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Even the best cars in the world are met with mixed reactions by people. No car seems capable of being all things to all customers, of course, but after only a short time with the Infiniti Q50, you may decide it comes awfully close.
The Q50 is a sleek midsize sedan, and it can be bought in two forms, which might be considered great and greater. The top model was the one I test-drove for a week in Northern Minnesota, and it was after winter had hit us in Duluth. Which was a good thing, for our test.
The car in question was called the Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD, and it had all the goodies Infiniti could fit into that curvacious form. It had Nissan’s potent 3.0-liter V6, a high-tech powerplant that has been refined and improved to the point where the only improvement left was turbocharging. So this one had high-capacity twin turbochargers mounted, making 400 horsepower with 350 foot-pounds of torque.
A 7-speed automatic transmission doles out all that power to all four wheels, and if you didn’t really care much for maximum fun, you could just leave it in “D” and enjoy its potency. Ah, but if you do enjoy driving thrills, you can shift the automatic manually with the best-designed paddle shift levers in the industry.
Companies that install paddles for fingertip shifting almost always mount them on either side of the steering wheel where they can be easily reached by thumbs, right for upshifting and left for downshifts. That works well, almost all the time. But if you’re starting up at a T intersection, and you turn 90 degrees while accelerating, you can lose the paddle locations momentarily when you shift hands.
Not with the Q50. Nissan always has used long, magnesium paddles, attached to the steering column rather than the wheel. That way, if you turn the wheel hard to the left or right and shift your hands on the wheel, as you run out of revs you can quickly grab for the paddle to upshift and you will be able to locate it immediately, because of it fixed positioning.
Nissan uses the same paddles with the Infiniti models that have such sporty shifting available, and the Q50 begs you to shift for yourself.
When Nissan comes out with a new engine, it is worth close scrutiny these days, and both engine in the Q50 are in that category. Without a doubt, the twin-turbo V6 boosts the Q50 to elite sports sedan prestige.
However, I am going to make a plea for anyone who is interested to first try the Q50 with the 4. It, too, is turbocharged, and even though it only has 2.0 liters of displacement, it will supply all the enthusiastic spirit you could want. The 3.0 V6 can get up to 36 miles per gallon in highway driving; the 2.0 turbo 4 can easily surpass 30 mpg.
And here’s the less-known fact. Nissan has an arrangement with none other than Mercedes to build 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines. I spent some time with the Mercedes crossover SUVs, and whether you drive the GLA, GLC, or the new GLC Coupe, you start with a base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine.
What impressed me most when I spent a week driving a Mercedes GLA was that it had plenty of punch. Its computer automatically reset itself for your fuel economy each time you started up, and in a week’s time without ever getting it out for a highway road trip, I never once went anywhere up the hills of Duluth when I got less than 32 miles per gallon.
Even more impressive, after I enjoyed the power, responsiveness and fuel-efficiency of that 4, was when I learned Nissan had built the engine for Mercedes. The 2.0 turbo 4 in the C-Class sedan is the same as the 2.0 engine built in Nissan’s Tennessee plant, while the 2.0 4 in the QX30 crossover SUV is built in Germany, then sent to the United Kingdom plant for installation.
It’s confusing, but the Infiniti engine was designed with Daimler as part of the alliance Daimler has with Nissan, and while Mercedes always has had a legendary reputation with its engines, it is a large bonus for Nissan to share the technology and the prestige of having the Q50, Q60, and QX30 sharing a 4-cylinder turbo with the C-Class, CLA, E-Class sedan and wagon, and the SLC roadster.
The 4-cylinder Q50 starts at $35,000, while the twin-turbo V6 starts at $50,700. The test car I drove had all the specialty Red Sport features. It also had hill-start assist, automatic on-off LED headlights, foglights, brake lights and turn signals. Leather trim on the seats and steering wheel set off the classy interior, that also featured Kacchu aluminum interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, power sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, Bluetooth phone system, and Bose surround sound. Two USB ports, cruise, voice recognition for audio, information, and Bluetooth, and the full complement of safety technology also were in place.
Dynamic control, brake force distribution, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and a vehicle immobilizer system all came as standard.
The option bin produced the special Red Sport seats, matte-finish natural maple wood trim, adaptive cruise, lane departure warning and prevention, blind sport watning, predictive collision warning, emergency braking, surround video monitor with moving object detection, backup collision intervention with rear cross-traffic alert, InTouch navigation and voice recognition, and, of course, heated front seats and steering wheel, plus remote start.
All of that lifted the price from the $50,700 Red Sport price to $62,220. That’s a long way up from the $35,000 base price for the 4-cylinder turbo Q50. Which means you can load it up any way you choose.
It’s easy to become entangled in the alphabet-soup, or alpha-numeric confusion of identifying the occupants of Nissan’s luxury branch stable, but we’re now down to the Q50, Q60 and Q70 models, where the numbers represent size, and are not to be confused with any QX things, such as QX30, QX50, QX60, QX70 or QX80 -- all of which are SUVs of ever-increasing size.
As an aside, I can always be accused of favoring the most compact model of a given line, as long as it’s big enough. And in this case, it’s also true, because I found the Infiniti QX30 to be my runaway favorite among Infiniti SUVs, both because of its swoopy, low-slung styling and the inclusion of that 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder.
It’s hard to say whether consumers are aware of all that intermingling engine-building stuff, but Nissan’s reputation for making strong and sporty engines has led it to a position where it made the largest gains in sales of any car-maker in 2016.
As is the case throughout the industry, trucks led the way. Nissan sold 53,313 trucks in the U.S. in January of 2017, with the Rogue accounting for 28,760 of them, rising 46 percent. Pathfinder increased sales by 13 percent, the Quest minivan 32 percent, and the new full-size Titan pickup up by 195 percent in its reintroduction.
Nissan’s Infinity upscale brand increased sales by 36 percent in January with 11,558 sold. It was led by the Q50. One drive will convince you why.