Q-what? Those in the market for a small sport sedan are likely thinking of three big names: Audi, Mercedes, BMW. Maybe those of a more familiar with the segment might consider the Volvo or Cadillac. But INFINITI? it hardly registers on the radar these days.
Yet despite their increased anonymity, they still play in the compact-luxury sandbox. The 2021 INFINITI Q50 sedan has the potential to be great, but as it stands, a revitalization is in order if the car is to remain competitive in this incredibly cutthroat segment.
Tired styling, inside and out. The problem starts with the styling, which is not so much unattractive as it is overly familiar. Seriously, when was the last time INFINITI penned a clean-sheet redesign for their small sedan?
The G37 sedan was groundbreaking in 2002; since then, its successors have always seemed derived from that car in an unoriginal, uninspired way. You can argue the BMW 3-Series is no different, but the designers in Munich have perfected the art of paying homage to the past while embracing the future. INFINITI should take a trip to Germany and take notes.
It gets worse inside, where the cabin reeks of 2010. A severely vertical center stack starkly divides a deeply scalloped dashboard. The analog gauge cluster – no digital display to be found here – hides in a recessed instrument binnacle. The upright drumstick shifter is another vestige from the past, from a time before automakers decided to eschew conventional shifter design.
We'd be remiss not to mention that the dated interior is at least comfortable. Synthetic leather is standard but does a passable impression of the real stuff; genuine hides are available, including premium semi-aniline leather. Comfortable seats provide up to 16 ways of adjustment, and the styling affords great visibility. Its 35 inches of rear leg room make the backseat a spacious place to pass the miles.
Features and tech. The dual infotainment screens bring a bit of modernity to the cabin, but their operation isn't as intuitive as a single large touchscreen display. Still, it works well enough once you get used to it, and yes, the INFINITI Q50 does come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We nonetheless prefer the simplicity of a single screen, though.
Other features are more contemporary, like the standard automatic emergency braking. Unfortunately, you'll have to pay extra for things like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and lane departure warning. Blind-spot monitoring and a surround-view camera system are only found on the top two trims, which cost over $50,000.
That price point makes us wince. Even when equipped with features like Bose audio, 16-way power seats, and semi-aniline leather, the thought of dropping over fifty large for a car that has hardly been updated in over seven years strikes us as silly.
The slew of cars the Q50 competes with are almost universally more modern, better equipped, and more enjoyable to drive. That includes well-known German competition like the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4, as well as less popular models like the Cadillac CT5, Volvo S60, and Acura TLX.
Strong performance. The Q50's best asset might be under the hood. Last year, INFINITI culled the base turbocharged four-cylinder engine from their lineup, leaving all Q50s to be powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6.
In most trims, the engine puts out a strong 300 horsepower; Red Sport models up that to an even 400. No other competitor comes right out of the gate with V6 power, something we certainly appreciate.
We find a lot to love about this twin-turbo V6 in both of its iterations. It gives the Q50 some serious muscle, and we particularly like how it spoons out power. It's unapologetically fast, with 0-60 mph coming in as little as 4.5 seconds in Red Sport guise. That's right in line with competing twin-turbo sixes -– one of the few parameters that the Q50 is actually keeping pace with the competition.
Unfortunately, exclusive six-cylinder power does hurt fuel economy. The EPA says the 300-horse Q50 won't do better than 23 mpg with rear-wheel drive or 22 mpg with the optional all-wheel drive. Red Sport models are slightly worse at 22 mpg combined with RWD or AWD.
A seven-speed automatic transmission matches up with this engine and does a fine job coordinating shifts. It's unobtrusive yet quick, an ideal balance in a car that's expected to be quietly athletic.
About the most disappointing piece of hardware is the available drive-by-wire system. As the name suggests, there's no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels; everything is done by wires and sensors. The result is a total dearth of feel or feedback. That might be fine in a minivan, but a luxury sport sedan? Uh-uh. We're thankful it's only an option. The standard steering setup is far more natural.
As for ride, there's little not to like. The chassis is composed enough to stay settled on rough pavement but appropriately dialed in for neutral cornering and balanced handling. Other cars are firmer and more focused, but the INFINITI draws a nice compromise between ride comfort and handling.
Final thoughts. The 2021 INFINITI Q50 is dated. There's little about this car that keeps it competitive with its adversaries. The cabin is in dire need for a makeover, and the exterior styling, while aging gracefully, is also wanting for a fresh look. The V6 puts a smile on our face, but it comes with the caveat that what makes it special is fundamentally rooted in its being obsolete.
The Q50 could be great, if INFINITI could just revise the styling and modernize the technology and features. In other words, if they give it a full redesign. If INFINITI wants to be serious about competing in this segment, it needs to go back to the drawing board and build on the Q50's good bones. Then we might be able to recommend it.
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