2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport — Head turning good looks, but ready for update

By Jim Prueter

(March 1, 2021) Infiniti made a decision to up its performance game to compete with high-performance German sports sedans like the compact Mercedes AMG C43, BMW M3 and Audi S4 and S5. For the Infiniti brand, Red Sport is the name it gives to its highest performing cars including the Q50 with its 400-horsepower twin-turbo V6 tested here.

The 2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 is almost entirely a carryover model from the last time we tested a Red Sport for the 2019 model year. Last year for 2020 Infiniti added a new standard infotainment system that included Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration to the list of standard equipment.

For 2021, Infiniti has added a new range topping model called Sensory that tarts up the  Q50 with 19-inch wheels, sportier exterior tweaks, leather upholstery and open-pore wood trim to the interior accompanying a new 16-speaker Bose audio system. Our Red Sport was finished in a new for 2021 color Slate Gray a $695 up charge.

Complementing the Slat Gray exterior color was the inclusion of the optional $1,520 carbon fiber package with outside mirror covers and rear decklid spoiler along with the carbon fiber interior trim was added for this year.

Even though the Q60 Coupe wins the beauty contest in the Infiniti family we found our Q50 Red Sport still turned heads during our weeklong testing. The sweet-sounding dealer installed sport exhaust didn’t hurt either.

Consistent with its German competitors, the Q50 is a small luxury sedan, and the performance trim level distinguishes itself with aggressive, yet good-looking trim including front fascia detailing, rear fender swells and dramatic lower bodywork, wide performance tires and gorgeous oversized alloy wheels of varying designs. It all looks great.

Visually, however, the Red Sport is only differentiated from the base Q50 by its exhaust tips, the red “S” moniker on its front fenders and deck lid, its more aggressive wheels and red painted brake calipers. We wished it had more performance styling like Mercedes’ AMG products, which clearly send the message that there’s something special about it.

The Red Sport ups Infiniti’s performance game with sporty driving dynamics, and instant acceleration power delivered through its seven-speed automatic transmission. Most competitors feature an eight-speed automatic, but the Red Sport is helped by its console-mounted selectable drive modes, including Sport and the more aggressive Sport+ that powers to 60 mph from a dead stop in 4.8 seconds, actually a few ticks more than we had expected. In Sport+ mode, the suspension becomes more rigid, steering weight is increased and the transmission shifts sooner while holding the gears longer. Rear wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive optional. When all-wheel drive isn’t needed the wider rear wheels get all the power. Combined with the vehicles active trace control it enhances cornering feel.

The seven-speed automatic connected to the 3.0-liter V6 engine includes downshift rev-matching and adaptive shift control.

In addition to its performance enhancements, the Red Sport upgraded other aspects of the vehicle, making improvements to the previous generation’s steer-by-wire system with two new implementations of its electronic steering system. ‘Direct Adaptive Steering’ delivers a more granular control over the weight of the wheels and feedback delivered through the column to the driver.

The Red Sport 400 has certainly been a welcome addition to Infiniti dealer showrooms. They can point to a luxury sports sedan with enough bravado and muscle to go toe-to-toe with the Barons of Bavaria yet delivers daily driver comfort and smoothness until the heavy hammer is needed. We also liked the all-day comfortable zero gravity seats and passenger and cargo volume is more generous than its competitor the new BMW 3 Series sedan.

In fact, the entire interior while showing its age still looks attractive with its quilted leather upholstery with red French stitching, speaker grilles for the powerful Bose system, dual screen infotainment setup, the matte black carbon fiber trim and brushed metal foot pedals.

Unfortunately, the dual-screen infotainment system is nearly completely non-intuitive and difficult to operate. The upper screen displays the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto features or a navigation screen. Either upper or lower screen allows for various apps to be displayed depending on operator preference. Further, the upper screen can be controlled via touch, the control knob mounted on the center console or steering wheel control buttons. Up to seven devices can be paired to the included Wi-Fi hotspot

While Infiniti has elected to compete with the Europeans, the Red Sport still falls short of the all-out performance you’ll experience with those brands. But to their credit, the Red Sport it isn’t trying to be that. Rather, it’s seeking an audience that’s more interested in a good balance between luxury and high-performance muscle wrapped in a stylish package and an attractive, comfortable interior.

Still, there are a number of cars in this class that also deliver excellent ride and handling with ample power, but with more advanced and easier to use infotainment and operational technology, nicer interiors and updated styling. The Q50 was an all-new entry for the 2014 model year and has remained mostly unchanged since that time and therefore no longer feels as fresh as competitors. It’s not going to wow you with the latest features that’s found on competitors and isn’t nearly as engaging to drive as most other sport sedans, but it is visibly gorgeous and delightfully quick.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $57,750
Price as Tested: $62,355
What Makes it go: 400-hp 3.0-Liter twin-turbocharged V6 connected to a 7-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 19-mpg city – 26-mpg highway – 22-mpg combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Ratings: The 2021 Q50 earned a “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Where Built: Kaminokawa, Tochigi, Japan

Competes With:
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Audi S4 and S5
BMW M3 and M4
Genesis G70
Mercedes-AMG C 43