CALISTOGA, Calif. -- We click through gears and clip the apex of every switchback on the serpentine Calistoga Grade, California 29, as it wraps, wiggles and warps around Sugarloaf Mountain in a climb out of Napa Valley while pumping the throttle and pushing revs to red in the 2014 Q50 S, a spirited premium sports sedan from Infiniti, brand for luxury and performance cars spinning off Nissan of Japan.
Reflecting Infiniti's revised model nomenclature (badges of passenger cars get an alphanumeric name beginning with the letter "Q" as wagons use the letters "QX"), the new 2014 Q50 rides on a stiff rear-wheel-drive platform rigged with a sport-tuned suspension and awesome torque developed through a muscular 6-pack engine borrowed from Nissan's racy 370Z sports car.
It's essentially a new generational expression of Infiniti's best-seller G37 mid-size luxury sports sedan but tricked out with incredibly slick new sheetmetal styling, the 5-passenger cabin loaded with rich materials and supportive seats, and a carload of electronic vehicle control equipment aboard.
Q50 for 2014 dresses in sculpted skin with muscular shoulders and a wave-shaped hood chiseled from painted sheetmetal and sparkling chrome. Humpy blisters over the front fenders are separated by a broad hood that slinks down from the raked windshield to a low front fascia.
Forward corners are pegged by slant-brow light clusters with LED headlights and daytime running lights, as the aggressive prow carries a double-arch grille filled with a waved mesh-pattern surface and foglamps pinned to the lower fascia.
Flanks show a creased character line trailing rearward off the front-corner headlamps as the roofline traces a robust arch that tapers to the blunted tail.
On Q50's platform the front wheels mount way forward and the engine is set so that its center of gravity falls behind the front axles. This placement results in a weight distribution biased slightly in favor of front wheels.
Yet the front wheels are slightly heavier by design of the suspension geometry to pre-load them with more weight when the Q50 turns into a curve. Add acceleration coming out of that curve and the result translates to ideal weight balance which enables an aggressive driver to carve one corner after another with keen confidence -- which is the way we work it on the Calistoga Grade testing Q's limits of tire adhesion.
Suspension for Q50 is totally independent using lightweight aluminum components. Up front is a double wishbone and the back is a multi-link arrangement with stabilizer bars mounted fore and aft.
Steering, through a quick-to-respond rack and pinion mechanism, feels firm despite the assist from a vehicle-speed-sensitive power boost.
Q50 lists an optional electric steering system tagged as Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) with four driver-choice settings. The all-electric device provides independent control of tire angles and steering inputs, generating improved feedback to the driver and quicker responses.
A vented disc brake mounts at every wheel and ties by computerized links to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake assist (BA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD). Q50 S stocks sport brakes with larger rotors plus 4-piston front and 2-piston rear calipers. Further, all Q50 issues carry Infiniti's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which checks lateral skidding on slippery pavement.
Motivation for the 2014 Q50 stems from Nissan's VQ-series dual-cam 3.7-liter V6 keyed to an electronically controlled drive-by-wire throttle. The plant employs Infiniti's electronic valve controller -- continuously variable valve timing control system (CVTCS) and variable valve event & lift (VVEL).
The VQ37VHR V6 spits out 328 hp at 7000 rpm with torque rising to 269 lb-ft at 5200 rpm.
Q50's sole transmission is sweet: A 7-speed electronically controlled automatic featuring downshift rev matching (DRM) and manual shift mode (MSM) with optional magnesium paddle shifters mounted on the steering column.
Q50's 5-place cabin, featuring form-fitting seats and lots of electronic gizmos, is an artful design trimming in upscale materials with optional leather upholstery, plus genuine maple wood trim and Kacchu aluminum accents.
Q50 offers RWD or AWD traction for trim designations of Q50, Q50 Premium and Q50 S -- "S" as in Sport.
Gear packages include Moonroof, Spare Tire, Leather, Navigation, Deluxe Touring, 19-inch Sport Tire & Wheel, and Technology. The latter installs Infiniti's Adaptive Front Lighting System plus Distance Control Assist, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Prevention and Active Lane Control.
Infiniti draws MSRP figures for the 2014 Q50 sports sedan from $36,700 to $45,000.
Q50 3.7 V6 $36,700
Q50 3.7 V6 AWD $38,500
Q50 3.7 V6 Premium $39,550
Q50 3.7 V6 AWD Premium $41,350
Q50S 3.7 V6 $43,200
Q50S 3.7 V6 AWD $45,000
Q50 3.5L V6 Hybrid Premium $43,950
Q50 3.5L V6 Hybrid AWD Premium $45,750
Q50S 3.5L V6 Hybrid $46,350
Q50S 3.5L V6 Hybrid AWD $48,150