Lexus IS VS Infiniti Q50
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Powerful V6 engine
- Good value
- Macho looks
- Struggles to maintain traction at times
- Confusing dual screens
- Cabin design feels busy
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Infiniti Q50 Red Sport sedan really wants you to love it, and this latest version is doing its best to impress the heck out of you with its looks and features.
Oh, and don't forget that we when first met the Q50 Red Sport last year we didn't exactly get off on the right foot. The engine's formidable grunt seemed too much for the car to handle. Then there was the jiggly ride, and the steering wasn't great either unless you were in Sport + mode. It's all coming back now...
Perhaps the Q50 Red Sport had changed. This is the new one, and Infiniti had assured us it's a different car now.
Do we give it another chance? Of course, and we do, in a quick 48-hour test. So, has it changed? Is it better? Would we live with it forever?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
The Q50 Red Sport is a premium sedan that's great value, with a cracker of an engine. While Infiniti has improved the ride and steering, it still feels to me that the engine is too powerful for the wheels and chassis to handle. But if you're looking for something of an untamed beast, this car could be for you. Just don't say we didn't warn you.
Would you pick a Q50 Red Sport over a Euro sports sedan? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
The Q50 Red Sport looks cranky from front on, which I like in a car. Yes, the grille is simplistic and gaping, the nose is a bit bulbous, and sure, side on the car looks like a Lexus IS 350, but those rear haunches and the aggro body kit with its front splitter and boot lid spoiler make for an impressive looking four-door sedan.
The update brought restyled front and rear bumpers, those red brake calipers and the dark chrome 20-inch rims and new LED tail-lights.
Inside, the cabin is an asymmetrical paradise (or hell, if you're a bit OCD like me) full of sweeping lines, angles, as well as different textures and materials.
The red stitched quilted leather seats are an addition that came with the update, so is the new steering wheel and the ambient lighting.
The 'Sunstone Red' colour of our test car is also a new hue which looks a bit like Mazda's Soul Red. If red is not you, there are other colours – hope you like blue or white or black or grey because there's 'Iridium Blue', 'Midnight Black', 'Liquid Platinum', 'Graphite Shadow', 'Black Obsidian', 'Majestic White' and 'Pure White'.
The Q50 has similar dimensions to the IS 350: both are 1430mm tall, the Infiniti is 10mm wider at 1820mm, 120mm longer at 4800mm, and has a wheelbase that's 50mm longer at 2850mm.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
The Q50 Red Sport is a five-seat four-door sedan and is vastly more practical than its two-door Q60 Red Sport sister, in that I can actually sit in the back seat. The Q60's coupe styling looks amazing, but the sloping roofline means headroom is so severely limited that it reduces the rear seats to a place to throw your jacket.
True, I'm tall at 191cm, but in the Q50 Red Sport I can sit behind my driving position with legroom to spare and more than enough headroom.
Boot space is good at 500 litres, which is 20 litres more than the luggage capacity of the IS 350.
Storage throughout the cabin is good with two cup holders in the rear centre fold-down armrest, two more up front and bottle holders in all doors. A large centre console storage bin and another big storage area in front of the shifter are great for keeping junk under control and your valuables covered.
Price and features
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
Maybe sit down for this next bit. The Q50 Red Sport lists for $79,900. Are you okay? Do you want a moment? Remember, though that only seems like a lot because it's not a Benz or a BMW. Truth is the value is pretty good – better than a German car of the equivalent size and grunt.
Look at the standard features list: 8.0-inch and 7.0-inch stacked touchscreens, the 16-speaker Bose 'Performance Series' stereo system, digital radio, road noise cancellation, sat nav, 360-degree camera, leather seats, power adjustable from sports seats, dual-zone climate control, proximity key, sunroof, auto wipers and adaptive LED headlights.
The 2017 update brought new standard features to the Red Sport including, red stitching on the seats and dash, quilted leather seats, new 19-inch alloy wheels and red brake calipers.
Don't forget that the bang-for-buck factor is strong with the Red Sport, too. In that nose is a twin-turbo V6 that makes almost as much grunt as the BMW M3 for about $100K less. Even the 340i, which Infiniti says is a Red Sport rival, is $10K more. Truth is though, the Lexus IS 350 is the real rival to the Q50 Red Sport.
Engine & trans
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
Inside the Q50 Red Sport's nose is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine and it is a beautiful thing. To me this car is piece of technologically sophisticated jewellery that cradles a precious gem that pumps out 298kW/475Nm.
But I have my concerns... you can read about those in the driving section.
The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
Infiniti says the V6 petrol engine in the Q50 Red Sport should use 9.3L/100km if you're using it on a mix of highways, urban streets and country roads. We only had the Q60 Red Sport for 48 hours and after a couple of days of Sydney city commutes and a trip to the Royal National Park our trip computer was reporting 11.1L/100km.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
Perhaps the biggest complaint we had about the previous Q50 Red Sport, which launched in 2016, was that it felt as though the chassis wasn't up to the amount of grunt running through it, and those rear wheels struggled to transfer the oomph to the road without losing traction.
We experienced the same issue again in this new car. I was breaking traction, not just in 'Sport+' and 'Sport' modes, but in 'Standard' and 'Eco', too. That was happening without pushing it hard and with all electronic traction and stability aids on.
If I was 18 I'd declare to the world I'd found my dream car - something that always wants to 'light 'em up' given half a chance. But like that one mate who always gets into trouble on a night out it's only funny when you're young.
A truly great performance car is planted, balanced and able to deliver the grunt to the road effectively. The Nissan R35 GT-R is the perfect example – a brilliant piece of machinery, a weapon of a performance car and with a chassis matched perfectly to its engine.
And that could be the issue with Q50 Red Sport - that engine feels overpowered for the chassis, and wheel and tyre package.
We also felt the previous Q50 Red Sport's ride, with its constantly adapting 'Dynamic Digital Suspension', was overly busy. Infiniti says it has developed the suspension system further and it does feel as though the ride is more comfortable and composed.
Steering was another area that we weren't overly impressed with when we drove the previous car. Infiniti's 'Direct Adaptive Steering' (DAS) system is super sophisticated and was the first in the world not to have any mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels – it's all electronic.
The new Q50 Red Sport uses the upgraded 'DAS 2' and while it feels better than before, it's only in Sport+ mode that it seems most natural and accurate.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
The Q50 was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2014 and the amount of advanced safety equipment which comes standard on the Red Sport is impressive. There's AEB, that works forwards and when you're reversing, forward collision and blind spot warning, lane keeping assistance and moving object detection.
There are two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor points in the back row, for child seats.
The Q60 Red Sport doesn't come with a spare tyre because the 245/40 R19 tyres are run flats, which means even after a puncture you should be able to keep driving for about 80km. Not ideal in Australia where distances are seriously vast.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.