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.
As part of this system, Infiniti includes different programs for steering feel and input, enacted as part of each drive program. In Sport mode, the wheel feels heavy and the front wheels turn with a quick response to inputs. For my cornering exercises, it worked brilliantly.
Adding to the fun, Active Trace Control, what Infiniti calls its corner-braking technology, applies brake pressure to the inside wheel during a turn. This system helped the car come around each apex exceedingly well.
Purists may be horrified at the amount of supposed disconnect from the road enabled by this technology. The Q50S Hybrid won't appeal to that type of driver, nor will almost every new car made, from the Chevrolet Corvette to the BMW M4. To get that kind of old-school mechanical connection with the road, you either need to go vintage or look to a specialty brand, such as Lotus. As for myself, I enjoyed the heck out of the Q50S Hybrid's hyper-teched handling.
I also enjoyed the fact that I didn't need to put the transmission's shifter into a sport position. The sport program was engaged when I put the car into its Sport drive mode. This shift program reacted well, holding high gears in response to my aggressive pedal work, and backing off when I stepped back to cruising. Going to manual shift mode and using the paddles, the little bit of torque converter lag on the gear changes made for a slight delay in power pick-up. But when I held second gear and let the engine wind up to 6,000, its powerful moan was unearthly.
For long-distance freeway cruising, the aforementioned adaptive cruise control did an excellent job of smoothly maintaining distance from traffic ahead. However, I found it slow to pick up speed again when cars I followed resumed pace after a slow-down, forcing me to get on the accelerator.
I heard the lane departure warning blip occasionally, but did not feel the lane-departure prevention system take hold. Likewise, the Q50S Hybrid's Active Lane Control may have been acting too subtly for me to notice. CNET editor Brian Cooley, who also tested this car, liked the Active Lane Control, saying "you can drive miles on the freeway without so much as a nudge on the wheel and the car offers no admonishments to the contrary."
This Q50S Hybrid was also equipped with Infiniti's full surround-view camera system, something it has offered for years. I was impressed how the system not only showed me a top-down view of the car, but included little graphics of the front wheels to show me their turn angle.
Another feature that may have been a little too subtle for me to notice ties the navigation system to the automatic transmission. Called Navi Shift Control, the Q50S Hybrid uses the navigation system to look at the road ahead, then adjust the automatic transmission's shifting appropriately. This feature expresses itself in a smarter sport shifting program.
As for the navigation system itself, the maps looked like an evolution of those in the previous generation of Infiniti vehicles. I found the details crisp and liked how the maps showed a few rendered buildings as landmarks, but did not crowd the map view. The traffic overlay was easy to read, and the navigation system took traffic jams into account in routing. I also liked how the system read out loud traffic conditions along the route, even if they weren't so severe that it looked for an alternate route.
Entering an address with voice command worked very well, letting me say the address as a single string and interpreting the street names correctly.
The Q50S Hybrid also supports remote destination entry and trip planning. Owners maintain an online account where they can save destinations, then get in the car and sync it up through its own data connection.
Some apps on the Q50S Hybrid's infotainment system required a connected smartphone running the Infiniti Connection app. Currently, the car supports Google destination search and Facebook. Later on, Infiniti will add support for Twitter, Pandora, and iHeartRadio.
The stereo supports a typical range of audio sources, such as Bluetooth audio, USB drive, HD radio, and satellite radio. The Bluetooth support was particularly impressive. With my iPhone paired to the system playing music wirelessly, I could browse and select music from my iPhone's music library using the car's touchscreen. Few cars support this level of control through Bluetooth.
Trying Bluetooth support with an LG G 2 Pro Android phone, I did not find the same level of support. Music played, but I was not able to browse the music library from the car's interface. Android phones vary quite a bit, so no telling if the Bluetooth connection may work better on a different one.
The Bose 14-speaker system through which music played delivered balanced and clean sound, and I was able to crank the volume without getting distortion. While this system made for very good sounding music, it did not rise to audiophile levels.
Ten years ago, Infiniti developed a great reputation as a BMW alternative, a maker of premium sport sedans rewarding for the enthusiastic driver but practical enough for an everyday commute. At the same time, the company implemented cabin tech as advanced as any in the business. In recent years, however, the company seemed to be resting on its laurels while others kept innovating.
The 2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid seems to put an end to that period of lassitude.
The car shows forward-thinking on the part of Infiniti throughout, and makes important strides that should ripple through the line-up. Direct Adaptive Steering makes for an impressively adaptable system, enabling Infiniti to program in new, useful features and minutely adjust the steering program. It also helps to pave the way for future autonomous car technology.
Combined with the corner-braking technology and suspension engineering, the handling was phenomenal.
The hybrid drivetrain combined very good fuel economy, about 10 mpg on average better than the old G37 while picking up substantial power. I found some driving feel issues in certain situations, but this is one hybrid that can satisfy enthusiastic drivers.
The cabin tech interface makes a good step forward for Infiniti, and I hope to see this system in other models bearing the badge. I felt the icons on the touchscreen could have been better organized, but the system offers the ability to customize. The logic between the upper LCD and lower touchscreen is impeccable.
The smartphone-like nature of the touchscreen interface gives Infiniti the flexibility to add features to new and existing cars, keeping the infotainment experience fresh for owners.
2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid
2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid
Hybrid gasoline-electric with 3.5-liter V-6 engine and 67 horsepower electric motor; seven-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy
28 mpg city/34 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy
Optional, with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support
Digital audio sources
Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD radio, satellite radio
Bose 14-speaker system
Adaptive cruise control, lane departure prevention, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, surround-view camera, back-up camera
Price as tested