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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
No good deed goes unpunished. The NY Times links default to a subscription page so I had to copy and paste in this edit and there's another New York Times review below KLamalama.

From the NY Times --

For luxury carmakers, no technological parade is complete without a hybrid.

And with Infiniti floating the Q50 sedan as a technology leader, the Q50 Hybrid makes a fair statement by luxury-sedan standards: It actually has a noticeable effect on mileage.

You might see saving fuel as a given. But several luxury hybrids, from the Lexus LS 600h L to BMW’s 5 and 7 Series ActiveHybrids, have had their math out of whack, costing a king’s ransom while delivering a sack of change in savings at the pump.
The Q50 Hybrid is also an expensive way to save money, at $45,205 to start for the Premium model, or $47,005 with all-wheel drive. There’s also a sport-tuned Q50S Hybrid at $47,605, or $49,405 with power to all four wheels.

Those prices are roughly $4,400 more than the nonhybrid versions, which may relegate the Hybrid to the usual niche status. But at least the Infiniti is rated at 29 miles per gallon in town, and 36 on the highway, or 28/35 with all-wheel-drive. That’s a healthy 35 percent bump over the conventional versions.

The E.P.A. figures an owner will save $650 a year in premium fuel, with the rear-drive Q50 Hybrid costing $1,850 to cover 15,000 miles versus $2,500 for the standard Q50.
The Hybrid gets a smaller V6 than that regular Q50, with 3.5 liters and 302 horsepower. But the Hybrid inserts a 50-kilowatt, 67-horsepower electric motor between the engine and a conventional 7-speed automatic transmission. Infiniti’s hybrid system is impressive, discreet and transparent, shuttling power between gas and electric sources to maximize acceleration or economy.

Mash the gas pedal, and a combined 360 horses urge the Infiniti from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in barely five seconds, scattering not just Priuses but slower sport sedans like the Audi A4 and Cadillac ATS. Yet ease down the highway with the engine on hiatus, and the Infiniti goes as quiet as a cemetery at midnight.

All good so far. But if it’s possible, the Hybrid is even more aloof and robotized than the conventional model. Unlike the standard version, the Hybrid comes only with Direct Adaptive Steering, better known as steer-by-wire. The fully electronic steering seems already to be plotting the future demise of its human pilot, using a camera to virtually steer itself along the highway.

From a Vulcan-logic standpoint, credit Infiniti with this brave step toward autonomous driving; but the system, at least in this Version 1.0, leaches fun from what had previously been, in the guise of the G37 predecessor model, a driver-first sedan.
Stuffing in a lithium-ion battery also cuts the trunk space to a meager 9.4 cubic feet, down from 13.5 in other Q50s.

The solace, aside from generous forward thrust, is brag-worthy economy. Alternating relaxed cruising with wanton stabs of the throttle, I ended up at 31 m.p.g., a solid jump over the 22 I observed in the standard model.

That’s excellent mileage for a 360-horsepower luxury sedan. Would-be Andrettis may run screaming, but this Q50’s philosophy dovetails nicely with that of many hybrid fans: Sit back, leave the driving to computers and watch the mileage climb.

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41 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Infiniti’s G37 has long been the star of Nissan’s luxury brand, largely because it’s been a hands-on car. Now, girding for an autonomous future, Infiniti is trying hands-off instead.

Refashioned as the Q50, the reworked sport sedan is as muscular as ever, but more luxurious. With choices reaching toward, well, infinity, buyers can have rear- or all-wheel drive, myriad options and either a 328-horsepower V6 or a V6 Hybrid that has 360 horses and an economy rating of 29 m.p.g. in town and 36 on the highway.

But where the G37 had typically been described as the next best thing to the BMW 3 Series, the Q50 seems not only to have switched from a well-regarded name, but also from a driver-first approach. And a driver-second description could be taken literally: Even as Nissan pledges to bring a fully autonomous car to showrooms by 2020, I found myself driving the Infiniti on surprisingly long highway stretches without touching the accelerator, brake pedal or steering wheel.

Girded with digital-, camera- and radar-based co-pilots, the Q50 charts a course toward the self-driving cars of tomorrow.

Infiniti, of course, would stress the “tomorrow,” and tell me to get my hands back on the wheel. But the Q50 is one of several cars — from the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class to the Acura RLX — that spotlight the growing gap between what cars can already do, technically, and what is sanctioned by the law or by society.

Clearly, Nissan and Infiniti are thinking longterm. The Q50 is part of a 15-year plan to build this inconsistent luxury brand into a powerhouse. While such a long-range plan may recall optimistic Soviet forecasts, it has been hatched by serious capitalists: Carlos Ghosn, who runs Nissan and Renault, and his handpicked head of Infiniti, Johan de Nysschen, who previously led Audi of America to record heights.

When I spoke with Mr. de Nysschen at the New York auto show last spring, he frankly catalogued Infiniti’s missteps and rapidly discussed his plans to fix them.

Infiniti is also opening its own international design studios, rather than have Nissan and Infiniti designers work on both brands. In the past, designers cannibalized the best ideas of both brands, and Infinitis started to look too much like their mainstream Nissan cousins.

