A good sports sedan is hard to find. Some are too big, others have a less than optimal transmission, while many are just downright unaffordable.
I've always thought that Infiniti designed a pretty sexy car, so I was excited when it invited me to San Antonio to sample the 2016 Q50s, its latest iteration of the sports sedan. It hasn't changed much from 2015, retaining the same style lines and interior from the previous year. Instead Infiniti pushed a ton of new tech and a level of drive mode customization that is unparalleled in the market, along with the option of four different engines.
The four-door Q50 is available as a 360-horsepower hybrid or with a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Most folks will probably take the third option, a twin turbo V-6 engine, good for 300 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, but I got to sample the Red Sport model. This features the same engine, but with a computer programmed to release 400 hp and 350 pound-feet of torque.
The Red Sport also gets unique badging, special dual exhaust tips and staggered 19-inch wheels on summer run-flat tires. Power goes to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is available.
Custom drive modes
The Q50s comes with five different drive modes: Snow, Eco, standard, Sport and Sport Plus, each with their own programmed settings for chassis setup, shift points and steering feel. The fun comes in the Infiniti Drive Mode Selector on the infotainment system. From there you can dive deep into each setting, picking a level of aggression for each. In fact, when all the math is said and done there are 336 ways to customize your ride.
Infiniti went above and beyond when it comes to steering customization. The Q50s features the industry's only steer-by-wire system, which Infiniti calls Direct Adaptive Steering. There's no mechanical linkage from the steering wheel to the tires, instead it's all done electronically. This makes for incredibly fast inputs that can feel downright twitchy at higher speeds.
To help drivers feel more comfortable, the steering can be fine-tuned for heft and ratio. Weight and feedback are determined by choosing Standard, Sport or Sport Plus in the steering sub-menu, while ratio is selected by choosing Default, Dynamic or Dynamic Plus.
Opting for Dynamic Plus actually puts a minuscule amount of delay back into the ratio, so that inputs are not instantaneous. This mimics a more conventional steering system and is especially useful during aggressive cornering, as it keeps the car from turning in earlier than you're used to.
While I quickly got used to the quick steer-by-wire feeling in the default mode, I spent most of the day with the steering set at Sport Plus for a heavy weight and Dynamic Plus for an ever so slight delay. I prefer old-fashioned hydraulic power steering, and the combination of these two settings seemed to do the trick.
For those of you who think Direct Adaptive Steering is a little too fancy-pants, the 50s comes standard with a typical electric-assist power steering system, similar to most other cars today, while the 2.0-liter model features a hydraulic rack-and-pinion system using an electric pump, although I didn't get to sample either of these.
Driver's aids abound
In 2001 Infiniti was the first to introduce a back-up camera, and since then it has been on the cutting edge of driver assistance. Infiniti debuted LED tail lights in 2006 and the world's first predictive forward collision warning, which uses radar to monitor the car in front of the car in front of you, in 2013. Now in 2016 forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection joins the many other driver's aids in the Q50s.
It's difficult to sample all the driver's aids for a first take, as many rely on the unpredictable behavior of other drivers. Predictive forward collision warning, for example, sounds an alert if it detects a slow-down two cars in front of you. Similarly, if the system detects a pedestrian or other forward obstacle it will apply the brakes quickly to avoid an accident. Fortunately, Texas drivers seem to be pretty good, as neither feature ever kicked in.
Also on tap are distance-control assist and active lane control, both of which I was able to sample during my day's drive. If the system feels you're getting too close to the car in front of you, not only will it apply the brakes, but it will also push back on the accelerator pedal. The system is very conservative and seemed to abruptly apply the brakes as soon as the forward car slowed for any reason, jarring both me and my passenger.
If you drift out of your lane without signaling and choose to ignore all lane-departure warning alarm bells, the active lane-control feature will gently guide you back to the center of the lane with small steering inputs. It can keep the car fairly centered on straight-line roads, although I wouldn't give up all steering control to the system. If you're adamant about making a lane change without using your blinker, a steady pressure on the steering wheel will override the computer, allowing you to make your lane change (or whatever it is you're doing without signaling).
You can pick and choose which driver's aids to turn on and can even disable all of them with the push of a button if that's your jam. Kudos to Infiniti for recognizing that at some point people are just going to want to drive their 400-hp sport sedan without help from a computer.
Pricing has not yet been announced, but I would surmise the base Q50 will start somewhere in the high $40s, while the Red Sport with all the bells and whistles will take you into mid-$50s territory.
I would definitely like to push the Q50s through her paces a bit more and I hope Infiniti sends one out to Roadshow HQ for a full week's of testing. As it stands, my few hours behind the wheel left me wanting more.
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