Test Drive

The 2017 Infiniti Q50 S 3.0t Proves That Being Average Isn't Always Awful

"Being average" sold a lot of Q50s for Infiniti last year.

If we had to describe the 2017 Infiniti Q50 3.0t Sport AWD in one word it would probably be “adequate.” That’s not a very sexy word and it won’t put a smile on the face of the executives, engineers and designers over at Nissan’s luxury arm. But it’s true. After spending a week behind the wheel of the 300-horsepower Q50 we weren’t blown away. We also weren’t left with a feeling of disappointment or longing. The feeling was one of satisfaction.

This one-word review is obviously a mixed bag for Infiniti. No company wants to hear that its flagship sedan is just “good enough.” Still, it could be worse. In 2016 “good enough” helped Infiniti sell 44,007 Q50s making the model third place in the segment. That topped the Audi A4 (36,987 sales) and Lexus IS (37,289 sales). As expected the Japanese automaker was still far off the pace set by the BMW 3 Series (70,458 sales) and Mercedes-Benz C-Class (77,167 sales). Infiniti’s sales surge was likely driven by the fact that the Q50 got a host of new engines last year. That’s not to take away anything from the model itself, but it’s worth mentioning because in 2017 there’s been a marked drop in sales.

By now you know that all anyone wants to buy are crossovers, which is one of the reasons why Q50 sales are down 16.3 percent year-to-year through April 2016. But the rise of crossovers and the resurgence of SUVs doesn’t fully explain the drop. Equally important is the fact that the Q50 is just adequate, and in such a competitive segment that’s not enough to keep customers coming back and certainly not enough to pique the curiosity of brand newbies. To be fair, Infiniti’s entry-level luxury sedan ranks above adequate in a few areas, starting under the hood. Its twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 makes 300 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. This engine is the sweet spot between the entry-level 2.0t (208 hp) and hybrid trim (360 hp).

It has some nice pull, especially once the turbos spool up. That happens quite quickly, and once they’re primed, the Q50 is ready to rocket past slow pokes on the street or highway. Those obsessed with high horsepower numbers will be pleasantly surprised at just how capable the Q50 is with “only” 300 ponies in the stable. The only transmission on offer is a seven-speed automatic, although you do get paddle shifters to play with. Shifts are smooth and there is rev-matching on downshifts. There are multiple driving modes to choose from, with Sport+ being the best of the bunch. In Sport+ shifts are made at more aggressive points in the rev range, the throttle is more responsive and the steering actually gets some weight behind it.

It also adjusts the dampers, a nice surprise, which in conjunction with the paddle shifters, makes the Q50 pretty fun when you find the space to get on the gas. The steering could be better but the chassis is solid. Another area where the Q50 comes in better than satisfactory is in the looks department. It’s handsome, though not a neck-snapper. The front end is uncomplicated with sinister, sloping headlights. At 189.1 inches in overall length the Q50 is almost a full seven inches longer than the 3 Series. This gives it a leaner and more athletic look when compared to some of its more compressed competitors. It also means more rear legroom. Headroom isn’t a huge issue, unless you’re sitting in the middle seat. Then it’s nonexistent.

Unfortunately that about does it for the highlights. The rest is a mixed bag of good and not-so-good. The cabin in a nice place to be, although at $52,420 we were left longing for a bit more luxury. That figure includes $4,865 worth of options. The Driver Assistance Package ($2,150) was worth the cash as the Q50 intervened several times to stop us from getting too close in traffic (Forward Emergency Braking) or when backing out of a parking spot (Backup Collision Intervention). The system was a little overprotective but it was nice to know it worked as advertised. Then there’s the $2,250 Premium Plus Package, which includes stuff like navigation and voice control.

It’s also the only way to score heated seats and a heated steering wheel, a fact that’s sure to aggravate some consumers. If it were our money we would have spent the cash on the $1,850 Design Package. That adds natural Maple wood accents, quilted leather seats and dark chrome trim. Without it the interior feels a little cheap, especially when the price tag is north of $50,000. The good news is you don’t have to pay extra for a touchscreen. The bad news is you get two screens for the price ($0) of one. Some love the dual display and others hate it. We fall into the latter camp. The bottom touchscreen is perfectly fine and responsive. The top one is frustrating to use and you’ll likely never touch it.

Finally, that AWD system needs to go. If you live somewhere that gets real weather, as in rain and snow, then it’s an option you might want to seriously consider. For everyone else, just pocket the $2,000, get a RWD model and enjoy your savings and slightly sportier sedan. You’ll save on weight (3,822 pounds vs. 3,996 pounds) and have a better weight distribution (54/44 vs. 57/43). Your mileage will also improve (20/29 city and highway versus 19/27). The twin-turbo V6 is a gas hog. We only managed a pitiful 20 mpg combined. With all that said the Q50 3.0t AWD is still a solid sedan with a great engine and smart looks. Its most glaring faults aren't tough to spot or fix.

The bigger issue is that, like Infiniti itself, the Q50 lacks identity. It's not quite there when it comes to luxury and is too expensive to be seen as a budget option, at least at this trim level. It's fun to drive but by no means a sports sedan. Lacking a clear identity in the automotive world is never a good thing. The good news is that the Q50 isn't starting the search for itself from square one.

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