2016 Infiniti Q50

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Leaving its best-selling model basically untouched for 2015, product planners made some sweeping changes to the Infiniti Q50’s powertrain elements for 2016. Even Q50 owners would be hard pressed to identify which is which when faced with a 2015 and a 2016 parked side by side, but the differences are striking when you goose the accelerator.

Infiniti is one brand providing the opportunity to legitimately use “sporty” and “luxury” adjectives in the same sentence. Its cars look like they are fun to drive, and here, you can honestly judge a book by its cover.

Dominating the Q50 story for 2016, Infiniti decided to retire its spunky and reliably fun-to-drive 3.7-liter V6 for a trio of all-new turbocharged engines. Including the hybrid package carried over from last year, this is the largest engine count Infiniti has ever offered in any of its vehicles. Regardless of the engine, the transmission is a driver-shiftable, seven-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive is Q50’s standard configuration, but AWD can be paired with any engine for $2,000.

Anchoring the gasoline engine lineup is a 2-liter four-cylinder turbo. Built in the Nissan/Infiniti engine plant in Tennessee in a joint project with Mercedes-Benz – this is the same V6 powering Benz’s CLA250 – it generates 208 horsepower. Government-estimated mileage for RWD is 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. The mileage drops for a combined of 24 mpg with AWD.

The remaining turbos are actually two variations of the new 3-liter V6. Found in the Q50 3.0t Premium and Q50 Sport is the 300-horsepower version that also delivers 295 lb-ft of peak torque. Fuel economy depends a bit on not only the the number of drive wheels, but on the model, as well. The Premium RWD delivers 20 mpg city/30 highway and 24 combined. AWD scrubs a mile or two from each number, resulting in combined fuel economy being 22 mpg. The Sport AWD loses 1 mpg across the board with 23 mpg in combined driving. The AWD combined stat is 21 mpg.

At the top of the Q50 performance heap is the Red Sport 400. Developing 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, it springs off the line as though fired from a cannon. This is the version I drove in the Hill Country around San Antonio, Texas, a few weeks ago. What a blast to pilot! There’s not a lot of daylight between the mileage numbers of the Sport and the Red Sport 400, winding up with combined fuel economy numbers of 22 mpg with both RWD and AWD.

My Red Sport 400 had all manner of extras on it. Among them Direct Adaptive Steering and driver-adjustable suspension dampers. With these come the opportunity to choose a handling mode best suited to your driving style and comfort needs. There are enough combinations – including some custom settings – that delving into them here isn’t possible. It’s enough to say that drivers have many choices.

Inside, the sporty-luxury theme continues. If it leans one way or the other, sporty would be my description, but there’s no shortage of pampering going on. As a driver’s car, everything is where it needs to be to make the driver’s life easier. Nothing is overly complicated or a challenge to operate. The seats are uber supportive and comfortable, but then the Red Sport comes with the upgraded sport seats. Taller adults will probably adjust easily to the rear seat thanks to the ample legroom. All of the materials are topnotch and the construction well executed. One half-hearted caveat: Dual touchscreens create a bit of confusion until you figure out which does what.

Loaded with content, the 2.0t comes with full power accessories, heated outboard mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, keyless start, rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, infotainment interface and a six-speaker audio system. Moving up the trim selections adds a sunroof, leather seating and a 14-speaker Bose-infused surround-sound system.

Contributing to the $10,190 bounce from the Red Sport’s $47,950 base price to the as-tested price listed above are a number of options and packages including adaptive headlights, auto hi-beam, advanced climate control, an array of safety goodies like lane-departure prevention and adaptive cruise control with full braking, adaptive steering, front and back collision avoidance, navigation and much, much more.

Spring boarding from the G35, the Q50 delivers a broader experience with more engines, a wider range of pricing and escalating technology. What the Q50 does still have in common with the G35 is its spirited driving experience. There’s a good reason why it’s Infiniti’s best-selling vehicle.

— Russ Heaps (MyCarData)