Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pre-Release Review of the Q50 AWD Sport Hybrid

I finished up work a little early on Friday and was out playing with my two girls in the front yard. Like any parent that is always subconsciously aware of cars going up and down the street I catch, from the corner of my eye, a glimpse of a silver vehicle slowly approach down my street and make a usual mental note of its position. A few seconds later, I turn around and to my surprise I find beautiful brand new silver Q50 quietly parked in my driveway.

It took my brain a few seconds to connect the dots and realize that my wife had actually brought home a Q50. So I took the opportunity to snap a few pictures and give it a test drive before taking it back to undoubtedly its temporary home. If you are considering a Q50, I hope you find this review helpful.  Click on any picture below to see a high resolution version.

I want to exclusively thank Mike Christian, our wonderful Infiniti Sales Consultant from Zimbrick Infiniti of Madison for giving us the opportunity to test drive the car and for keep us in tune with the updates on our Q50 order.

looks great in the driveway

First Glance - A Walk around the Q50

Upon first glance, the Q50 AWD Hybrid Sport has an amazing sporty yet refined presence. It has very bold aerodynamic lines
and the front stance reminds me of my Honsuki knife waiting to slice effortlessly through anything I throw at it. The Q50 sport achieved a coefficient of drag of 0.26. Compare that to the Nissan GT-R which is also 0.26 and the Toyota Prius which is a hair less at 0.25. The front also features canards and a bold lower bumper valence to assist with down force, impressive single-piece bumper design.

bold aero front
The Q50's front is a sculpted master piece of form and function. Kudos to Infiniti for not simply copying the the day-time-running-LEDs designs from any car on the road today. The front grill has a very bold, but not over bearing chrome surround. The combination of the Black & Chrome with the Silver Color Q50 is simply amazing. I am curious very to see 2 shades of black with chrome on the malbec black we ordered.
The LED strips under the headlights are actually LED blinkers not DRL LEDs as one might expect. Speaking of LEDs, everything is an LED...YES everything on the front bumper is an LED! The Low Beams are LED, not Xenon. The High Beams are LEDs, not Halogen. The Fog Lamps are LEDs. The Side Markers are LEDs. They have a fantastic color temperature and comparable to a clean white 5000K with no hint of yellow or blue at all.

LED everything!
The Day Time Running LEDs are actually semi-circular arches surrounding the outside of the low beams and with a dispersed top pattern to mimic an eyebrow. I rather like the dispersion quality of the DRL LEDS, which from a distance, is rather unique when compared to the usual experience of seeing a LED lights on a vehicle and being able to count the exact number of LEDs which makeup the light. Not for the Q50! It has a nice even dispersion inside the housing.
The Q50's rear has the same design idea as the front DRL Led. A very nice ying-yang relationship to the front. It takes some subtle queues from the GT-R's double rings, but with considerable personality and complexity in output pattern and dispersion. It is a rather nice evolution from the rear lights of the G37, which were somewhat boring, yet functional. The positions of the rear lights are higher and the bumper has now got distinct reflectors build into it.
Interestingly enough, the AWD Hybrid Sport model, does not have a HYBRID designation on the rear. It does have a "blue" S which denotes the combination of Hybrid & Sport. The chrome accents are sufficient without being overbearing. The trunk has also got a sufficient "bump" built into it to eliminate the functional need for a rear spoiler. The high mounted stop lamp is located inside the rear window.

rear refinements and redesign of LEDs
The sides of the Q50 are definitely a result of considerable wind tunnel testing. Compared to the G37, the Q50 has lost its bulky front fenders and traded them for a more aerodynamic even flowing body sculpture. Every curve and body line such as the one on the rear doors and side view mirrors are designed to channel air in a specific direction. (Reminds me of my favorite F1 team). This becomes apparent with the wheels sitting inside the wheel well rather than flush. The Q50 also has air deflectors installed in the underbody in front of every wheel for aerodynamic. The side view mirrors feature not only turn signals, but also welcome lighting, again powered by LEDs. The HYBRID logo is prominently displayed on each side, behind the front wheel.

aero sides and powerful presence
The AWD Sport Model features quad-piston front and dual-piston rear calipers with standard metallic rotors (not slotted or cross drilled). A two tone, 5 spoke wheel 19" alloy wheel with Dunlop Sport 5000 DSST Ctt Tires at 245/40RF19. They have a Tread Wear of 260, Traction B and Temperature A rating. These are All-Season Run Flat Tires.

alloy wheels and big brakes
Judging solely based from the tread pattern, the number of water channels, the siping, the cornering limit indicators, this tire is really meant as a "catch-all" tire. In other words, much like a swiss army knife, it will do everything good enough without being exceptional at any one a specific trait. This is a perfect match for a vehicle that itself has to be swiss army knife of hybrid fuel economy, sport sedan performance and high end luxury.
The AWD Hybrid sport is rated at 27mpg City and 31 mpg Highway.

