2014 Infiniti Q50 first drive review

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Out on the Interstate, barely ten minutes into our first drive of the 2014 Infiniti Q50, my co-driver and had already found something to marvel about in this sport sedan: We could carry on a quiet conversation.

That might sound like a low bar—and there's much more truly marvelous, world-first technology in the Q50 to beam about—but it points to how Infiniti really has recalibrated its baseline with this model.

In short, we think the luxury brand is going to sell many more of these than it did the brand's G37 predecessor: because in addition to all that tech, it now feels like a true luxury car.

Bert Brooks, Infiniti's senior manager for product planning for the Q50 sedan (and the upcoming Q60 coupe version) admits that the lack of refinement was a common complaint from the previous car—and that to appeal to a broader base of customers this time (in addition to all the new Q50's performance and tech improvements) the company also wanted to provide much more of it, “and even another word that's sometimes taboo—comfort,” he quipped.

The most recent G was a sport sedan that we loved—and, at times, actually loathed. We loved it from the driver's seat, on a curvy road, for its crisp, communicative steering, great brakes, and well-sorted, balanced dynamics. It essentially offered the sensory thrills of a sports car, but with more practicality. But then there was the downside: namely, all the noise, vibration, and general coarseness from the road and the powertrain that made it feel less than luxurious—downright unpleasant, really, on some long highway slogs.

Enter the Q50, and Infiniti has seemingly covered all the abrasive parts of the former sedan's personality with a thick blanket while leaving the core charm intact. From what we could tell in an admittedly brief drive of the Q50 up and down I-95 and some New England backroads, it's (almost) all the personality we loved in the G, with some traits that are going to make your passengers much happier.

VQ37, but no more racket

Go for the Q50 3.7—powered by a 328-horsepower version of the familiar 3.7-liter V-6—and you'll no longer fault this powertrain for feeling too ragged and coarse. Although the engine itself hasn't changed, engineers put a lot of effort into smoothing and isolating, with new intake and exhaust manifolds, as well as other measures that aid drivability in the middle of the rev range.

The seven-speed automatic transmission has been refined a bit, too, but the big change is that it's been given a taller final-drive ratio. Infiniti has lost 50 pounds in the new car—mostly in the structure—and you take off from a standing start with plenty of verve despite the taller effective ratio. Lower revs in higher-speed cruising (less than 2,500 rpm at 75 mph) is the other big advantage—to contribute to the quiet inside and raise this powertrain's mileage up to 20 mpg city, 30 highway with rear-wheel drive.

Paddle shift controls are available, and you get nice throttle-blipped downshifts and remarkably little driveline shock. Overall, the 3.7-liter sings up its range with much more harmony than it ever did in the G. All-wheel drive will be an option in all Q50s. The manual gearbox is gone this year—it got thrown by the wayside in Infiniti's quest to put more refinement and technology into the Q50—but we're told it's not completely a lost hope for next year.

Very smooth, very responsive Hybrid

That said, we might just choose the Hybrid. It's heavier, yes, but it feels just as quick, with very well-coordinated throttle response and 360 combined horsepower with a special version of Infiniti's 3.5-liter V-6 plus a 50-kW motor system and a unique dual clutch-pack hybrid system (with a dry clutch fore of the transmission and motor system and a wet clutch aft of them) that effectively smooths out both shift shock and transitions in power. This is a system that can gently take off on electric power alone, or turn off the gasoline engine to 'glide' along down gradual expressway downhills. And with EPA ratings of 29 mpg city, 36 highway (and an observed 29 mpg over about 100 quick miles) it boosts real-world mileage in a way that Lexus' performance hybrid system doesn't.

There's only one respect in which the Hybrid doesn't quite measure up, and that's braking. The last bit before a complete, gentle stop is 'muddy'—that's the best way to describe it—but if you stop harder it's more precise.

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