A few years ago the notion of a “luxury performance hybrid” may have seemed contradictory, but now numerous automakers are going in this direction and among them, Infiniti’s Q50 Hybrid is a car that stands out.
Launched last year as a new model and named with the brand’s new “Q” nomenclature arriving with its 25th anniversary, the Q50 Hybrid returns for 2015 with only very minor trim changes.
Virtually indistinguishable from non-hybrid Q50s except for discrete “Hybrid” badges on its flanks, it delivers 10 percent more horsepower and 30 percent better fuel economy, and also costs an extra $4,400 or more compared to its gas-only siblings.
So is it worth it? Let’s look further …
Direct Response Hybrid System
The Q50 Hybrid’s Direct Response Hybrid system consists of a 3.5-liter, 24-valve DOHC V6 engine, one-motor and two-clutches and was first developed for the 2012 M35h.
As a full hybrid, it can run on battery only at lower speeds or for brief moments when under light load at speed but mostly teeters between the motor and gas engine, or merges the two for maximum power.
By itself the V6 is rated at 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. System total is 360 horsepower and tops 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 GS 450h – and Infiniti’s hybrid system adds 340 pounds over the non-hybrid Q50 for 3,913 pounds curb weight. Also, trunk room is 9.4-cubic feet versus 13.5 cubic feet, and the hybrid’s gas tank is 17.8 gallons compared to 20 gallons.
Power is routed by the same 7-speed automatic transmission as the non-hybrid Q50 gets instead of a continuously variable transmission as found in the Lexus GS – and, it’s manually operable by large magnesium paddle shifters.
The tranny’s function is customizable in several ways and can be tailored to tame or aggressive driving modes — ECO, Normal, Sport, and Snow and as we’ll explain further in, steering response adjusts as well.
Design and Styling
Exterior dimensions are close to the former 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 the headlights do look humanesque and the front clip is reminiscent of a bird of prey.
Otherwise the car merges sportiness with casual opulence; less gender-blended than some other Infinitis that have gone before, edging on the masculine side of the design spectrum.
Inside, quality of materials is high as is fit and attention to detail. Despite the EPA classing it as a compact, it’s really midsize effectively, and roomy front and back – though the back seat does not fold down.
For the driver are two info screens – one 8-inches, the other 7 – to display data, in cases redundantly.
They’re customizable, and controllable by touch or a round knob in the center console area. It and all the rest of the switch gear are premium quality.
Vented leather seats in our top-line Q50S AWD were perforated, heated, but we’d have liked A/C venting at this price point.
Combined with the hybrid system, a plethora of technological goodies escalate this to one nice Nissan that is distinguished by all these bells and whistles … Ssssh. Don’t let Infiniti know we called it that, as Infiniti says along with moving its operations to New York and renaming everything Q-something signals Infiniti wants recognition as a “tier one” brand. That means it can hold its head up in global markets against BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and anyone else you might consider in that echelon.
But, there are too many technologies to explain here short of us writing a book, so we’ll mention just a few of the more noteworthy.
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.
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.
As a hybrid sports sedan, the merging of milquetoast to manic personalities into one luxury package is about “having your cake and eating it too,” says Infiniti’s Senior Communications Manager, Kyle Bazemore.
Starting the Q50 via the pushbutton will see the tach and speedo needles do their little sweep but then all is silent. The car starts in EV mode, but alas (or fortunately depending on your preferences), give it some acceleration and instantly on comes the engine.
The mild rasping through the dual tuned exhaust sounds suitably potent but it’s not intrusive. Even on the boil we were tempted to roll the window down to hear the six hit stride and as the landscape approached in the car capable of a sub-five-second 0-60 time and high-13 second quarter mile.
While trolling through town or moseying down the highway however, it’s like it secretly wants to be an EV and you may find the tach dropping to zero as the engine cuts off and batteries take over as they’re able.
In any situation it coddles you with easy drivability, compliant suspension over normal bumps. Big nasty post-winter potholes on the East Coast are however upsetting if not rude on the low profile 19-inch run flat tires, but not much short of a truck would be comfortable over some of the Grand Canyon sized asphalt divots around these parts.
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 also has a personalized option which allows one to vary steering feel, throttle and shift points as desired. This car can thus be set for multiple drivers in the family more than some.
While you might cast a suspicious glance at steering by wire, the system is surprisingly predictable and cornering is thus entertaining. The 3,900 pound curb weight is a bit portly over the non-hybrid, and the run-flat but fairly grippy tires are not as aggressive as an optional wheel/tire package available only on the non hybrid. But tires could be changed anyway if desired – you’d just not have a spare tire unless you threw one in the smallish trunk.
This won’t really be needed however unless you want to really get extra-legal as this is one fine hooligan-compatible piece of kit as delivered with road presence to match. On an open road at least one Audi A4 poser with a garishly loud exhaust tried to pick a street race with the sufficiently menacing Infiniti. You may need to get used to turning down such invitations, but if that’s your thing, you would not likely have much worry about too often.
But this is not a boy racer per se. It’s really a sophisticated car that’s capable of being juvenile when it – or you – want to.
Not that 360 horses is exceedingly potent anymore in a land of Tesla P85Ds, and other 400-600 horsepower cars with tantamount to ludicrous git-up-and-go. But it is satisfying and sane enough not to be complete ticket magnet if you do have questionable self restraint.
As for fuel economy, official ratings are 28 or 29 city depending on all or FWD, 36 or 38 highway, and 30 or 31 combined.
We found the most thirsty AWDs to return 26-28 mpg without using any restraint and occasionally testing the power for spurts. Run it full on however and expect the numbers to drop. Chill out, or put it on an open highway with cruise control set to the speed limit, and you should ease toward the 30-plus for which the AWD version is rated.
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.
Prices start at $45,305 (including $905 destination) for the Q50 Hybrid Premium, and go to $49,505 for the Q50S Hybrid AWD (see image gallery for non-hybrid Q50 and accessory price lists).
Next to its competitors, the Q50 Hybrid has done respectably in terms of sales and we can see why. Last we checked it was taking about 10 percent of the model lineup’s share, which is way better than the Lexus GS 450h or BMW ActiveHybrid3.
But really, this niche vehicle arguably transcends niche status in that Infiniti sees this as the flagship of the Q50 lineup; a no excuses car. Thus, unless your mind is made up already, you have your cross shopping cut out for you – everything from $40,000-$60,000 is a potential competitor.
What makes this one special are the unique hybrid system, novel steering, advanced safety, advanced cruise control, and that falcon-like look with the human eyes.
Bottom line is this is a very enjoyable user friendly car, fun to drive, and easy to get used to. What’s not to like?