"hybrid" shoes

First Glance - A Peek Inside the Q50

Simply opening the door for the first time reveals the evolutionary enhancements that Infiniti has made with the Q50. As long as the iKey is in close proximity, the driver can simply open the door without pressing an button on the door handle. Pressing the button simply unlocks all door. Infiniti has managed to remove one unnecessary step from my life.

At first glance, the entire cabin is rather breathtaking. The interior has flowing contours lines, with no rigid breaks from the center console to the doors, the quality and evenness of the various material is exceptionally matched, as is the the fit and finish of the interior. The quality of the leather and even the response of pressing every single button has been enhanced. Sorry Lexus, you have just been pwned (see an urban dictionary).

mesmerizing cockpit
The quality of the leather and comfort of the seats is a perfect "hybrid" between sport and comfort. The seats are comfortable and supportive without being too plushy which would have disconnected the driver too much from the driving experience. The accent leather stitching is of top notch quality and extends to the leather panels that surround the center console.

fine detail in center console
I was a little worried that the Deluxe Technology Package only offered a trim with maple, but the wood is rather mute and its high glossy finish helps the wood accents blend in with the brushed nickel accents rather well. Again, another aspect that I feel Infiniti took a "hybrid" approach - accent the expected brushed nickel of a sport sedan with a touch of wood to tone down the sportiness of the Q50's interior. Thank you Infiniti for adding the thigh support extensions to both front seats. The front passenger leg room is greatly enhanced, with the dashboard sitting a little higher and deeper. With a skinner glovebox, my knees did not knock the dashboard.

passenger leg room
With the front seats adjusted to my driving and full extended riding positions, the rear seats have tremendous amount of room. The room is in all the right areas. For example, having extra room behind the front headrests is useless for the back seat passenger. Luckily Infiniti did not simply add room in the rear to complete with "best in class..." statistics, rather made the room useful. They maintained the hard plastic on the rear of the front seat, or as I call it "child kick protection"; they also kept the pockets in the back.

rear space and refined seats
My 2-year-old daughter could stand up and jump on the rear seat without hitting the roof. My 5-year-old who, in her booster, currently makes our EX35's back seat feel like a Mini Cooper could sink away and barely hang her legs over the seat. The additional window in the rear, not only increases the feel of the space in the back, but both kids will get a better view of the outside as well from their car seats, hopefully eliminating the need for a DVD player :)

space galore
The rear seats are not plain like most car manufacturers leave to an after thought. Rather the fit and finish is made to match the front seats very well, including side bolster support, and full size head rests. Being too lazy to move two child car seats, I did not attempt a full fitting, but based on the other three vehicles that we currently own, the rear seat space is huge win for the Q50 in my books!

The front door finish has the same flow and as the rest of the interior. While standalone, the door looks to be rather busy, but once closed the door does a good job of flowing with the interior.

flowing door finish
The trunk for the Q50 Hybrid is much smaller than the G Sedan. The Hybrid battery pack seems to take about 1 ft of horizontal space between the back seats and the trunk. There is an amusing graphic that shows how two golf bags can fit into the trunk. The trunk space is rather shockingly disappointing at first glance.

hybrid trunk
However, as I started to think about the uses of the trunk, it becomes rather obvious that for 90% of the needs the trunk will be more than sufficient - e.g. groceries, weekend shopping trips, kids stroller, day trip to the beach, etc. Will the Q50 Hybrid trunk space be sufficient for a weekend trip which includes suitcases, bags, groceries, toys, etc? Absolutely not! This will be a job for my truck. The trade off of having better fuel economy and more hp is well worth the trunk space sacrifice - for the 90% of cases in which there is simply junk in the trunk. Time to keep the junk to a minimum!

The engine compartment is rather very hands off. With shields and panel covers covering most of everything. The bright orange cable screams hybrid, as does the lack of a 12V battery, as that has moved to the rear. The visible items are the wiper washer fluid, the coolant filler for the radiator and the hybrid convertor, and of course the classic Nissan yellow engine oil dipstick.

hybrid engine bay
Upon, sitting in the drivers seat and turning on the accessory power, the first shocking revelation is the resolution of the screens. (Step aside retina display of my iPhone 5).

