For Infiniti, Q isn't just the 17th letter in the alphabet. It's a new direction for Nissan's Hong Kong-based subsidiary. It was selected not because Q connotes anything significant, but because it is one of the only letters that hasn't been claimed and commodified by a competitor.

For Infiniti, Q isn’t just the 17th letter in the alphabet. It’s a new direction for Nissan’s Hong Kong-based subsidiary. It was selected not because Q connotes anything significant, but because it is one of the only letters that hasn’t been claimed and commodified by a competitor.

Q is Infiniti shorthand for a more sophisticated, aspirational re-imagination of a brand that has long played runner-up to Lexus and other luxury marques.

For the foreseeable future, all Infiniti models will start with Q, including the first Q out of the gate: the new 2014 Q50 midsize sport sedan, which went on sale in August with a starting price of $37,605, including destination and handling.

A more luxury-, performance- and technology-oriented version of Infiniti’s best-selling G37 (which, oddly, will coexist with its replacement model through the end of 2015), the Q50 seems to have adopted the mantra of perennial No. 2 rental car company Avis: With its Q50, Infiniti is simply trying harder — to make a car that will compete with the segment’s heaviest hitters, including the untouchable BMW 3 Series and Audi’s U.S. bestseller, the A4.

It’s the way Infiniti is trying harder that’s most interesting — with innovative technologies that push the luxury sport sedan envelope in new directions.

The Q50 is available in an astounding 10 versions. It can be had as rear- or all-wheel-drive and with an option of two powertrains — a perky 3.7-liter V-6 or an even perkier hybrid. The latter pairs a 3.5-liter V-6 with a 50-kilowatt electric motor to significantly improve the base model’s combined fuel economy rating from 23 mpg to 31 mpg.

My test car was a satisfyingly quick sport model equipped with well-functioning paddle shifters for its otherwise automatically operated seven gears, and Infiniti’s new Direct Adaptive Steering feature. The electronic system uses a sensor to read the angle of the steering wheel and quicken the tires’ response for sportier handling. It also enables drivers to select between three significantly different-feeling steering settings — standard, soft or heavy — depending on personal preference and a predilection to flog or merely cruise.

Because it’s electronically actuated, DAS, as it’s called, also enables the Q50’s new lane-departure system, which uses a camera mounted to the top of the rear-view mirror to track lane markers and make slight steering corrections to keep the car centered in its lane.

Unlike other vehicles that use a similar system — and, with all the finesse of a professional pingpong player, end up volleying the car back and forth between the lane markers when the driver’s hands are off the wheel — the Q50 allowed me to drive with hands folded in my lap for longish stretches without beeps of protest, unless it happened upon a curve, at which point it wanted to keep going straight.

Infiniti’s lane departure system isn’t a step toward self-driving cars as much as an ingestion-free alertness aid designed to reduce driver fatigue from monotonous straight-line driving. It’s best used when the driver isn’t constantly switching lanes because it will fight a lane change with a slight tug of the wheel, even when the turn signal is on.

Some of the most compelling features in the Q50 relate to safety, including a world-first technology called a predictive forward collision warning that bounces a radar signal under the car immediately in front of it to “see” what’s normally obscured for the driver two cars ahead, at which point it beeps to alert the driver that action is needed.

Like most of the evolved technologies in the Q50, the lane departure and forward collision warnings are easily turned off using a double-deck of screens — an 8-incher that works as a display, and a 7-inch touch screen immediately below it that operates the functions with intuitively organized, swipe-able menus.

One non-intuitive feature: a drive-mode selector button that lets drivers choose between standard, sport, snow and eco suspension and acceleration settings. The different modes worked well, but selecting between them with an awkwardly located button to the left of the gear shift required an arm position only a contortionist would enjoy.

Despite its billing and true functionality as a luxury sport sedan, the Q50 is really a technologist’s car, and not only with its behind-the-scenes handling and safety features. Its Infiniti Connection system features Facebook as an integrated app and allows news feeds to be read to drivers and “liked” while driving with the push of a button. Drivers can also update their status or comment on posts, but only when the car is parked.

Infiniti’s connectivity focus is location-based and social. Working hand in hand with the car’s navigation feature, the in-car Facebook app can navigate drivers to a party and alert them to nearby friends, while “geofencing” lets owners set geographic parameters for their vehicles that, if violated by a babysitter or teen, automatically sends a text alert from car to owner, a la Big Brother.

With its new Q, Infiniti is the rare auto maker to make a car that specifically targets Gen X, and a nontraditional definition of luxury that enables personal expression, creativity and comfort.

The Q50 offers a good amount of head and leg space from Infiniti’s reconfiguration of the G37 interior to add three additional cubic feet of room. If only Infiniti had paid as much attention to baffling the wind and road noise, which were apparent any time the 14-speaker Bose surround sound system was turned off.

Still, Infiniti has succeeded in its overall mission. With its Q50, it has significantly upped its game with a luxury sport sedan that truly is one.



—Powertrain: Sequential multi-port fuel injection, 3.7-liter V-6, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, 7-speed automatic transmission with sport mode

—Horsepower: 328 at 7,000 rpm

—Torque: 269 at 5,200 rpm

—Overall length: 188.3 inches

—Wheelbase: 112.2 inches

—Curb weight: 3,675 pounds

—EPA-estimated fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, 23 mpg combined

—Base price: $37,605

—Price as tested: $44,105

Prices include destination charge.


©2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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