2017 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400


When we first drove the Q50 Red Sport 400, Infiniti had the car out at a prepared slalom-and-cone course in a large, open parking lot. The car was stacked up against another Q50 without the Direct Adaptive Steer steer-by-wire system, and the course was designed to show that the DAS-equipped Red Sport 400 (it's a $1,000 option) required less steering input to master the same course.

With all due respect to Infiniti, which is invested in this unfortunate system and has been working hard to revise it, the comparison doesn't make a lot of sense.

The non-DAS Red Sport 400 has a steering ratio of 15:1 in RWD and 16.7:1 in AWD forms. The DAS system can vary between 12:1 and 32.9:1 in RWD and 11.8:1 to 32.3:1 in AWD flavors. At its extremes, the DAS system's ratio is vastly different than the fixed-ratio cars. So sure, with a ratio of up to 32.9:1, the DAS driver's going to do less work. It's all in the gearing.

Does this mean it's better, that the steering feel is more natural, that it's easier to hustle quickly? The amount the driver saws at the wheel isn't an indication of that, necessarily. After a few days in a rear-drive Red Sport 400, I'm saying that the spooky disconnection between the driver and the front wheels would be a severe deficit to a driver on a real autocross course. It's not like the DAS system is choosing bad ratios within its range, it's just not supplying the feedback to make it enjoyable. Knowing what your front tires are up to is critical.

I can hear you saying right now, "But what Q50 Red Sport 400 owners are going to autocross their cars?" Sure, but it was just a means to an end: showing off the DAS in a good light. And in that case, it probably did. The thing is, in isolation, not back-to-back with a non-DAS car with a slow steering ratio, the DAS system has the same issues it's always had: It simply doesn't feel natural. It doesn't feel intuitive. There doesn't seem to be any real advantage over a slightly quicker rack. I don't hear about people making buying decisions based on how much work they have to do sawing at the wheel, do you?

So, that's one side of the Q50 coin - one that's hard to ignore if you're an enthusiast and steering feel is an important connection between you and the vehicle you just dropped a large hunk of change on, and will be spending a lot of your time in. The other is that there's a really compelling reason to drive a Red Sport 400: The 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 is a monster.

It's uncouth, to be sure. In Sport+, a swift boot of the accelerator on a dry onramp will cause the rear tires to skitter and the Q50's svelte rear to weave a bit. Unlike the steering, the untidiness of it all is actually pretty enjoyable. It's not surgical precision management of rear traction, but that's a bit sterile, isn't it? Punting the thing forward is a dramatic, analog experience.

It feels much swifter than it actually is, although a 4.5-second 0-60 time isn't anything to be ashamed of. It's just the way in which this thing scoots - some cars are quick, but some aspect leads to a disassociation with what the speedometer says and how fast the car feels. That's not happening here.

The engine is great, but the most important factor in a car-buying decision is how it looks. On that count, the Q50 is in good shape. Outside, it's a sexy car. Inside, it's somehow dated ... even the esoteric Lexus IS interior looks better than this. Compared to an Audi or BMW, no contest. The "winged" trim rings around the instruments are the perfect illustration of this: They look silly, they're quite obviously painted plastic, and they don't seem to belong in a car that starts a hair under $50,000.

Ultimately, this car's a mixed bag for me. I want to drive a non-DAS Red Sport 400 and see if a more conventional steering rack moves the needle back into an overall positive impression. After all, the engine's a gem, and the interior is comfortable. Nothing out there has the sort of rawness (that's a positive attribute) this has, short of a BMW M3 - a quicker much more expensive car at $65,945 to start.

So I'll shrug and move on. Steering preferences are subjective, after all. Ours are also influenced by the hundreds of cars we drive each year, including real enthusiast stuff that sets our bar really high. Our bar should be really high, for that matter. DAS isn't objectively problematic, but it's subjectively unappealing. I won't begrudge anyone who drives it and loves it - to each their own. But if you hold out a car to the enthusiast camp, my recommendation is that you knock 'em dead. While the Red Sport 400's engine gets my pulse rate up, ultimately DAS leaves me cold.

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