First Glance - A Sit Inside the Q50

The driver information display in the gauge cluster is simply so crisp and the color scheme matched to the gauges that one might actually assume the gauges are digital. But then again, the Q50 is not exactly in the same league as the LF-A, if you know what I mean. The text is crisp, the icons meaningful and accurate with no unnecessary information, scrolling through the steering wheel buttons cycles through the various information screens.

driver information console
The Infiniti InTouch screen is a in a class of its own, and frankly a step above my retina display, and I typing this on a Mac with a retina display.
Infiniti InTouch boot-up
The icons are so crisp that they actually resemble hard buttons. I guess when one does not have to worry about saving battery power such as on a mobile device, the brightness and contrast can be cranked up high on the most glossy display available to Infiniti. The display does attract and show finger prints very easily, hence the need for the Infiniti InTouch cleaning cloth.
high resolution displays
The InTouch System is rather intuitive for the basic every day functions i.e. Audio and Climate and the Main applications. Having the climate control hard buttons on the side is a high huge plus for me. I am not ready to press 5 button to change the speed of the fan, one is just fine, thank you. These climate control buttons do make the sides of the screen look busier, but the buttons are symmetrically designed on both sides.

The application such as analog clock and the performance meter, which is a subset of the metrics on my GT-R is probably where my screen will be spending most of the time when I am in Sport mode, otherwise Pandora for sure. The Q50 does not have a factory option for headrest DVD players, it would have been nice of the InTouch system could play a DVD or Video from a mobile device, but only display it only on a rear screen or head rest screen. Perhaps an after-market modification.

let's take some corners
I feel that it will take a good hour or so of sitting down with the manual and the InTouch to customize all the features of to the liking of the driver. While I scrolled through every option quickly, I did not give specific attention to any one feature except the 1. Drive Mode Selector, which does have a quick button in the cup holder area of the center console, and 2. the Steering Response Setting. Selection made in both these features produce immediate results to the steering wheel, as you can see it tighten up or loosen up immediately.

Regarding the steer-by-wire feel. The best analogy that I can make is as follows:

 - In Standard/Standard Mode it feels and reacts much like any other Infiniti steering system (we all know that Infiniti has a relatively tight steering feel compared to other vehicles in the same class).
 - In Heavy Heavy/Quick Mode it felt very equivalent to my GT-R's steering, in other words the tightest most responsive and sensitive steering that I have felt on a road ready car (excluding specific track cars).
 - In Light/Casual it felt much like a Corolla or Cadillac at highway speeds (I can only compare to these since I have driven these as rentals) - very smooth and requiring lots of input of gentle back and forth to stay in the center of the lane, and to me feels too soft.

steering mode selection
The top console has an SOS Button for Infiniti Personal Assistant. The Q50 is fitted with a SIM card which was not installed and will not be until August 5th, the release date. Likewise the SD card that hold the Navteq Map was not installed. The personal map lights for the front passengers are LEDs.

interior LEDs

First Glance - A Drive in the Q50

I started the Q50 and switched to from SPORT to ECO mode. Immediately the engine shut off, I would have silently backed up if not for the reverse beep sound and the Vehicle Sound for Pedestrian (VSP) which stayed on while I drove under 20 mph.

hybrid engine ready to go
I drove for the first 5 miles up to the highway turn off in ECO mode, which means on battery only, getting up to 40mph. It is rather an eery feeling seeing the engine off, the RPM steadily at ZERO, while rolling down the road, making stops and starts all without an engine ever starting. I guess I should have test driven a Nissan Leaf when they were launched to get some experience of electric driving. Having driven a Prius as a rental, the Q50 is really a night and difference. The comforts and quietness of the Q50 puts it into a completely different class of hybrids. A class in which one can own and drive a hybrid without having to sacrifice comfort, luxury, technology, and most importantly sport. The reason I have stayed away from hybrids - frankly.

driving on hybrid system
In ECO mode, the power is horribly lacking, every start feels like 2 people are pushing the car to get it going. Of course I could have mashed the pedal, which would have kicked in the gas engine, but I wanted to give the Hybrid engine a fair shake. I drove 5 miles without using gas...without using gas...let that sink in for a minute.

As soon as approached the onramp, I switch it to sport mode using the selector in the center console gave it go. It smoothly got well up to the speed in a very quick acceleration. The acceleration is quick but quiet; a good reminder of how refined the VQ35HR has become. The Q50 features an active engine sound elimination technology. Think of sitting inside giant Noise Canceling headphones. I attribute my shock at the speedometer to both the close ratio 7-speed gear box and the engine sound elimination technology. During this rapid acceleration, both the gas and hybrid engines were powering the Q50's wheels. I did not hear much of an exhaust note. My old adage of louder is not quicker was confirmed.

full power hybrid + gas to the wheels
When driving at a steady highway speed, and not in ECO mode, the gas engine is powering both the wheels of the Q50 as well as charging the battery.

