Test Drive: Infiniti Q50 is a new welterweight contender

Test Drive: Infiniti Q50 is a new welterweight contender

August 10th, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The all-new Infiniti Q50 Hybrid bristles with 360 horsepower from it's V-6 engine with electric motor assist. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

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FAST FACTS

* Model: 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid

* Exterior color: Graphite Shadow

* Interior color: Graphite

* Engine: 3.7-liter V-6 with electric assist

* Horsepower: 360

* Transmission: seven-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 36 highway, 29 city

* Dealer: Infiniti Chattanooga

* Price (as tested): $46,255

If the new Infiniti Q50 Hybrid were a prizefighter, it would be Sugar Ray Leonard.

It's fast, smart and brutally efficient. And like Leonard, it may soon have its competition crying, "No mas!"

The Q50, an all-new compact luxury sedan from the Japanese carmaker, packs ferocious speed potential into a small package. Here's an interesting fact: The Q50 hybrid gets 36 miles per gallon of gasoline highway, but yet makes 360 horsepower.

The hybrid actually gets a 32 horsepower bump over the nonhybrid Q50, which is about $4,000 cheaper and gets a more modest 30 mpg highway.

STYLING AND COMFORT

Our Q50 Hybrid test car from Inifiniti of Chattanooga is so new that it was still getting software updates to its infotainment system when we picked it up, according to sales manager Steve Bertoni.

The Q50 is first and foremost a driver's car, with a 0-60 mph time estimated to be a hair below 5.5 seconds.

The sheet metal follows an emerging trend in modern car design, back-weighting. After years of building cars with all the muscle up front, newer car designs are beginning to shift the visual weight to the back axle. This is especially appropriate on a rear-wheel-drive car like the Q50 because it puts the pumped-up parts back where the action is.

Up front, the Q50 looks like it has been on a high-protein diet, with muscle lines rippling across the hood. The familiar chrome-plated grille has become Infiniti's family crest. Our test car, in Graphite Shadow (think dark gray), showed off the car's fluid body lines. The rear wheel arches bulge aggressively, a sign that those 360 horses are ready to play. (Infiniti dubs the Q50 "The High-performance Hybrid.")

Attractive five-spoke alloy wheels are shod with grippy Bridgestone tires. Nice design touches, like electric blue Infiniti kick-plates on the front door sills, mark this as a premium piece.

Inside, the Q50 feels like a sports car. There is a clear sensation of sitting down into the car, and the steering wheel has a short neck to the dashboard. Our test car was outfitted with black leather seats, heated in the front. The center stack is home to a easy-to-read nav map, part of a $1,4000 package that was our test car's only option.

There's really no need to glob on options with so many standard features on the Q50. They include, drive-by-wire adaptive steering, a power moon roof, LED headlights, a manual shift mode for sportier driving and a 14-speaker Bose stereo system.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

If you don't like a spirited driving experience, there's really no point in testing the Q50. On the other hand, for driving enthusiasts, the Q50 hybrid offers a mountain of fun.

On our short test drive on I-75 and Highway 153, we pressed the Q50 through some energetic on- and off-ramp acceleration. Power delivery is smooth and linear, and the well-bolstered seats keep you settled even during hard cornering. The Q50's power-plant is the same 3.7-liter V-6 mated to a lithium ion battery pack that is also available in Infiniti's bigger M Hybrid.

On start-up, the Q50 is exceedingly quiet - it took me a couple of starts to realize the engine was engaged. Instrumentation, including analog tachometer and speedometer, are well arranged and easy to read. The navigation screen is especially legible in direct sunlight, a rare, but appreciated, touch.

There's something about knowing that the Q50 Hybrid is rated 36 mpg highway (29 city) that makes you want to push the car to it's limits - knowing the price of acceleration isn't too dear.

The steering is incredibly precise, so much so that it demands your attention. There are five driving modes - Standard, Sport, Snow, Eco and Personal. In Personal mode, the Q50 allows you to dial in your own steering and throttle settings.

BOTTOM LINE

Although the Q50 is technically the replacement for the fine G37 sports sedan, Infiniti has announced this week it will continue to sell discounted G37s for the foreseable future. Infiniti has been called the "Japanese BMW" and it's clear from the design and execution of the Q50 that the automaker has bench-marked its German competitors.

At $46,255 our Q50 Hybrid test car is one of the more expensive trim levels in the line, but it's also one of those rare hybrids that adds value twice - at the pump, and through better performance on the freeway. Within weeks, there should be plenty of Q50s available for all different pocketbooks.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.