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Review: 2018 Infiniti Q50 takes baby steps in the right direction

ROAD TEST

The new Infiniti Q50 takes baby steps in the right direction

'Refreshed' model sees subtle changes, but also noticeable developments in its automatic braking system

The 2018 Infiniti Q50 sports sedan features a refreshed exterior and interior design.

The new Infiniti Q50 might not look remarkable, but it really is.

Not because it's more powerful than the competition, which it is, or because it's better finished or more comfortable or more agile, which it isn't because they're all so evenly matched.

It is remarkable because of how it throws up a wall of protection around the car to save your backside.

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Infiniti's always been at the head of the curve with this stuff. It claims it was first to introduce all kinds of driver-assistance technology and there's no reason for doubt: first with a backup camera on a passenger car (in 2001), first with lane-departure warning and then active lane control to keep the car in the lane, first for cross-traffic detection and braking, among others.

And now, just driving along the interstate here and coming up behind another car, the accelerator pedal will kick back gently against the driver's foot to encourage backing off. If the other car brakes, the Infiniti will also brake all the way down to a full stop. This is not using active cruise control, which maintains a safe distance from the car in front at a steady speed. This is just driving.

The Q50 features subtle changes, but the changes are for the better.

Some, including myself, would argue this encourages texting and all other forms of distracted driving, because you know the car is watching out for you even when you're not. It's the new reality of driving, though, that people need as much assistance as possible when they're behind the wheel – if the car can step in to prevent a collision, then why not use all the help you can get?

The Q50 is an enjoyable car to drive, so hopefully I won't be reviewing a fully autonomous Level 5 version in five years' time. The new model is "refreshed" for 2018, five years after its introduction, and it's certainly a driver's car. It now has larger optional wheels, newly designed bumpers front and back and a tweaked interior.

The changes are subtle: things such as new stitching and new black caps on the mirrors. The shift paddles are on the steering wheel, where they belong, instead of on the steering column. The options for each of the four engines and trim levels are adjusted and renamed, but only a true nerd will spot the differences right away.

The engines themselves are pretty much unchanged. The Q50 Luxe has either a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, 208-horsepower four-cylinder or a 300-hp, 3.0 L V-6, while the Sport has the same V-6 with go-faster stripes. The Red Sport has the 400-hp engine with 350 lb-ft of torque, and there's even a 3.5 L hybrid engine, although it makes up only 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the Q50's total sales.

There are no official Canadian prices yet, although the new car will be available in dealerships within a month.

Here in Tennessee, the model available to drive was the top-of-the-line Red Sport edition, with the 400-hp engine that's very responsive indeed. All Q50s are sold now in Canada as all-wheel drive, but my test car for the day was a RWD U.S. edition. Not to worry. The baking-hot roads were dry as a bone and police were everywhere to temper any "spirited" driving. All I can vouch for is that it's flat around corners, quick off the line with maximum torque at a low 1,600 rpm, and everything falls comfortably to hand. Just like the competition.

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There are no official Canadian prices yet, although the new car will be available in dealerships within a month. This usually suggests the basic model will stay around the same price, but the mid– and upper-range models will be inflated. The basic 2017 Q50 now starts at $39,900 and the current Red Sport starts at $52,600. In the States, the 2017 Red Sport starts at $48,700 (U.S.) for the RWD, while my test car was listed at $51,000 before options, so read into that what you will.

The important thing for Infiniti's pricing is to be competitive against the Lexus IS, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, which it is – and its engines make a lot more horsepower. Keeping it up-to-date is essential. The changes may only be baby steps, but they're steps in the right direction.

TECH SPECS

The Red Sport edition has a 400-hp engine with 350 lb-ft of torque.

  • Base price: $40,000 (est.); as tested: $55,000 (est.)
  • Engines: 2.0-litre turbo, 3.0-litre twin-turbo, 3.5-litre hybrid
  • Transmission/drive: Seven-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.5 city, 9.3 highway
  • Alternatives: BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, Lexus IS, Audi A4

LOOKS

There are no radical changes to the Q50, which has always been an attractive sedan.

There are no radical changes for style, but that's not a bad thing. The Q50 has always been an attractive sedan, and while Infiniti claims it now looks more aggressive, it's not enough to turn too many heads.

INTERIOR

The interior materials are refined and well-finished without seeming too luxurious.

Infiniti calls the cabin "driver-centric, passenger-minded" – good for all five seats. Everything is clear and well-organized, and there's reasonable space in the back with head and leg room for two people. Materials are refined and well-finished without seeming too luxurious to get away from the sporty appeal.

PERFORMANCE

The 400-hp engine doesn’t disappoint for power and handling.

I can't tell how it performs anywhere near its limits, thanks to driving only on pleasant public roads, but the 400-hp Red Sport never disappointed for power and handling.

TECHNOLOGY

The driver’s-assistance features are now so seamless, they’re no longer intrusive.

Just astonishing. The driver's-assistance features are now so seamless, they're no longer intrusive and you don't feel them unless you need them. Everything is adjustable, so you can override whatever features you don't want and choose only the ones you do. Which is most of them.

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CARGO

The sedan’s ample cargo room is the next-best thing to a hatchback.

A reasonable 382 L of cargo in the trunk, with 60/40 rear seating and even a pull-through if needed. The next-best thing to a hatchback, with sedan styling.

THE VERDICT

8.0

Not too different from the successful and popular current version of the Q50, but enough enhancements where it counts to keep up with the competition.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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