It’s hard to be two things at once—just look at the success rate of famous double agents. Robert Hanssen: serving 15 consecutive life sentences. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: electric chair(s). Severus Snape: snake bite. The consequences of competing loyalties are less dire in the world of mass-produced consumer goods, but it’s easy to spot a soul in conflict with itself—even if that soul is in fact a car, as in the case of the Infiniti Q50, which aspires to be both a luxury ride and a sports sedan.
Tightly creased sheet metal (imperceptibly tweaked for 2018) and angrily canted headlights are the first signs that the Q50 tested here, outfitted in Sport trim with a 300-hp twin-turbocharged V-6 engine and all-wheel drive, aspires to sportiness. Inside, a pair of magnesium paddle shifters—part of a $1500 package that also includes Infiniti’s adaptive suspension and upgraded brakes—help to drive the point home. But any significant amount of time spent behind the wheel will reveal the Q50 to be more interested in comforts than athletics.
Quick, Not Nimble
Keep the Q50 pointed down a straight highway and you may never notice its deficiencies. The steering wheel tracks straight and demands few corrections, the ride is comfortable on smooth pavement, and the seven-speed automatic transmission executes nearly seamless upshifts. Get a little frisky, though, and you’ll notice that the steering is imprecise and uncommunicative and that the ride is jittery over uneven pavement (perhaps a consequence of our test car’s 19-inch wheels, standard on this Sport trim). The transmission takes a beat before it responds to commands from the paddle shifters; left to its own devices, it sometimes stumbles in search of the appropriate cruising gear—we noticed it ambling along at 75 mph on the highway in sixth, for instance.
That’s not to say that the Q50 3.0T doesn’t have any tricks up its sleeve. Its trip to our test track revealed this all-wheel-drive example to be proficient in one important category: effortless power delivery. From a standing start, this Q50 3.0T reached 60 mph in 5.0 seconds flat. Not a record-setting effort but plenty quick enough for most purposes and just 0.5 second behind a Q50 Red Sport 400, which has 100 extra horsepower but was driven only by the rear wheels (it costs $2000 to add AWD to a rear-drive Q50). This Q50’s 3.8-second 50-to-70-mph run is similarly impressive and again represents only a 0.5-second deficit compared with its more powerful rear-drive sibling. Best of all, this quickness comes without an ounce of drama. The full brunt of the 3.0T’s 295 lb-ft of torque is available from 1600 rpm all the way up to 5200, wide-open-throttle upshifts are nearly imperceptible, and there’s minimal turbo lag as the engine quickly responds to pedal inputs.
Its performance characteristics make it more of a powerful cruiser than a back-roads plaything, but the Q50 isn’t without flaws when considered as a luxury sedan. Now in its fifth model year, the Q50’s interior design is showing its age. We would not have even considered paying the $52,410 asking price for our almost fully loaded test car and its heavily plastic interior and hopelessly outmoded infotainment system. Infiniti has made better interior furnishings available in the Q50’s Luxe trim for 2018, but upgraded materials can’t make up for a center-console layout seemingly conceived in a time before smartphones became a fifth appendage—easily accessible and versatile storage compartments are scarce. The less swanky but newer Kia Stinger does a much better job in these regards.
So, should we believe this Q50’s aggressively styled exterior and performance-oriented order sheet? Or do we heed the lessons of its comfortable leather seats and its quietly powerful engine? Perhaps neither. The Q50 is less an undercover agent than an unfocused but still broadly pleasing alternative to the Teutonic triumvirate of the Audi A4, the BMW 3-series, and the Mercedes-Benz C-class. From the outside, it looks more expensive than the $35,195 starting price of a rear-wheel-drive four-cylinder model, and as equipped with this twin-turbo V-6 engine, it can outrun those more pedigreed competitors. Purists may not be satisfied by the compromises the Q50 makes in pursuit of its conflicting aspirations, but less persnickety drivers are likely to find just enough good stuff.