New engines now on sale but styling has not changed since the Q50 entered production at Tochigi in 2013
In a fresh bid to enliven sales of the Q50 range, Infiniti has given this C-Class sized sedan new turbocharged V6 engines, including a 400hp unit.
There has never been any doubt about the potential of this D segment sedan, but in many markets, it hasn't lived up to its promise. Infiniti won't like me saying that, but with the exception of North America and China, sales haven't been terribly strong. That's a shame, as the car is good; very good in many areas in fact. It's roomy, has great handling, strong looks and in 2.1-litre diesel form, it's also very economical. The main trouble has been the badge, perhaps. Building a solid brand image is going to take some years yet but the addition of the new Q30 and QX30 below this model will greatly help matters, and soon too.
In Australia, where I drove the car for this review, Infiniti sales rose by 30% in 2015, to 574 units and so far this year, deliveries are up by 3.5%. In the UK, registrations totalled just 27 cars in February, but are running at 132 for the year to date. There should be quite a leap soon enough, once the Q30 launch gathers momentum. Of course it's an entirely different story in the USA, though even there, it wasn't a great February, with sales down by 11% to 10,371. The Q50 was the brand's best seller, with 3,364 deliveries, compared to 3,826 for its Lexus ES rival. The 2016 model year range is clearly needed by dealers and buyers will have been aware that the new engines revealed at January's Detroit show were on the way.
The big news is the arrival of the 400hp biturbo V6. This 3.0-litre engine has just become available in a new Red Sport 400 variant in North America, the Middle East and certain other markets, while a 300 horsepower version will join the range from May. This VR series engine family replaces the 3.7-litre VQ series V6. The 400hp Q50 is identified by a red S on its bootlid and front wings, and the 300hp car, the Q50 3.0t, has a silver S in the same places. Nissan builds the VR30 engines at its Iwaki powertrain plant in Japan.
In addition to the new 3.0-litre units, the Q50 remains available with three other engines, though this can vary by market. The main seller in Europe is the 2,143cc Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder diesel. There is also a 208hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol. This too is a Mercedes unit but it is assembled at Nissan and Infiniti's engine plant in Decherd, Tennessee. Finally, the Q50 Hybrid, the main market for which is the US, has a 3.5-litre (Nissan) petrol V6 and one electric motor for a combined output of 360hp.
What's next for this mid-range sedan? Next year should see a facelift and that will likely be the only styling changes that the car has before its replacement arrives in 2020. Production is split between Japan (Tochigi) and China (Xiangyang) though the latter is the only plant of the two which builds a long wheelbase model.
The Q50L was Infiniti's first vehicle to be built in China. This rival for the Mercedes C-Class L, Audi A4 L, BMW 3 Series Li and Volvo S60L is 4,852mm long, with a wheelbase that's been stretched by 48mm. All cars have the 2.0-litre turbo engine. Production commenced in November 2014 with the first deliveries later the same month.
Getting back to the 2016 model year cars, there are other engineering changes apart from the new V6 engines. The Q50s Direct Adaptive Steering has been redesigned and offers better feedback: some drivers found the first generation system to have had an unpleasingly artificial feel.
Dynamic Digital Suspension (DDS) is another new feature. This, Infiniti claims, gives the car "an optimal blend of ride comfort and class-leading response and agility". Certainly the ride remains firm but not jittery, it has to be said, and you won't sense as much sway as in an S60. Is it up to the levels of the Jaguar XE and BMW 3 Series? Not quite but it is close. Like the XE, you can also now tailor the Q50's dynamic settings via what's termed a Drive Mode Selector (DMS). Engine, steering and suspension characteristics can be tweaked via a 'Personal' setting.
You can play around with DMS by the menus displayed in the centre console. In addition to Personal, there are five further options: Standard, Snow, Eco, Sport, and new for the 2016 Q50, Sport+. So how does it work? First, choose one of three modes: Standard, Sport or Sport+ and then specify your preferred level of response: Default, Dynamic or Dynamic+. Let's say you like the idea of having slower steering response and a conventional feel, so in that case, choose Standard mode and Default response. But if at the other extreme, you prefer a high level of precision, select Sport+ mode with Dynamic+ response. The number of turns from lock to lock will vary according to your selection. The difference between Sport and the new Sport+ mode is a quicker gear ratio which gives a more direct feel.
All 2016MY cars have revised suspension settings with the aim being a more comfortable ride. The front suspension remains a double-wishbone design, and at the rear, the multi-link system has been recalibrated. Front and rear stabiliser bars have also been revised with the aim being a flatter ride.
The revisions amount to a thorough update for what was already a competitive package. We'll also see the new VR30 engine in the soon to go on sale Q60 Coupe and the Red Sport model grade is also said to be something which will feature in more Infinitis. That probably means the Q70 replacement which should be out next year. Will it also apply to crossovers and SUVs? Infiniti is yet to rule that out and it would certainly make sense, given the success of Mercedes-AMG's ever expanding line-up of equivalent vehicles.