Adorned with Infiniti’s’ new “Q” nomenclature, packing a familiar powertrain, and designed as a new model, the Q50 Hybrid is one of the more compelling performance hybrids going.
Launched in 2014, with negligibly changed 2015 models to be at dealers this fall, the Q50 Hybrid is a challenger not just to the few performance hybrids out there, but to all others in a packed class of talent-laden non-hybrid luxury performance sedans.
Some of the Q50 Hybrid’s non-electrified competitors thus include Q50 siblings – as the all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive Q50 line is comprised of four hybrid and six non-hybrid trim levels. Where the Q50 Hybrid stands out is its 28-31 combined mpg from its 3.5-liter hybrid system versus 22-23 mpg from the non-hybrids’ 3.7-liter. The visually almost-identical Q50 Hybrids also have more power, are a bit quicker, and despite a $4,400 price premium for the better-equipped Hybrid, their 2,078 sales through August earn a respectable 9-percent share among 23,122 total Q50 sales.
Among performance hybrids such as the $4,000-more Lexus GS450h, the doubly-priced Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, hybrids from BMW, Mercedes and Audi, the Q50 Hybrid outsells all.
This November will be Infiniti’s 25th anniversary, and last year the company updated its identity with alphanumeric model designations all starting with “Q” for sedans, “QX” for SUVs. The idea is like that of BMW’s “M” and “Z” cars, or Mercedes “E-class,” or “S-class.” Given that many letters of the alphabet were taken, for Infiniti, the choice was Q.
Meanwhile, there’ve been reviews suggesting the Q50 replaced the former G37 non-hybrid sedan and M35h Hybrid sedan.
Actually, neither is correct, said Infiniti’s Senior Communications Manager, Kyle Bazemore. While 2013 G and M models and 2014 Q cars are similar, the Q50 series is a freshly penned, intermediately priced, “sports sedan.” The former M35h hybrid continues re-named as the flagship Q70 Hybrid “luxury performance” sedan, and the G37 is now the luxury entry level Q40.
The Q50 series boasts Infiniti’s latest styling compared to the former G37/new Q40 with improved interior packaging, more technological features, and it’s priced from the mid 40s instead of lower 30s. Compared to the $56,000-plus rear-wheel-drive only Q70 Hybrid, the Q50 is similar, but the EPA classifies it a compact whereas the Q70 is midsized. Both are roomy, fast, well appointed, and share the FM Front Midship platform along with most other Infinitis.
V6 Hybrid System
Also shared by Infiniti’s hybrid Q50 and Q70 is its Direct Response Hybrid system comprised of a 3.5-liter, 24-valve DOHC V6 engine, one-motor and two-clutches. It was first developed for the M35h which launched in 2011 as a 2012. As a full hybrid system it enables limited electric-only driving but mostly teeters between the motor and gas engine, or merges the two for maximum power.
More specifically, the V6 is rated for 302 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. A 346-volt electric motor adds 67-horsepower (50kw) at 2,000 rpm and 199 pounds-feet of torque. Combined gumption from the V6 and electric motor is 360 horsepower. This edges out the 328 horses for the non-hybrid Q50’s 3.7-liter V6.
The Q50 Hybrid utilizes a fast-discharge 1.3-liter lithium-ion battery – not NiMh as with Lexus – and the hybrid system adds 340 pounds over the non-hybrid Q50 for 3,913 pounds curb weight. Also, trunk room is cut to 9.4-cubic feet versus 13.5 cubic feet, and the hybrid’s gas tank is 17.8 gallons compared to 20 gallons.
Along with non-hybrids, the Q50 Hybrid uses the same 7-speed automatic transmission instead of a continuously variable transmission as found in the Lexus GS, and it’s manually operable by large magnesium paddle shifters.
In all, the vehicle is customizable in several ways and can be tailored for tame or aggressive drivers by toggling driving modes between Snow, ECO, Normal and Sport. These also change steering response and we’ll have more about that further in.
Max MPG and MPH: Mutually Contradictory Goals
As a matter of trivia, development for the now-evolved Direct Response Hybrid system began around when Lexus created the “performance hybrid” category with its GS 450h in 2007. The system was ready in 2010, used also in a decontented Nissan Fuga Hybrid in Japan, and Nissan engineers said their goal was 60-90 percent better fuel efficiency than the non-hybrid.
As it is, 2012 M35h was 50-percent more efficient than a 2009 G35, and today Q50 Hybrid mpg is rated 30-percent higher than Q50 non hybrids. And, it’s blisteringly fast among family hybrid sedans. In 2011, the M35h set a Guinness record for a 13.9 second quarter mile and Motor Trend says the Q50 Hybrid can do 13.6 seconds and 0-60 takes 4.9 seconds, 0.2 quicker than the Q70.
Does this help save the planet? A used Honda Insight or Toyota Prius could do better for more-ardent environmentalists, but if you want a potent performer that coddles you while promising 31-36 mpg on the highway, you can understand what this car is about.
Exterior dimensions are close to the G37, but the Q50 is a bit longer, wider and lower with Infiniti’s new design language from the Essence concept. The “double arch” grille flanked by LED headlights is supposed to remind you of a human face.
It doesn’t look exactly human to us, but we are reminded of a bird of prey, and will add this is one aggressively styled vehicle merging sportiness with casual opulence. It’s a bit less gender-blended than some other Infinitis that have gone before, and some might say it edges on the masculine side if that’s not a politically incorrect descriptor.
