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The high-performance Q50 Eau Rouge is more than just a concept and previews what could be an incredible sports saloon

Our Verdict

Infiniti Q50

Is this less individualist Infiniti saloon more of a threat to German rivals?

21 July 2014

What is it?

Infiniti’s four-door retort to the likes of the Audi RS6, BMW M5, Jaguar XFR and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG – the rapid Q50 Eau Rouge.

First unveiled as a so-called concept at the Detroit motor show back in January, the four-wheel drive performance saloon, which runs a modified engine from no less a car than the mighty Nissan GT-R, is the brain child of former Infiniti president, Johan de Nysschen, now residing at Cadillac.

Originally assembled as a styling model to test public reaction to plans to take Infiniti into the performance arena with a car developed in partnership with Red Bull Racing, the Q50 Eau Rouge has now been progressed into a road going prototype.

Following a debut at the Goodwood Festival Of Speed at the hands of Christian Horner, is now being considered for low volume production, with on-going feasibility studies aiming to place it into UK showrooms by 2016.

Development of the new car’s mechanical package is being overseen by Northants-based Ray Mallock Limited, whose road car department has been commissioned to carry out both early conceptual engineering and testing before an expected green light later this year.

The starting point for the fastest ever production based Infiniti is the standard Q50, although the changes clearly run deep. This is immediately obvious the moment you see the Q50 Eau Rouge up close. Infiniti’s designers have given it an added dose of visual aggression in line with its extended performance potential.

At the front there's a new carbonfibre bumper with added structuring around the grille and an F1 inspired carbonfibre twin plane splitter element, instantly differentiating it from the standard Q50.

The fenders have been beefed up to accommodate the widened tracks and there are extravagant looking sills that incorporate extractor ducts for the front wheelhouses to reduce pressure build up at speed and provide an added cooling effect for the front brakes.

At the rear, there is a new carbonfibre bumper housing a central LED stop light from Red Bull Racing’s RB9 F1 car, as well as two large stainless steel tail pipes. The Eau Rouge also gets a unique boot lid aimed at increasing downforce without the need to resorting to a separate spoiler.

Further aerodynamic developments are in store, according to Infiniti, including an even larger boot lid for greater downforce as well as additional panelling to smooth under-body airflow.

To provide the Q50 Eau Rouge with the necessary firepower to see it challenge the lofty acceleration claims of its keener performance saloon rivals, Infiniti’s engineering brain trust has looked beyond the standard Q50 S’s 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine.

 “We considered using a powered up version of the Q50 S engine but after an initial investigation by our engineers decided it didn’t provide the necessary scope to deliver the sort of power and torque we were looking to provide the car,” says Ray Mallock Limited engineer, Tom Snowball.

Taking its place under the bonnet is the highly distinguished twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 petrol unit from parent company Nissan’s current GT-R.

Sat on lightly modified mounts and boasting a heavily redesigned inlet manifold and intercooler unit packaged to suit the tighter engine bay dimensions of the Q50, the aluminium and magnesium engine has been tuned with bespoke mapping to endow the Eau Rouge with stout 552bhp and 442lb ft of torque.

The heady reserves are currently sent to all four wheels via a modified version of Infiniti’s six-speed automatic gearbox – if only for lack of any suitable alternative.

Earlier plans to provide the new car with the GT-R’s faster shifting six-speed dual clutch transaxle were ditched due to packaging concerns. Infiniti was keen to ensure the Q50 Eau Rouge retained sufficient accommodation in the rear – something it says would have been heavily compromised had it gone with the dual clutch solution.

To see it cope with the wholesale lift in power and torque, Infiniti has extensively modified the four-wheel-drive system, although it is still very much in an early state of development.

Underneath the skin – a mixture of steel, aluminium and carbon fibre - is a largely unique chassis. Among the myriad changes is a 100mm increase in the width of the front and rear tracks. Combined with a 15mm lowering in ride height up front and 20mm lowering at the rear, the Q50 Eau Rouge a much more planted stance than its standard sibling.

Further changes include special lightweight components, larger anti-roll bars front and rear, firmer spring and dampers, while a set of 20-inch wheels shod with a set of sticky 225/35 profile Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres reside underneath the widened fenders, adding to the assertive appearance.

What's it like?

A handful of laps on Millbrook’s demanding hill circuit reveals the Q50 Eau Rouge is already far more than just a mere collection of ideas thrown at a concept whose primary role is to look good on a motor show stand.

Instead it transpires to be a fully functioning prototype that has been engineered to a level of maturity that makes it sufficiently advanced to be considered for production.

From the outset, it is the engine that steals the show. Serving up 224bhp and 173lb ft more than the standard Q50 S’s turbocharged 3.7-litre V6, the returned GT-R powerplant endows the Q50 Eau Rouge with truly serious pace – the sort that should see the production version closely challenge rivals a straight line tussle. 

Infiniti’s in-house performance targets pitch the Q50 Eau Rogue well into the sharp end of the performance saloon ranks, with a 0-62mph time of “less than 4.0 seconds” and a top speed “pegged at 180mph”.  