driving on gas with excess power charging the battery
When coasting or braking, and depending on the mode, the gas engine and the wheels of the Q50 are both charging the battery, even in Sport Mode.

braking or coasting, shuts off engine and charges battery, even in sport
It would appear that the regardless of the mode selected the Q50 is very interested in harvesting every KiloJoule of energy to maintain the highest efficiency throughout the entire system. Even if I were not considering a Hybrid, so far I cannot see the harm in having a hybrid. One can argue more weight, but I say it has more horse power and better weight front to rear distribution. One can can argue trunk space, but I say 90% of the time 3 seats and the trunk are empty. Once can argue long term costs, but based on what friends who have paid for hybrid battery changes on other vehicles state,  the cost savings in fuel pays for a new battery. I am assuming the battery comes with the same 6yr/70,000mile power train warranty that Infiniti owners are accustomed to.

I am frankly sold on the Hybrid Technology, specially when it comes coupled with a VQ35HR engine putting out 306hp and a 7-speed gear box for a total of 360hp and torque of 258ft-lb(gas) and 214ft-lb(electric).

First Glance - A Test of the Driver Assistance System

Without writing an in-depth review of all the systems that are available in the Q50 to ensure vehicle safety under multiple conditions, I will describe my brief first hand tests of some the systems. The Q50 with Deluxe Technology Package uses a number of sensors the major ones being - front mounted camera, front mounted sonar, radar and millimeter wave. Rear sonar, radar and camera.

front camera for safety system
Intelligent Cruise Control - I set the ICC to 55mph with a medium distance setting. The system brought the Q50 to a complete stop and also brought it back to 55mph once the traffic cleared up. Yes, it was nerve racking, my foot was hovering over the brake pedal and my hands were primed to take evasive action. The system is absolutely amazing.

all driver assist turned on
Blind Spot Warning/ Intervention - Every time I passed a car, or a car was in my blind spot the orange on the inside of the rear view mirror came on. If I tried to use my blinker with another car in that bind spot, the system beeped at me twice from that speaker. I did not try to drift over and see what would happen, as I did not want to instigate an accident.

blind spot warning
Active Lane Control - The system actually keeps the Q50 planted in the middle of the lane, between the lines. If you drive the Q50 where you are used to driving in traffic pattern that shift left to right within a lane for example gently curving road, you will quick realize that the Q50 is actually correcting the vehicle to stay in the middle of the lane. Simply amazing. It almost feels like the vehicle is tramming, but then I quickly realized that the vehicle is compensating for my "bad" driving habits.

Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Intervention - Yes, I admit, I gradually exited the highway without a turn signal and while the line on my right was still solid white, just before the break in the line. The system beeped at me, the system tried to keep me back into my lane,  very gently though. But, I was stubborn and I made the exit, the system beeped at me again. I was not trying to test the system, I was merely driving at this point exactly how more than 50% of drivers do. If I were pulled over for not using my signals, do you think the officer would let me off when I told him that my Q50 had already called me an idiot for not using my signals, and I shall not be doing it.

Backup Collision Intervention - While I did not try and do not indend to try this out actively. The all-around camera system is stunning. It provides a nice 360 view of the car, plus has sonar which gets louder as objects get closer, plus uses radar for traffic coming at from either direction when backup up. The camera view can be switch to any one camera - e.g. widescreen front or sides so as to avoid curb rash on the wheels. The projected steering angle lines minimize steering correction and allow for smooth reverse parking.

backup camera, radar and all around camera view
Frankly, if between review view mirrors, all around 360 view camera, sonar and radar if a Q50 owner were to hit something, or even curbs the front bumper or wheel, then one deserves to have that Q50 taken away immediately. My comment to my Infiniti Consultant was that the Deluxe Technology Package should be mandatory or standard on every Q50 as it really helps elevate the value of the true engineering behind the Q50.

front camera view and side camera view

As an final little surprise present, after I parked the Q50 and released my seat belt, an automatic seat belt retractor gently pulled the seatbelt away from lap, stopping just in the nick of time to left me pull my arm out - as though saying "See you, come back soon."

First Glance - Final "First" Thoughts

The Q50 has a distinct personality. Infiniti has really changed the entire class structure by introducing the Q50. From the exterior curves and contours which have both fluid beauty and bold aerodynamic agility; from the LED powered lights to the hybrid power system that conserves every ounce of energy; from the completely refined interior that is comfortably supportive to the steering response that is "connected" to the road; from InTouch "smartphone" technology to the exhaustive yet non-intrusive driver assistance systems; the Q50 is a "hybrid" in more than just one aspect.

The Q50 is simply begging to be driven and will elevate anyone's driving experience to a completely new level!

Q50 has a personality, just look into its eyes.