Through a variety of informational displays and active eco-coaching, hybrid cars tend to encourage careful, economical driving. The 2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid had those features, but its drive-by-wire steering and corner braking made handling such a blast in the turns that I spent most of my time hammering it along back roads, ignoring any attempt by the car to make me an eco-conscious driver.
Even with my pedal stomping, hard-braking behavior, I still managed to pull an average of 28.4 mpg, just over the city EPA number of 28 mpg. A less enthusiastic driver would likely see an average in the low 30s, as the highway fuel economy for the new Q50S Hybrid hits 34 mpg.
Those are good numbers for any premium sedan, and exceptional for something that handles as well as the Q50S Hybrid. This sedan represents an important step forward for Infiniti, which had stalled its development at 2008 levels with the G37. The Q50S Hybrid represents an evolution of the old G designated cars, and puts Infiniti where it should be, competing with the likes of BMW and Audi.
The styling of the Q50S Hybrid doesn't differ terribly from its G-badged predecessors, with a dropped hood between rising front fenders. The grille retains its shape, but looks a little lower, and the model I drove had aggressive air intakes. The rear of the side graphic shows that characteristic Infiniti hook which echoes BMW's Hofmeister Kink.
Standard LED headlights take up little space in their slim casings, and the LED running lights form a lash, giving the front of the Q50S Hybrid a face with an expression that looks up to no good.
The cabin trim and appointments feel like an upgrade over previous Infiniti models, a little bump in the luxury experience to help the car compete in the current market. The wood trim was glossier than I would have liked, but the grain looked deep. The switchgear felt solid, but what impressed me most in the cabin was the new infotainment interface.
Here, Infiniti seems to copy what Honda has done in the new Accord and Acura RLX by placing a color LCD at the top of the dashboard, and a touchscreen below, within easy reach of the driver. But where Honda made a mess of this type of interface, Infiniti gets it right.
The upper LCD only showed maps, route guidance, and imagery from the rear and surround-view cameras. A dial on the console let me zoom and move around on the map.
The lower touchscreen showed audio, phone, apps, and destination input options. I could quickly tap an app icon for a wide range of vehicle settings and information or to dig into submenus. This screen included multiple pages, letting Infiniti expand the features available to the driver without reengineering the car.
On starting the car, I was amused to see an Intel Inside logo, branding for the chip running the new Infiniti InTouch navigation system. The infotainment was a little slow to boot when I started the car, but otherwise perfectly responsive.
Under the hood lives something familiar to Infiniti fans, a 3.5-liter V-6, from the VQ series of engines. While still relying on port injection, this engine makes 302 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Adding power, and driving the car by itself at low speeds, a 67 horsepower motor draws electricity from a lithium-ion battery pack.
Infiniti notes total system output for the Q50S Hybrid as 360 horsepower.
With power going to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission, the only transmission available on this car, I noted typical hybrid behavior when driving city streets. If I was gentle on the throttle at start, the engine remained off as the electric motor quietly pushed the car forward. More pedal and the engine smoothly kicked in, signified by the tach needle swinging up. When I let off the pedal to coast, even at freeway speeds, the engine shut down.
The Q50S Hybrid's trip meter told me that, out of 200 miles, I had clocked more than 50 EV miles.
I had my choice of five drive modes: Snow, Eco, Normal, Sport, and Personal. The latter let me choose different settings for power and steering response, while the others activated pre-set programs drastically affecting the drive character of the car.
While the engine turned on and off smoothly, I wasn't impressed with the hybrid system in Eco mode. Power delivery felt uneven, with odd shifts when I tried to maintain constant speeds of 25 or 30 mph. It felt as if the power hand-off between engine and electric motor was not as even as it could have been. Normal and Sport drive modes eliminated this problem by allowing more gasoline-fed engine power.
I found the Q50S Hybrid's Eco mode most suitable for freeway cruising, made effortless with the adaptive cruise control that came as part of the Deluxe Technology package.
However, it was easy to access the car's performance character at any moment. Even in Eco mode the engine responded with a satisfying growl when I floored it. From a stop, the car hesitated a moment, then unleashed enough power to take a little rubber off the rear tires. Infiniti cites a figure of 4.9 seconds to 60 mph.
The fixed suspension in the Q50S Hybrid felt rigid and competent, but a little on the hard side when rolling along city streets. However, that hardness translated to fun when I took the car up a twisty road. I didn't really know what to expect from the Q50S Hybrid's handling. As an enticement, the instrument cluster display showed a mysterious screen which said Chassis Control. Looking it up later, that phrase encompasses the Direct Adaptive Steering, Active Trace Control, and the general suspension engineering.
Through a series of sharp turns, the Q50S Hybrid encouraged me to push it harder and harder, as each time it complemented my steering wheel input with what I can only assume was some sort of dark magic. The car felt like it had four-wheel steering in the way it came around the turn apexes. I started to think it was using its lane-identifying cameras to predict the turns.
The Q50S Hybrid handled so well through the turns that I wanted to experience it again and again.
At the heart of this handling is one of the more controversial pieces of technology, Direct Adaptive Steering, a drive-by-wire steering system. Although there is still a mechanical link from steering wheel to front wheels, which comes into play in an emergency, the Q50S Hybrid generally relies on virtual steering. The steering wheel sends input information to actuators at each front wheel, which tell them how much to turn.