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First Drive: 2018 Infiniti Q50

The Infiniti Q50 is an entry-level luxury sedan, operating in a sphere dominated by the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Now in its fifth model year, the 2018 Q50 benefits from a mild refresh, changes that maintain this model’s handsome looks, while offering further differentiation between grades. It is a model we think is worthy of your consideration.

Refreshed 2018 Infiniti Q50

Beginning this year, the 2018 Q50 sedan comes in four distinct trims: Pure, Luxe, Sport, and Red Sport 400. Marketed separately is a Q50 Hybrid, available in Luxe trim only. The four-grade approach will soon extend to most Infiniti models, giving shoppers a clear distinction in trims based on content, powertrain offerings and in many cases exterior and interior differences.

All Q50 models, including the hybrid, offer standard rear-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive.

Exterior and interior Refinements

Such differences are especially evident with the 3.0t Sport and Red Sport 400 grades, as both benefit from slightly slanted front bumpers and lower air intakes for a more aggressive persona. All models now have an airfoil located underneath the front bumper for optimum aerodynamic efficiency and reduced lift.

Inside, the 2018 Q50 now has unique stitching on the premium soft-touch materials encircling the instrument panel along with upgraded gauges and ambient lighting. You’ll also find a new steering wheel with molded positions for the thumb and a new shifter knob.

Infiniti InTouch Services, which integrates navigation, entertainment, smartphone and security, is now easier to use by means of the updated steering-wheel mounted controls. As always, voice and touch access are two other ways to use the system.

Engine and Transmission Choices

The Q50’s engine and transmission offerings are from last year, with Pure and Luxe models powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 208 horsepower. Sport models have a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 generating 300 horsepower (optional on the Luxe), while Red Sport 400 models benefit from a specially tuned version of that engine outfitted with twin intercoolers and 400 horsepower. All three engines come with a 7-speed automatic transmission with available steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

If you’ve ever considered a hybrid, the Q50 Hybrid offers an excellent blend of fuel efficiency and performance, which is a rarity for such models. Here, you’ll find a 3.5-liter V6 engine and an electric motor combining for 360 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 29 mpg city/highway (compared to 22 to 25 mpg for the gas models).

Middle Tennessee Countryside Driving

Infiniti brought journalists to Nashville to test drive the 2018 Q50. Multiple looping routes were at the ready, replete with twisty roads and the occasional switchback, allowing us to push past farms, along thickly wooded parks and drive within hailing distance of hill-topping McMansion estates owned by some of country music’s top performers. The temptation to take one of the winding drives up to the front of each mansion was strong, but always thwarted by sentry-like iron gates shut tightly to keep interlopers such as myself out.

Infiniti offered only one grade level for this drive — the Red Sport 400. Naturally, our driving impression is heavily skewed toward the model at hand, but I can say that given earlier testing of the similar 2017 Q60 coupe, you may want to stay away from the leisurely base engine, especially if you place even a small amount of importance on performance.

Strike a Chord

Pull away in the Red Sport 400 and the exhaust note responds in kind, although it never exudes the cacophony of some other systems. This means the note is authentic, not computer generated.

Plenty of power is on tap as Infiniti bolts the turbos directly to each bank of cylinder heads. Spooling up low on the band curve, the boosters deliver a remarkable amount of thrust with more power than any other production V6 on the market. The transmission is well-matched with this model, with a sport mode that provides a more engaging driving experience. Sadly, a manual gearbox is not available.

Steering is adept as well as adjustable. Infiniti’s drive mode selector dials in the right feel for the conditions present (or the experience desired) with Normal, Snow, Custom, Sport and Sport+ drive modes. The last setting optimizes steering weight and maximizes suspension damping for the ultimate performance drive experience.

The Q50 Red Sport 400 is every bit a luxury sport sedan, although it doesn’t pretend to match Mercedes-AMG capabilities. What it does do is take it to the Lexus IS, BMW 340i and Mercedes-Benz C300, delivering a faster model for a lower price.

Recommendation

The 2018 Infiniti Q50 is as much of a performance model as the Q60 coupe, but with two additional doors to show for it. The sedan’s rear seat compartment holds two adults with ease or three in a pinch.

Unless you want top-end power, a rear-wheel-drive 3.0t model with the standard twin-turbo V6 engine offers an ideal place to begin your search. Include the $1,650 driver assist (ProAssist) package and your price comes in about $43,000. Add $2,000 more if you prefer all-wheel drive.

In all, the 2018 Q50 has the right mix of a handsome exterior, a polished interior and available performance attributes. The result is a competent luxury sedan worthy of short list inclusion.

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