Infiniti is testing the water with a high performance version of the Q50 saloon. High performance indeed: it uses the same 3.8-litre V6 as the Nissan GT-R…
Andrew Brady | August 2014
Are you familiar with Infiniti? Perhaps not… it’s Nissan’s not-particularly-well-known luxury sub-brand. Think Toyota and Lexus, and you’ll be on the right lines.
Infiniti wants to change that. It wants to be seen as a serious premium brand in its own right – and go after the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. It started seriously gunning for the Germans last year with the launch of its Q50 – sitting between the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series in size.
The thing is, most people buy a premium German car largely for its image. It’s a chicken and egg situation – on the one hand, no one will buy a premium car unless everyone knows it’s a premium car. On the other hand, how will it create an image for itself unless people buy one?
Infiniti has a trump card in the form of Formula One. Infiniti is title partner and vehicle performance partner of Red Bull, meaning most F1 fans will now have heard of the brand.
It’s therefore kind of embarrassing that Infiniti doesn’t make a performance car. Sure, some of its cars are pretty quick (the Q50 hybrid hits 62mph in 5.1 seconds), but it hasn’t got a halo model like the BMW M3. So, Infiniti revealed a hot Eau Rouge version of its Q50 at the 2014 Detroit Motor Show.
When the concept was displayed at Detroit, it didn’t have an engine – simply because Infiniti hadn’t decided which to use yet. Fortunately, we reckon, the manufacturer decided against simply pumping up its standard 364hp 3.5-litre V6 motor. Instead, engineers raided Nissan’s parts bin and opted for the 3.8-litre twin-turbo engine out of the Nissan GT-R – capable of around 560hp. Now that’s got our attention.
What’s the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge prototype like to drive?
We were fortunate to be invited along to Millbrook proving ground for a drive in an early prototype of the Q50 Eau Rouge. It’s early days for the car yet – nothing is confirmed, the engineers are still trying and tweaking everything. It might not even make it into production.
First impressions are, as you’d expect, that the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge is stonkingly quick. Thanks to its four-wheel drive system, it’s capable of putting its power down phenomenally well, catapulting you towards the horizon. Infiniti reckons you’ll reach 60mph in less than four seconds. That’s faster than a BMW M3.
However, with the four-wheel drive system (out of the Q70) currently splitting torque between the axles roughly equally, it also feels very safe. On Millbrook’s challenging hill route, hitting the accelerator as you exited a bend resulted in nothing but heading towards the next bend at an alarming rate. There’s no squirming, no hint of sliding – which is perhaps a shame, really. While we don’t advocate full on slides on the road, just a little hint at the kind of power the car has might be nice. Otherwise it’s bordering on boring.
Fortunately, the engineers understand this, and told us it’s extremely likely that the four-wheel drive system will be rear-biased if the Eau Rouge ever makes production. Excellent news.
More good news is that when you do reach a bend far too fast, the huge Brembo brakes from the Nissan GT-R scrub speed off at an impressive pace. The electro-mechanical steering (not Infiniti’s bizarre drive-by-wire system, at the moment), is nicely weighted. It provides plenty of feedback as you enter bends and feels positively direct.
One of the biggest issues with the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge is the lack of sense of occasion. Sure, with its carbonfibre body kit it looks the part, but driving it doesn’t feel particularly special (if you ignore the ferocious speed).
A lot of this is down to the noise. The exhaust just doesn’t provide the same bark as a hot German saloon would – but don’t fear, as the engineers on hand at Millbrook nodded and made noises to suggest this would be changed if a production version were to be built.
The other area that lacks sparkle is the interior. This is partly because Infiniti engineers want the Eau Rouge to be just as comfortable and usable as the regular Q50, but also because they’ve been concentrating their efforts so far on how this thing drives. We’re assured that it’ll feel a little less ‘normal’ if it ever goes on sale.
Is the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge as good as a BMW M3?
No. It just about pips the BMW M3 on performance (in its current state), but realistically the M3 is a much better all-rounder.
But the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge isn’t really trying to steal customers from the BMW M3. Sure, it’s trying to have a similar halo effect, but if it goes into production it’ll be much more expensive than the M3, and the company realistically expects it to sell in minute numbers.
We’ve mentioned that the Q50 sits between the 3 and 5 Series in size and, as it’ll be considerably pricier than the M3, is it more of a rival to the M5? Possibly, but it’d be wrong to spend too much time trying to compare it with anything produced in Germany. The Eau Rouge is unique, and will only be bought by people who set out to buy an Infiniti.
MR VERDICT: Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge prototype
We think it’s brilliant that Infiniti is even considering putting this car into production. It’s a bold move – especially knowing that it’s never going to be a big seller, but hopefully it’ll do wonders for the brand’s (currently lacking) image.
The car is far from perfect – and we hope it remains that way if it ever goes into production. The worst thing Infiniti could do is tone down the Eau Rouge to make it a more sensible proposition – its trump card really is its blistering performance.
Turn the whole experience up to 11 with a more vocal exhaust and a rear-biased four-wheel drive system that hints at the playful supercar lurking underneath this big saloon, and the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge will be an absolute blast that should improve the image of Infiniti’s lesser models.
- BMW M3
- Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG
- Audi RS 4
- Porsche Panamera
We’ve mentioned the BMW M3 as one of the biggest rivals of the Q50 Eau Rouge, but in reality it’s almost as big as an M5, as powerful and will probably be more expensive. The Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG and Audi RS 4 are both excellent examples of premium, performance saloons, and it’s unlikely that buyers of either will consider the Q50. The Porsche Panamera is a bit of a wild card – like the Infiniti Q50, it’s not as mainstream as the others, sold in smaller numbers, and it’s extremely driver-orientated, while still capable of carrying passengers.
Engine 3.8-litre petrol V6
Gearbox Seven-speed automatic
Price from n/a
0-62mph less than 4.0 seconds
Top speed approx. 180mph