2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid review: Infiniti hybrid handles brilliantly with drive-by-wire steering

Starting at $37,150
  • Engine V6 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain Rear Wheel Drive
  • MPG 23 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Sedans

Roadshow Editors' Rating

8.5 Overall
  • Performance 8
  • Features 9
  • Design 8
  • Media 9
Apr 2014

The Good With its hybrid drivetrain, the 2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid averages 30 mpg. Drive-by-wire steering and corner braking help handling and enable lane control feature. New cabin tech interface makes room for apps.

The Bad Power delivery at moderate speeds feels uneven. Boot-up time for the infotainment system takes too long.

The Bottom Line Despite a few minor quibbles, the 2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid steps up the tech for good fuel economy, handling, driver-assistance features, and cabin infotainment in a premium sport sedan.

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.

2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid
Infiniti uses its touchscreen for infotainment control, while an upper LCD shows navigation. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

Hybrid win-win

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.

2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid
Drive modes in the Infiniti Q50S Hybrid set power and steering programs. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

Steer-by-wire

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.

2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid
In an impressive engineering feat, Infiniti removed the mechanical linkage from steering wheel to rack. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

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.

2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid
The Q50S Hybrid proved comfortable on the freeway and exciting in the turns. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

Forward-looking

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.

2014 Infiniti Q50S Hybrid
Infiniti retained its map features while refining the overall quality. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

Comeback kid

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.

Tech specs

Model 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid
Trim S
Powertrain 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 28.4 mpg
Navigation Optional, with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD radio, satellite radio
Audio system Bose 14-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, lane departure prevention, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, surround-view camera, back-up camera
Base price $47,255
Price as tested $53,655