NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE — The rain. My goodness, the rain.
Tennessee in July apparently can be a rain-soaked mess. Not only did it hinder our travel to the city — we flew from Columbus, Ohio to Minneapolis, Minnesota to get to Nashville — but it drenched us during the afternoon of the drive day. A torrential downpour that you really can only find in the midwest after a hot and humid few days.
While not the ideal scenario for driving a car, it provides us a unique opportunity to test Infiniti’s refreshed sports sedan in conditions that people outside of southern California live with daily; weather.
For 2018, Infiniti refreshed their Q50 lineup with revised looks, better handling and updated technology. They seem to have positioned their top-tier Red Sport 400 precisely between the competition’s top normal cars and the ultra-high performance models (i.e. M or AMG). The 400 signifies 400 horsepower, and in the case of our test vehicles, that meant power sent to the rear wheels by a revised 7-speed automatic transmission.
In addition to the new looks, Infiniti spent a good amount of time tweaking their Direct Adaptive Steering system. DAS is a steering-by-wire setup that is, quite frankly, weird when you first get behind the wheel. For practical explanatory purposes, there’s no direct link between the steering wheel and the front wheels. A computer determines how much steering input to use when the wheel is turned.
While lacking any feel whatsoever, the system is incredibly direct. If you think the Alfa Romeo Giulia has direct steering, you haven’t driven this car with DAS. Even the slightest turn of the wheel results in something happening. There’s no slack in the system.
Additionally, when the drive modes are changed, the actual steering ratio is changed to match. For an example, assume that under normal driving if you turn the wheel 10% the wheels turn 10%. In sport mode, the wheel would turn 15% instead of 10%. All of that is computed on the fly depending on what mode you’re in.
While there is a lack of feel, which we auto journalists like to wax poetic about, the direct steering is enjoyable. We haven’t decided if we like the system better than some of the other systems out there, but being different doesn’t really make it worse. It’s one of those things that if you’re interested in a Q50, drive a car with the system and one without before buying. But we think that after you live with DAS for awhile you probably wouldn’t want a car without it.
Infiniti markets DAS as a sporty option, but the truth is this type of steering is what is required for cars to become fully-autonomous in the future. While it is a performance option now, it allows Infiniti to refine the system for the day when we ultimately don’t drive anymore.
But back to more cheerful news.
Four-hundred horsepower is plenty. It’s more than enough for anyone, and is a good solid number in the Red Sport. The car corners well on twisty roads, and while the 7-speed auto isn’t our favoritest transmission, left to its own devices it works well. For 2018 Infiniti moved the paddle shifters from the steering column to the wheel. Most people laud that change, but we think God intended paddles to be on the column.
The interior is a nice place to be, with good seats and lots of adjustability. A lack of ventilated seats is a bummer, especially in the humid Tennessee summer, but not a car dealbreaker. Fit and finish are Japanese-accurate and we personally like the design. It’s sportier than what Lexus is offering, and more interesting than some of the German alternatives.
The infotainment is far easier to use than a modern Lexus system, with an actual touch screen for input. Lack of Android Auto and Apple Car Play is a demerit these days, but it should be noted that Infiniti will most likely offer it before Lexus does. The Bose Performance Series stereo sounds decent as well, as long as you do a little tuning to it to dial it in.
Overall first impressions are solid. The things we don’t like wouldn’t steer us completely clear of buying the car. Compared to a competitor like Acura, the Infiniti is worth the buy. We also are fond of the Red Sport 400 over the IS 350 F-Sport, mainly because of the improved power and better infotainment.
Ultimate driving dynamics would go to Alfa Romeo and the Giulia, but the 2.0L Ti just doesn’t have enough oomph to keep up with the Infiniti. That means most of this car’s competition comes straight from the Germans, and that’s where you want to be when you’re trying to succeed in this segment.
When we look at it for an entire week in the future we’ll be able to render a final verdict, but based on our first impressions it’s a sports sedan you’ll want to drive before you decide on something else.