Rating: 8.9
Bottom Line:
Bottom Line: Infiniti has reinvented the G37 sedan for a younger, more tech-savvy audience in the all-new Q50. It offers quiet sophistication, eager performance and electronics all the way to the cutting edge — and beyond.
Pros:
  • Uniquely comfortable, sporting and premium
  • Quietly powerful, especially the hybrid
  • Joyous front legroom
Cons:
  • Direct Adaptive Steering
  • Base trim could really use the sport seats
  • Sports performance, but not visceral

Infiniti has big plans. It wants to grow much larger, offer many more models and confidently establish itself as an independent maker of premium vehicles rather than soldier on as Nissan's up-market brand. To that end it's moved its headquarters to Hong Kong, embarked on an ambitious vehicle development program, and even launched a new vehicle-naming scheme. The all-new 4-door, 5-passenger Q50 sport sedan is the first fruit of this effort, replacing the G37.

Model lineup
Part of Infiniti's challenge is precisely where to fit in the automotive marketplace. Their sedans have always had a pleasurable, upscale coffee-house ambiance, but with a performance undercurrent and a palpable sense of chic as well. The urbane Q50 continues this aspirational vibe with its dramatic styling and adventurous technology offerings, yet also seems to ask that its considerable performance not be overlooked, nor that its all-weather capabilities be forgotten.

View Pictures:  2014 Infiniti Q50

Ultimately, there are no less than 10 distinct Q50 variants to fill all the niches. The choices start with Sedan, Premium or Sport trims, followed by the additional choices of front- or all-wheel-drive drivelines, plus conventional or hybrid power. Granted, the entry-level Q50 does without true leather trim or niceties such as automated digital climate control, but immediately thereafter the Q50 goes with genuine hides and digital temperature setting, adds aluminum trim and works itself up to maple wood inserts in the Premium and Sport versions. Hybrids even get a heated steering wheel.

Every Q50 boasts dual touch screens on the dash: an 8-inch upper and a 7-inch lower, along with a scrollable display between the speedometer and tachometer. That means the latest in navigation, hands-free phone and concierge operation for everyone, with a suite of smartphone-like apps scheduled to make a late 2013 appearance.

As for the new naming scheme, "Q" stands for sedan and "50" for the relative placement in the Infiniti sedan hierarchy, rather than an engine size. Expect less expensive Q30s and more luxurious Q70s and so on in the future, along with QX nomenclature for crossovers and SUVs.

Under the hood
All Q50s are powered by sophisticated V6 engines, with the 3.7-liter 328-horsepower variant in the standard driveline, and a 3.5-liter 302-horsepower version coupled with a 67-horsepower electric motor in the hybrids. Indicative of the new Infiniti mindset, the hybrid is by design the quicker accelerating of the two. Infiniti wants consumers to think of their hybrid more as a street-based version of the Formula One KERS system than a carbon-saving device, although the 36 mpg highway rating can't hurt.

All Q50s employ a 7-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters on Premium and Sport trims), and all-wheel drive can be paired with conventional or hybrid power. A driving-mode selector allows rapid toggling between Eco, Snow, Sport and Standard driving modes; it changes throttle sensitivity and transmission shift points.

The Q50's speed satisfyingly exceeds daily needs, with even the standard 3.7 offering more than 300 horsepower and 30 mpg on the open road, plus 20 mpg in the city. The hybrids post 29 mpg city.

Very welcome is a 54-pound weight reduction from the G37, thanks to greater use of high-strength steels, along with a 37 percent increase in rigidity in the front chassis.

Optional high-tech features abound, including safety-based technologies such as active lane control, which uses a camera to help keep the Q50 between the lines, blind-spot intervention, back-up collision intervention (these last two will brake the Q50 to a stop), an around-view monitor, radar-based predictive forward-collision warning and a first — Infiniti's new Direct Adaptive Steering. This is drive-by-wire, where the steering wheel is connected to three computers which then point the front wheels (a back-up mechanical system clutches into play should the electronics take a powder). Limited driver adjustability, enhanced lane-keeping and crosswind correction capabilities are benefits, along with a claimed faster-than-mechanical response.

Inner space
Even though it's very much a midsize 4-door sedan, the Q50 has definite sport coupe tendencies. This shows in the intercontinental legroom, deep center console and dual-cowl front cockpit experience, contrasted with the less roomy rear seats that are adequate for short trips. The plush seats are a highlight, and are good for all-day touring — but not so much for corner-carving.

Almost all interior dimensions have increased a half inch or so from the G37 starting point, along with a larger trunk opening.

Materials and detailing are to Infiniti standards, which is to say deluxe, and the interior design is just as contemporary as the exterior.

On the road
In any form the Q50 is a remarkably quiet, refined premium sedan with sporting intentions. Acceleration is brisk and the handling sure, with good feedback and action from the brake and accelerator pedals. The seats, which lack lateral support, set the performance limit in the standard sedans. The sport seats found only in the S trims are a definite improvement, and could be more dual purpose if fitted with adjustable lateral bolsters. The standard, hydraulically assisted steering points nicely, if not with exceptional feel, but its linear response and good weighting make it a pleasure to handle.

The real speed demon is the Hybrid S, which has well over 400 lb-ft of torque between its electric and gas powerplants. It is especially quick from a standing start, easily thrusts ahead of city traffic and off-handedly zooms around impediments on fast two-lane roads.

Downsides are few and minor. With so many gears the 7-speed transmission occasionally needs to upshift or downshift when you might not expect it, but the shifts are so smooth and fast this is something you notice rather than obsess over. Those wanting a hard-edge sporting experience might find the Q50 too isolated in their most eager moments, but as a high-speed tourer it's excellent.

The only major caveat is the Direct Adaptive Steering, which is not ready for prime time, at least not in the form we sampled. The artificial feedback is straight from a video game, and the response is highly variable and nonlinear. Generally, the experience is a frustrating example of a machine trying to think for you when you could do much better thinking for yourself. These are mainly software-tuning issues, and Infiniti is sure to constantly improve the system, so a reappraisal at a later date could reveal significant improvements. Prospective buyers must make the ultimate decision here.

Right for you?
With its sleek, low-cowl styling and emphasis on a cleanly streamlined aesthetic, the Q50 offers a unique take on the sports sedan market. As Infiniti says, they've aimed the Q50 at under-45-year-olds who are tech savvy and not impressed by the overly plush lounge atmosphere of traditional luxury-performance cars, and instead prefer something more active, something they can electronically tailor to themselves.

Pricing begins quite reasonably with the Q50 3.7 at $36,700 and the Q50 3.7 AWD listing for $38,500. Prices — and content — begin a steady upward march from there, with the Premium versions at $39,550 and $41,350, respectively, while the Q50S and Q50S AWD Sport variants bring $43,200 and $45,000.

Adding the auxiliary electric thrust of the Hybrid continues the step-up pricing. The Q50 Hybrid Premium — there is no "straight" Q50 Hybrid, all Hybrids are also either Premium or Sport — is $43,950, the Q50S Hybrid is $46,350, and the Q50S Hybrid AWD tops the range at $48,150.

We sampled a Q50S Hybrid, which was very nicely equipped with Navigation and Deluxe packages; it listed for $53,655. All Q50s are on sale now.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundreds of freelance articles.