Mixed feelings follow our Infiniti out the door
THE INFINITI Q50 Red Sport isn’t MOTOR material. That’s the brutal, yet truthful, summation on DQV 36E after five months in our garage.
WE TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Sure, it’s a goer. That hulking twin-turbo six powertrain ensured easy sub5.0sec runs to 100km/h and 12.0sec quarters at Bang For Your Bucks.
This makes it a weapon from traffic lights. It will lazily squirt ahead of an A45 or RS3 if neither has programmed launch control when the trees flash up in green. But this behaviour quickly works up a thirst.
Our chunk of driving has been commuting to and from work, with racetrack testing, highway driving, and cross-Melbourne runs mixed in along the way. This saw it sink 11.8 litres of fuel per 100km on average, with a peak of 14.75 one month, which is hardly criminal for a powerful twin-turbo V6 and better than what we managed in our resident Ford Focus RS LE.
If you’re watching fuel bills, though, don’t think you can help that with careful throttle inputs. The car’s Eco mode activates a pedal which pushes back against excess pressure, but is annoying and switched off almost immediately. On the other hand, Sport Plus mode holds engine revs way too long while the seven-speed automatic can shift a bit clunkily.
You instead settle for Standard mode and its poor throttle calibration. Here you constantly feather between 10-20 per cent throttle as the powertrain either gives you too much thrust, or too little like it’s developed lethargy.
We’ll happily admit the Q50 is a decent looker in Red Sport form. Even though its Pure White hue sucks the contrast out of its sculpted surfaces while other colours bring them to life.
But stay away from corners. The brakes don’t last long against the massive velocities it can reach, as Luffy bravely demonstrated at Winton Raceway. The run-flat tyres aren’t exactly sporting, either, and that steerby-wire system is worse news than Y2K for keen drivers.
Yes, the steering has been easy enough to live with on Melbourne’s grid-like streets, but it’s hopeless when any precision is required or feedback is wanted. Which is all the time on a racetrack, curving road, or when you need to park in a tight space.
Perhaps more unsettling is how much control the dual-motor steering rack hands to the myriad safety systems. There’s everything from active-lane control that silently adjusts your steering angle in the background at speeds over 70km/h, to activating trace control that does the same for brake pressure (but reduces in Sport mode and turns off completely when ESP is disabled). The occasional tugging at the wheel feels like you’re in something controlled by Skynet from Terminator, rather than you.
And that’s why this isn’t a MOTOR car. You can sense the Q50 was created to prioritise autonomous technology rather than the needs or wants of the driver. That fearsome engine bolted between its strut towers feels more like an afterthought, fitted because someone could, rather than because they should.
We marvelled at Infiniti’s bravery in handing us the keys to a Q50 Red Sport. We didn’t exactly fawn over it in our first review. Nor did we give its sexier cousin, the Q60, much love in a three-way comparison against chief European rivals.
Frankly, we wouldn’t buy one. A BMW 340i isn’t sparkling with driver connection and it costs $10K more, but it feels so much more resolved and freshly designed – it’s hard to believe the current 3 Series is actually two years older than the Q50.
It could ruffle a few feathers at the local drags, but this is not a car that would make us look forward to a weekend fang. We’d wait to see what comes of the rumoured Z replacement and the news it will use this exact twinturbo six.
If you want a well-priced sedan with cracking power and good safety tech, we’d pocket $20K and look at a Kia Stinger GT. It’s a little bigger, but it’s just as fast, steers better, and champions the driver, rather than the computer, more than the Infiniti.
1. The grunt
2. Adaptive cruise
2. Throttle tune
We farewell our heavily turbocharged track-day hero
SIX MONTHS and 10,875km later, it was with a tear that we returned ARA949 to Ford, ‘our’ Nitrous Blue Focus RS Limited Edition – and the MOTOR garage is worse off for not having this car in it. Would we buy one if we had the chance? Yes, yes and yes.
The Focus RS is a bit of a toy, sure, and you wouldn’t put up with it every day if you never intended to use all the fantastic performance it has on offer. But if you did, it’s easy enough to live with on a daily basis, provided you are accepting of a few personality ‘quirks’. For example, the turning circle is appalling; the relatively small, 51L fuel tank means you are constantly filling up; there is no full-size spare; the urban ride will either feel too firm, or fine, depending on your reference point, and personal preference. And you have to keep an eye on the oil level – and perhaps the coolant, anxiously, if you haven’t yet taken Ford up on its offer to replace the head gasket, after a litany of failures around the world due to fitting the wrong one in the factory. And there have been other catastrophic RS power unit failures like cracked blocks, necessitating whole engine replacements.
MAIN The RS is brilliant – one of the greatest hot hatches. Why must all good things come to an end?
Fortunately, we have had zero problems with our RS in the time we’ve had it. And those 10,875 kilometres at MOTOR might very well be equivalent to, ahem, 30,000 kilometres in the hands of a doting, merciful owner.
We have loved most kilometres in the car. Tellingly, our best times have been on a racetrack – and it would be criminal for an owner not to take their RS on a track, as they’ve purchased one of the best handling cars this side of a Porsche Cayman. Really.
FORD FOCUS RS LIMITED EDITION
Sure, the controls are far more Fordthan Porsche-like, but that’s fine, it’s a Focus after all. What is more enjoyable are the many ways you can drive an RS on track – enjoying the enormous grip of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s and just going fast. Or throwing caution to the wind and flinging the thing in backwards, which it’ll happily do as well.
We initially thought Drift Mode was a gimmick, but then we discovered, as a secondary step, you need to also fully deactivate ESC after engaging Drift Mode, and then it works properly, making the RS a bonafide riot. It isn’t ‘rear-drive mode’, but get the rear sliding and floor it and it’ll slew sideways with all four wheels spinning. If you can arrive at the apex already sideways, you will laugh as hard as you’ve ever laughed in a car before.
One of the main takeaways of the RS is that it’s hugely fun. Its ability to put a smile on your face is up there, for me, with anything else I’ve driven, from rear-drive atmo V10 Lambos to 515kW 911 GT2 RSs to Subaru BRZs – you name it. It has a totally different box of tricks to these cars, of course, but fun is fun, further enhanced by its hilarious exhaust pops and bangs.
Interestingly, very few times did I think to myself, ‘thank god this car has a front limited slip differential’, as is the main attraction of the LE. The traction of the base RS is so strong, you’d probably have to drive them back-toback, in very specific circumstances, to notice any significant difference. Associate Editor Newman reckons it feels a little more front-driven, and less playful, than the standard car.
If we owned a Focus RS, drove it daily, and intended to track it regularly, we’d buy another set of wheels and fit them with our track tyre of choice, and then fit something like a Michelin Pilot Sport 4S for road use. While the grip on offer from the standard Cup 2s is delicious, there’s almost too much for the road, and taking a little bit away unshackles the RS’s brilliant chassis, letting it dance more easily at lower speeds. Plus, getting off the Cup 2’s reinforced sidewalls improves the ride. And Cup 2s are not cheap…
We’d also investigate some lowered seat rails from UK mob JCR Developments. Dropping the otherwise quite high ‘shell’ Recaros either 20mm or 55mm “transforms” the car, or so say many happy owners.
We’ll miss our Focus RS Limited Edition. It stirs up your inner hoon like few other cars. It’s a good, practical car, but an even better hot hatch – a brilliant one, actually, fast and fun, a future classic.