Mr. de Nysschen also seems fond of the letter “Q,” already familiar from his Audi crossovers. Infiniti started life in 1989 with the Q45 sedan, and that letter will now denote all sedans and coupes, with QX labels on crossovers and S.U.V.’s. A branding deal with the gadget master of the James Bond films cannot be far behind.

On the styling front, the Q50 is off to a reasonably good start. The G37 was not aging well; its interior seemed the equivalent of skin damage to a handsome actor’s face.

The Q50 looks windswept, with a missile-shaped hood that accentuates its cab-rearward profile. As with copycat Hollywood movies, Infiniti and Lexus can argue over who came up with the brands’ similar spindle-shaped grille.

But it’s the technology, luxury and performance philosophy that really signal a new direction.

The Infiniti’s cabin can’t match the visual flair of the new Lexus IS. But it’s still a reasonably luxurious abode, befitting a car that starts at $37,955 and can top $53,000.

Graceful dashboard arches surround a pair of stacked touch screens. These handsome displays house navigation, climate and audio controls on the upper half, with apps, settings and secondary navigation directions below. Their slim, discreet frames help to create the impression of one giant screen. In a huge compliment, one passenger said it reminded her of the Tesla’s magnificent 17-inch display — the one that looks like a supersize iPad.

There’s a learning curve to the touch and rotary-knob functions, but it’s brief. Ultimately, the set-up whips many competing systems, including Cadillac’s CUE.

Minus those versatile screens, the Q50 would require a Boeing’s worth of buttons to control its HAL-like systems.

It begins with technology that is de rigueur on most luxury cars: Radar adaptive cruise control lets the Infiniti regulate its speed, even in stop-and-go traffic, with no need to touch the gas or brake pedals. But the radar tracks not just the car ahead, but the one ahead of that, providing more time to warn drivers and make smart decisions during chain-reaction stops.

More autonomy groundwork is laid with the optional Direct Adaptive Steering: The world’s first steer-by-wire system in a production car eliminates any physical link between the steering wheel and the turning wheels. It’s all done electronically, with three separate controllers for fail-safe redundancy. If all else fails, a clutch re-connects the mechanical steering column to restore physical control.

You can see where this is headed. Another option, Active Lane Control, links lane-keeping cameras with electronic steering that subtly turns the steering wheel (drivers can adjust the level of assistance) to center the car in its lane and adjust for crosswinds and pavement.

With the Q50 managing its own speed and adjusting course, I could sit back and simply watch, even on mildly curving highways, for three or more miles at a stretch.

Drivers can also toggle up standard or customized settings for power assist and steering ratio, the latter making sharper turns for a given amount of steering input.

But old-school G37 drivers may want to pull HAL’s plug. Enthusiast publications have excoriated the Infiniti’s steering (though such slings and arrows seem inevitable whenever a company tries something new).

Yet it’s true, by boy-racer standards, that the steering doesn’t feel especially natural, linear or connected. Before I got accustomed to the “quick” ratio setting, one fast lane change along a curve nearly put me into a guardrail. The steering goes heavy one minute and limp the next, as the computer seems to second-guess the road ahead and the life form behind the wheel.

Sebastian Vettel, the Formula One racing superstar who is now Infiniti’s director of performance, is said to have offered input on the steering. But if Vettel’s F1 car had so little road feel, he’d lock himself in his gold-plated trailer until it was fixed.

Still, people who aren’t fixated on D.I.Y. driving excitement — who care more about luxury, comfort or safety — may neither notice nor care that their steering wheel is essentially a video game joystick. Steering aside, the car’s winning qualities shine through: The chassis is solid and balanced; there is grip and power to spare.

The Q still has more sheer horsepower and displacement than any car in its class. And Infiniti has finally tamed the raucous high-r.p.m. noise from this big V6.

One demerit, though: The Q50 showed surprising ride harshness over bumps and potholes.

The Q50 has received an overall five-star safety rating, the highest grade, in crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

For $3,200 extra, a Technology Package adds an army of electronic watchdogs including blind-spot warning and intervention, lane-departure warning and prevention, predictive forward collision warning and emergency braking, backup collision intervention, the active lane-keeping control and intelligent cruise control.

Technophobes and self-reliant types have two ways to opt out of this brave new world. You can order a Q50 without Direct Adaptive Steering or the Technology Package, like a version I tested in the Boston area. You’ll not only enjoy the natural, familiar hydraulic steering, but you’ll save a whopping $6,300 (the tech package price plus the $3,100 Deluxe Touring package, which includes the sci-fi steering, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, maple trim, Around View monitor, split folding rear seats and rain-sensing wipers).

And for the truly stubborn, Infiniti will still sell the old G37 (perhaps renamed the Q-something) alongside the Q50 through 2015. Just be sure to demand a huge dealer discount on what must be the year’s biggest white elephant. Avoid talking about top speed or g-forces, and try this negotiating tactic: “What, this Infiniti? Are you kidding me? It doesn’t even drive itself.”
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