Octane
By Bradley Hasemeyer
on 12.16.13
Photo by BH

In 2012, Infiniti moved out of Nissan’s shadow by taking root in Hong Kong and naming Johan de Nysschen, Audi’s former CEO and the man who was arguably responsible for putting the four rings back in the game, as their president. His first move was to change the nomenclature of all Infiniti vehicles to “Q” in an effort to streamline branding; this meant the next-generation G37 became the Q50. Loaded with ground-breaking technology, a strong engine and a grownup interior, the 2014 Infiniti Q50S ($43,550) is an impressive vehicle with impressive features.

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For 2014, the artist formerly known as G37 gets a more refined exterior that capitalizes on the new design language headed up by Infiniti’s design visionary Shiro Nakamura — think flowing lines with abrupt edges, as seen in their Essence, Etheria and Emerg-e concepts. We had the $6,000 upgraded “S” model, which came with paddle shifters, sport suspension, sport brakes and some body accents. The aggressive front end with human-eye-like HID headlights and a side profile somewhere between Lexus IS and 3-Series BMW hints at the maturity of this model. With a beautiful center console, well-styled doors and dual touchscreens the interior also feels more mature than the previous generation G37. The seats are well bolstered but not stiff, visibility is great and rear legroom is passable for road trips with adults.

Push the start button and the 328 horsepower 3.7-liter V6 springs to life and gets you moving off the line to 60 mph in just over five seconds. The exhaust note that made the G35 so popular and unique is still present but toned down at lower revs. Switch the car to sport mode and you get a tighter ride and more steering effort. These adjustments combined with a 60 percent stiffer chassis and the use of high-tensile steel to reduce weight prove that there are just as many changes underneath as there are on the exterior. On both fronts that change is welcomed.

Our Q50S came with the technology and deluxe touring packages, which add more cameras, sensors and computer chips than a small Best Buy. The most impressive feature in these packages was the Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), a system Infiniti claims has been 10 years in the making. It’s essentially a drive-by-wire (electronic) steering system with a unique technology: there is a clutch in the steering column. This clutch, along with some computers and ECUs, is able to simulate a one-to-one steering ratio. Infiniti says that traditional steering robs the driver of feel due to friction, the flex in bushings and other pieces of steering equipment. The DAS converts the input from the driver into algorithms, which then communicate to the wheels when and how much to turn. Additionally, having the clutch come between the steering wheel and the tires eliminates those slight but constant corrections we make while driving. Infiniti gave us a DAS-equipped Q50 and one without the option and set us up on an obstacle course, which yielded surprisingly impressive results: the steering-wheel-turned-joystick system made the car quicker on tight back-and-forth turns and sharp corners while the non-DAS made us look like idiots as we understeered and careened into cones. The problem with all the aforementioned electronic involvement, however, is that it does give the car a bit of a digital feel and a disconnectedness. Most people won’t care, but as much as we like the idea of DAS, moving the steering wheel back and forth without electronic assistance makes us feel more present and in control rather than being along for the ride.

Beyond the driving tech, Infiniti has a full suite of safety and convenience tech available. The predictive forward collision system uses a sensor to bounce a signal off the ground under the car in front of you, monitoring their speed and alerting you if an issue arises even though you can’t see it; a lane-keeping system uses cameras to determine the middle of the lane and keep you centered even in a turn; add adaptive cruise control into the mix, and you almost don’t have to even show up to run errands.

The Infiniti Q50S, with its new design inside and out, was perhaps the most impressive car we drove this year — because we didn’t have high expectations — and, in our opinion, is set to become the best selling Infiniti to date, despite our qualms with its steering feel. As Infiniti leaves the parental shadow of Nissan and takes their company global, the Q50 might be the car that becomes the pivot point for their brand by appealing to drivers who would have never given them a chance, but now can get a fully loaded $50K businessman’s sports car.