Pilots have been “flying by wire” for some time. That means the direct connection between the controls in the cockpit and the rudder, elevators, ailerons and flaps that control the path of the aircraft has been eliminated. In place of this direct connection, the plane’s electronics interpret what the pilot wants to do based on the manipulation of the cockpit controls.
What does this have to do with the new 2014 Infiniti Q50 sedan, an entry-level luxury vehicle? Simply this: The Q50 is the first and only car to offer "drive by wire" steering as an option. That means that when all is working, the direct link between the steering wheel and the front tires is severed. In its place, sensors and actuators assess the driver's commands and carry them out at the front wheels.
In the event of a complete failure of the electronics, or if the car is being moved with the engine off, a direct mechanical connection, absent power assist, allows a driver to steer the car.
The Q50 sedan is taking the place of the entry level G series in the Infiniti lineup. The steer-by-wire option aside, this new model is a slick entry-level effort, albeit one with some flaws.
However, the engine isn’t one of them. The 3.7-liter V-6 in the Q50 my wife Paula and I drove is a thoroughbred among vehicle engines. It starts instantly, idles smoothly and delivers generous levels of acceleration at the driver's demand. Acceleration proved to be effortless with 60 miles per hour arriving in just six seconds. All Q50s feature a seven-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is an option.
The ride and handling fall short of the engine’s performance. Big bumps are handled with competence. It’s the smaller pavement imperfections that produce numerous ride motions. It isn’t uncomfortable, but riding comfort isn’t up to the standards set by the best luxury cars, either.
As for handling, the steering feel in our review car equipped with the Technology Package, which includes steer-by-wire, is best described as “variable.” Much of the time, the steering effort needed to take a corner increased as the work the front tires were required to do increased. At other times, there seemed to be less of a relationship between tire angle, grip and steering effort than one might expect. In some turns, with a fixed steering input and no change in speed or pavement, the steering effort tended to vary widely during the turn.
One final demerit: Our review Q50 was one of the few cars to “nibble” at highway speeds. This is the tendency of a car to want to follow wear patterns in the road rather than the driver’s intended path. Eastbound I-84 through West Hartford brought this trait, usually associated with tires, to the forefront. Tracking was excellent on smooth pavement.
The interior featured quality materials and flawless assembly. The front seats are roomy. The rear seat is passable for adults, but only when the front seats are moved forward a bit.
The technology involved in steer-by-wire is impressive. Its implementation is a little less impressive. Still, you can expect other manufacturers to follow Infiniti down this path. As for the Q50, it proved to be pleasant, but in the field of entry luxury vehicles, it may not be compelling.
I found a lot to like about the 2014 Infiniti Q50. For starters, it was easy to find a comfortable driving position. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel has great range, as does the power driver’s seat. That seat is also supportive and comfortable.
Driving the Q50 is quite pleasant. The engine has plenty of power, but it’s easy to control this car in slow-moving traffic. The transmission shifts smoothly.
Steering is generally easy, though the feeling with the “steer-by-wire” option, part of the Deluxe Touring Package, is inconsistent.
Other features in this package worked much better. The Around View Monitor with a backup camera and front and rear parking sensors made it easy to pull into our crowded garage. The rain detecting wipers responded quickly to changes in precipitation and the auto-dimming mirrors, inside and out, made night driving more pleasant.
My husband Jim and I had the Technology Package in our review vehicle. Among its features are adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning and automatic braking, lane departure warning with active lane control, blind spot warning and an Eco pedal. All of these systems worked well.
The Eco’s effect on the accelerator pedal was particularly interesting. Press too hard and you will encounter resistance. If you need more power, you can press a little harder and get past that resistance, but its presence does provide some direction on what needs to done to go farther on a gallon of the recommended premium fuel. The Eco pedal can be turned off.
Get in the Q50 and you immediately know this is a luxury car. The styling is particularly pleasing and the interior is very nicely done. It is also a good value, with my guess on the price ending up being $10,000 higher than it turned out to be.
The back seat is tight for adults with the front seats moved back, though it’s far from the worst at this price level for rear seat room. The trunk is fair for the class, coming in at 13.5 cubic feet.
Fuel economy probably isn’t a concern for luxury car buyers, but if it is, Infiniti also offers the Q50 as a hybrid. We averaged 24.7 miles per gallon in our non-hybrid model.
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
EPA: Q50 Q50 Premium and Q50S Hybrid Hybrid Sport
RWD: 20/30 20/29 29/36 28/34
AWD: 19/27 19/27 28/35 27/31
Starts at: $37,150
Next week: Audi S5
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more automotive news, check out the Cars.com On The Road section each Wednesday in The Courant