2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 first drive: The Japanese muscle car

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Trees and vegetation rush past the large windshield as I pin the throttle to the floor. Forty, 50, 60 flash by as the tach needle climbs to 7,000 rpm; my brain is telling me I’m in a muscle car, but my eyes and ears are receiving entirely different signals.

It’s not a muscle car, at least in the traditional sense. It’s the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400, and the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 carried over from last year remains its biggest asset. The 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque is impressive enough, but how usable and extractable that power is makes this car special. Unlike many turbocharged cars, this engine feels linear and begs to be taken all the way to its redline. Scads of torque is available down low from the quick-spooling compressors; it might not even feel necessary to rev it out, but those who do will be rewarded by emotional acceleration living up to the “Sport” in its name.



Q50 front image 1

You’ll notice a slightly more aggressive front end on the 2018 Q50 Red Sport 400.


Infiniti didn’t overhaul the engine for the Q50’s 2018 refurbishment, so let’s get to what is new…it’s not much. A new look from the front and rear fascias is the most obvious change. For the Red Sport we drove here, that means a more aggressive look than before with the addition of some meaner-looking vents up front, plus a sharper grill and headlight shapes. Out back, new taillights, sportier-looking exhaust tips and a body-colored diffuser insert finish the look up. We liked the way Infiniti’s best-selling car looked before, and this update does nothing to change our opinion. It’s clean, sporty and sets itself apart from the German competition.

Small changes worked themselves to the interior as well — the steering wheel and gear selector from the Q60 get pulled for double duty in the Q50. A new red-stitched instrument panel further differentiates the Red Sport’s interior from the other Q50 trim levels available.

Speaking of, Infiniti has gone and renamed the trim levels to confuse folks — something at which the brand is adept. At the bottom we have Pure, available only with a Mercedes-sourced 2.0-liter turbo four. Next up is the Luxe trim, available with either the volume seller 300 hp version of the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 or a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 3.5-liter V6 coupled to an electric motor producing 360 hp in total. Finally, unchanged is the Sport trim that exclusively comes with the 300 hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo, leaving our subject here — the Red Sport 400 — at the top of the list.



The Execution

Smashing the throttle on this car is undoubtedly a joy, but this being a sports sedan, it must excel in other areas as well. The elephant in the room is Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering system, commonly known as steer-by-wire. Infiniti says it is constantly performing updates on this system, so the 2018 model year should feel different from 2017. As I flip through the unending number of modes and response levels I can put the steering into, all I can think about is how sports cars used to come in one specifically engineered flavor of steering, rather than leaving the driver to figure out which of the countless combinations of steering effort, response and suspension modes he or she should be in.

I tried my best to sample as many mixes as I could, but settled for Dynamic response and Sport Plus modes. This delivered a quick rack and weighty feel for the winding and undulating backroads around Nashville upon which I tested the Red Sport.



Q50 interior image 1

Ambient interior lighting has been adjusted for 2018 as well according to Infiniti, not that you’ll take much notice of it when entering or exiting your vehicle.


As for how that steering response translates to handling gets more complicated. Upon first moving the steering wheel off-center it feels airy and disconnected from what is happening on the ground. Dial-in some more lock and the wheel quickly firms up how a standard steering rack would feel. The road isn’t transmitted to your hands as with a hydraulic (or even electric) rack, but the electronics do their best to simulate it. A Q60 Red Sport I drove not too long ago felt much more videogame-like than the steering in the Q50 does, so some worthwhile tuning has been done.

Whereas the steering lacks natural feedback, the suspension excels at transmitting the road surface to the bottom of the seat. Bumps and imperfections might not make their way to the steering wheel, but I still feel like I’m well and truly connected to the chassis through the seat and pedals. The Red Sport’s stability control has been massaged to allow a bit more tail wagging fun for 2018; it’s easily taken advantage of on the rear-wheel drive Q50.

Our car had summer performance tire option and not the standard run flats, leading to much more grip in tight corners. Those big tires with 19” Red Sport exclusive wheels do make a bit of noise when cruising along, more road noise than one might expect from a near $60,000 car. If it means less weight for lack of sound deadening however, we’re all for it. Even in the softest suspension setting, road imperfections and potholes were felt in the cabin, so don’t expect to have your cake and eat it too on the performance-driven Red Sport 400.



Q50 Red Sport exterior

Little carbon fiber bits are scattered throughout the exterior including the spoiler and mirrors.


Circling back to the beast under the hood feels necessary, because Nissan/Infiniti has proven again how capable it is at making a properly sorted engine. A few blasts up and down some backroads can easily make you forget this car doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet. You won’t be as perturbed or worried about the dual-touchscreen interface Infiniti has going on in the center stack. And the beeping from the lane-keeping assist feature? Well, that’ll still annoy you, so best turn it off when canyon carving. And the seven-speed automatic transmission gets the job done well and smoothly enough that I’m not yelling at it by day’s end. In fact, this is one of the few torque converter automatics I actually found myself choosing to use the paddle shifters (made of great-feeling magnesium) in manual mode for spirited driving. Some of that stems from its propensity to shift up when you don’t really want it to, but once the transmission realizes you’re trying to have fun, it tries to give you what you want.

Unfortunately, the stock exhaust of this uber-fast sports sedan does not sound the part. It’s quiet and muted in every way a fast car shouldn’t be. Infiniti does have an answer for those yearning for the howls achieved by the VQ engines of old in the form of three dealer installable exhaust options. They range from mild to muffler-less, and we’re told one can be had for around $700. The quiet version of these exhausts was on hand for us to give a listen to, and after a few blips of the throttle it became clear that this is a required option box to check. We can’t wait to hear how good the more aggressive setups might sound if this is the baseline.



Q50 Red Sport interior image 2

Somehow Infiniti forgot to include a place to store a phone in the center console/stack area, a noticeable omission.


The Takeaway

The Q50 Red Sport 400 should theoretically be cross-shopped with the BMW 340i, Audi S4 and Lexus IS350 F-Sport, Infiniti says. It’s not aiming for BMW’s M division or Mercedes’ AMG. That being said, we’re not sure if this mid-cycle refresh will lure buyers away from those other brands. Even though it outclasses the others in pure power, the nonlinear steering and steep base price of $51,905 make it a hard sell against established players. 





Zac Palmer

Zac Palmer – Editorial Intern Zac Palmer has probably spent more time in a car than any other 21-year old in the country. He likes anything that can go around a corner, and is surely talking about a car wherever he might be.
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On Sale: August 2017

Base Price: $51,905

As Tested Price: $59,920

Drivetrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, seven-speed auto, RWD/AWD

Output: 400 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 350 lb-ft @1,600-5,200 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,840 lb

0-60 MPH: 4.5 (est)

Fuel Economy: 20/26/22(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Addicting engine, superb chassis dynamics, sharp styling

Cons: Weird steering, sluggish transmission tuning, expensive


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