear; and an around-view 360-degree camera for $2,250. It’s pricier than it appears, however, as it requires selecting a Premium trim model, and the addition of the $2,150 Premium Plus Package and the $1,000 Leather Seating Package as prerequisites. See all the Q50’s equipment here.
Value in Its Class
The new Q50 has several powertrain options available. It all starts with the 2.0T rear-wheel-drive model for $34,855, including destination fee. Adding all-wheel drive brings the price up $2,000 regardless of which powertrain or trim level you pick.
For $34,855, you get a 2.0T with the 208-hp, turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a standard seven-speed automatic, 17-inch wheels, automatic climate control and not much else. Moving up to the 3.0T Premium with its 300-hp, turbocharged V-6 will set you back $40,805 but still doesn’t include much more than the aforementioned standard features. Even a full leather interior is still extra. A 3.0T Sport model is available for $44,805, which adds the Dynamic Digital Suspension, larger brakes, 19-inch wheels and leather seats. The top of the line is the 3.0T Red Sport, which takes a Sport model and boosts power to 400 hp for $48,855. Load up that Red Sport with the Technology Package, all-wheel drive and more, and you’re almost touching $61,000.
Q50 competitors abound. Our benchmark winner has been the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which is a bit more expensive model-for-model, option-for-option than the Q50 but feels worth its price due to its sumptuous interior, refined driving dynamics and powerful engines. It outguns the base version of the Q50, but as the cars’ prices climb, so does the Q50’s ability to match the C-Class’ performance chops.
The Cadillac ATS is a good matchup for the Q50 as both feature a compact, rear-wheel-drive chassis and an interior best described as premium, not luxury. The ATS can be had with a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder, but most dealerships will stock the turbocharged 2.0-liter instead. It handily outguns the base Q50 when it comes to horsepower and torque, it can be had with a manual transmission, it’s a sharper-handling car and it has an arguably better multimedia system, as well.
Lexus offers a rear-wheel-drive compact sedan, too: the IS 200t. It’s smaller than the Q50 by a few inches but matches up well with its content and premium materials, and it features more distinctive styling. Compare all four competitors here.