With a four-wheel-drive system providing impressive levels of traction off the line, it launches with great bravado and delivers huge on-boost in-gear shove on a planted throttle.

With a kerb weight of 1825kg, the one and only prototype in existence right now is still above Infiniti’s target weight of 1800kg, partly due to it retaining a steel roof and glass sun-roof – which are planned to be replaced on the production version by a carbonfibre structure.

It is not quite as quick nor anywhere near as aggressive in character as the GT-R, but that’s not Infiniti’s aim. What it is seeking is a more refined driving experience in line with a more mature customer base.  

Inevitably, though, there are areas that require further fettling before you could describe it has being fully fit for the showroom.

Throttle response is tardy at the lower end of the rev range. Given the level of turbocharger boost pressure this is no real surprise.

Although Infiniti argues it is more to do with the fact that it has been forced to reduce the torque loading of the engine to suit the gearbox, which is limited to no more than 442lb. “We’re looking at alternative gearboxes that can handle more torque,” says Snowball, suggesting Infiniti’s close engineering ties with Mercedes-Benz may provide an answer.

If the Q50 Eau Rouge’s ability to tolerate being flung around Millbrook’s most demanding piece of bitumen at high speed without surrendering its authority is any guide, the chassis tuning of what is shaping up as its future performance flagship is already heading in the right direction.

The steering, which has reverted back to an electro-mechanical system after initially sporting the fully electric arrangement used on the Q50 Hybrid, is encouragingly direct, conspicuously quick and nicely weighted. There are enthusiastic turn-in traits and with quite a bit of initial front-end bite it manages to carry an impressive amount of speed up to the apex.

Infiniti has tuned the Q50 Eau Rouge’s four-wheel-drive system to provide a nominal 50:50 drive split front to rear in a move aimed at achieving neutral handling characteristics. In high-speed corners it is very impressive.

Taut damping and anti roll bars measuring 32mm up front and 20mm at the rear helps provides great body control, and there is plenty of purchase from those sticky Pirellis once you’re committed.

In tight corners, though, and the sheer potency of the drive forces being deployed by the front wheels eventually overcomes the purchase delivered by its grippy tyres on a loaded throttle, leading to a touch of understeer and the intervention of stability control when you push hard at the exit. Still, given the customer base Infiniti intends to pitch the car to, it is probably the right way to go.

Development work is already underway to determine whether the car may benefit from a slightly more rearward bias of drive, or perhaps more advanced mapping to speed up the apportioning of drive between the front and rear axles as grip levels vary, although a final decision is yet to be made.

Ray Mallock Limited is yet to fully sort the finer points of the springing and bushing, although an earlier test session by Sebastian Vettel was aimed at providing feedback on the overall set-up.

The Q50 Eau Rouge prototype didn’t much like low frequency bumps and the front end is particularly sensitive to changing surfaces, but these should be ironed or at least minimised out by the time it reaches production.  

Should I buy one?

It is still early days for the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge, but its potential is already clear. As an engineering mule, it is very a temping proposition.

The mission now is to further refine its driveline, sharpen its responses and cut its weight in an attempt to raise its already heady performance in anticipation of it heading into production. 

If and when it does receive a definitive green light from Infiniti decision makers – which is something that is appearing more and more likely by the day – it is going to take at least another 14 months before we’re likely to see it head into showrooms, according to those presently involved in its development.

The vital ingredients of what promises to be a quite a special performance car are pretty much all in place. Now all it needs is someone with daring to make it happen. Over to you Infiniti.

Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge prototype

Price NA; 0-62mph under 4.0sec; Top Speed 180mph; Economy NA; CO2 NA; Kerb weight 1825kg; Engine 3799cc, V6, twin-turbocharged petrol; Power 552bhp; Torque 442lb ft; Gearbox 6-speed automatic

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Comments
5

21 July 2014
After Ordi and Rennorlt it should be interesting hearing how Britain's traditionally monoglot motoring enthusiasts decide how to mangle the pronunciation of this one.

21 July 2014
Interior from a Micra. All the carbon fibre and poke in the world can't hide what is essentially underneath a boring, cheap non 'R' G35 Nissan Skyline that's showing its considerable age.

22 July 2014
@ Alex F512..... This Q50 is barely a year into production, considerable age, all 13 months of it. Go away Muppet

22 July 2014
This car is also a 'Skyline', it's origins remain deeply rooted and clear in that series of car, despite a new model number. The interior is essentially the same shape and design, slightly warmed over. Everything from main binnacle to central column is instantly recognisable, and it's cheap and nasty when you get inside (if you've ever been in one?). Just because something is designated a 'new' model, doesn't mean it's all that new. If you want a GTR, get a GTR, not this thing.

23 July 2014
It is marketed as a skyline in Japan....and always has been due to the intricacies of this specific market.

"Everything from main binnacle to central column is instantly recognisable" What like Mercedes and BMW designs over decades. Go and sit in 1985 E28 BMW 5 series and then sit yourself in a E39 5 Series. The instrument binnacles are almost identical despite the 10 years that separate them. try the same in Mercedes offerings of the same era.....so what is your point?

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