Inside, quality of materials is high as is fit and attention to detail. The car is roomy front and back also, and greeting the driver is a plethora of data and technologies.
Two info screens – one 8-inches, the other 7 – display data, in cases redundantly. They’re customizable, and controllable alternately by touch or a round knob in the center console area. Surrounding them is “Kacchu” aluminum inspired by traditional Samurai armaments, with maple wood trim optionally available.
It and all switch gear are premium quality. The vented leather seats in our top-line Q50S AWD were perforated, heated, but we’d have liked A/C venting at this price point.
The Q50 makes available too many technologies to explain short of us writing a book, but a few are worth noting. One is the intelligent i-Key that remembers personal settings for two drivers. This includes details like where your seat was adjusted, your drive mode and steering setting, radio pre-sets and so much more, it gets its own press release.
Another feature is Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS), a steering by wire interface Infiniti spent 10 years perfecting. Optional above the conventional power rack-and-pinion steering, a clutch decouples so there is no mechanical connection between steering wheel and wheels. In the event of power loss, connection returns so you’re not left with a useless wheel in a moving car.
Steering effort – as well as throttle response and shift patterns – varies between drive modes selected by a toggle and Infiniti says DAS relays the driver’s intentions quicker than a conventional system.
The system varies between the four modes and also by a personalized option which allows one to vary steering feel, throttle and shift points as desired.
It’s a glimpse of the future, but some have panned DAS likening it to steering a video game. Infiniti has said it’s still debating whether to include DAS with its 560-horsepower Q50 Eau Rouge concept, but truth is, the system works OK.
Other technologies include an advanced radar-based cruise control system and a crash avoidance system called Active Lane Control (ALC) which uses cameras to lane-center the Q50. The cameras also work to simulate a real-time 360-degree view for close proximity parking.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety gives the Q50 a Top Safety Pick+ rating for its ability to keep the car out of harm’s way.
There are a host of other technologies, not least of which being the connected infotainment system with voice operation, navigation, and more.
As a fuel sipper, the Q50 Hybrid does net 3 mpg better than a four-cylinder Toyota Camry, which is quite an achievement for a 360-horsepower car.
Our actual mileage in the least-efficient AWD S hovered around the 26-28 mpg range in moderate driving meaning the EPA is about right and careful driving could exceed the mark. Putting the foot to the floor for the over-300-horsepower gas engine does drink the fuel however.
And speaking of a buried pedal, while it doesn’t accelerate at the speed of thought, it is leagues beyond most other hybrids. Speed junkies might note it ranks a hair ahead of either the Lexus GS450h and even the big Porsche hybrid.
Some initial lag can at times be briefly detected from the electric motor, but the Q50 Hybrid soon giddy up and goes. The more-satisfying-than-a-CVT automatic trans is reasonably quick shifting – in default mode or manually – but it would be even nicer if it were a quicker dual clutch.
Although heavy at 3,900-plus pounds, its advanced traction control and sport-tuned suspension – especially in our S model – lets you play hooligan in any kind of cornering setting. The steering system set to sport mode makes for quick turn in and while not as “alive” as a direct mechanical link for purists, it is something you get used to.
The brakes haul the all-around-balanced car down very quickly, but at times the feel may not be equal to some of the best sports car brakes.
On the highway, the vehicle eats miles in quiet comfort, as you’d imagine, and the hybrid system can shut down the engine any time it sees the opportunity. You might find yourself trolling at 75 mph, and notice the tach drop to zero for a stretch, only to wake up if you nudge the gas.
Around town, stop/start function is excellent, and power transitions are seamless between gas, electric, and both.
The bottom line is this is an overachieving – albeit highly controlled – speed tool that also gets better mileage than it deserves. Is it as pure a “driver’s car” as the non-hybrid, or some other competitors? In some cases, no. The trade-off however is more speed than most people will regularly use, and fuel economy that’s icing on the cake.
But some discriminating drivers have said Infiniti’s design exercise is yet flawed. Yeah, maybe. The truth is cars are so capable today, the best can transition to a hard day at a race track with nary a tire or brake change. The Q50 Hybrid may not be the absolute best car for a track-day or if you genuinely do drive windy roads at 90th percentile regularly.
But for most people not looking behind to see if the cops are following, it remains one mean road burner that seems to anticipate what you want to do while watching out for you too.
The adaptive cruise control will actually let you remove your hands from the wheel and hold between lines, although this is courting disaster. The safety tech does not often make itself known, but a couple times while passing wide of a car leaving the lane for a right turn, the brakes did take over for a nanosecond, then released from the false alarm.
The Hybrid For You?
As a “performance hybrid,” the Q50 has opened itself up to all comers – including similar and dissimilar hybrids and all the other performance sedans in its price range. Of course a Lexus ES will net better mileage and is a capable car, but the Infiniti would run circles around it if asked.
Yes, the Q50 Hybrid means business, and its looks and style are intentionally almost indistinguishable from the non-hybrid Q50 targeting German competition right down to the twin tailpipes and purposeful exhaust growl.
For those who can appreciate it, the Q50 Hybrid’s suite of technologies may put it over the top when compared to other performance sedans in its class. That plus potential fuel economy and general sporting competence make it an alternative that more of the market has caught onto, though no doubt it is not ideal for everyone.
Among cars in this class, the Q50 Hybrid as a blend of above-average fuel economy – the national average is now around 26 mpg – and way-above average fun factor, handsome looks, and luxury baked in.