Subaru WRX VS Infiniti Q50
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
- Powerful V6 engine
- Good value
- Macho looks
- Struggles to maintain traction at times
- Confusing dual screens
- Cabin design feels busy
For many folks around my age, the Subaru WRX holds a special place in the heart.
This is because those of us born from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s are the so-called “PlayStation generation.” Growing up at a time where videogames bridged the gap from 2D to 3D leads to a lot of imprinted memories, a lot of digital firsts, which wowed and inspired, and a lot of rapid-fire nostalgia as hardware advancements left once-thriving game franchises in the dust.
It was also high time for the World Rally Championship's well-regarded Group A rally category, which forced manufacturers to make cars much closer to their production counterparts. It was frequently dominated by none other than the Subaru WRX.
Combine these two worlds and you end up with a lot of kids feeling like they could do anything in Subaru’s newfound performance hero from the comfort of their bedrooms, many of whom would go on to buy a second-hand one to slap P plates on as soon as they could.
Read more about the WRX
It was a perfect storm and made the WRX the right car at the right time to put a previously small-time brand well and truly on the performance map.
The question with this test is: Should those kids, now in their late 20s or 30s, still be considering Subaru’s halo car? Or, now that it’s the oldest product in Subaru’s catalogue, should they wait for the imminent reveal of the new one? Read on to find out.
|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|
Although it's now the oldest car in Subaru’s catalogue, there’s nothing really quite like the WRX on the market. This is a car which is true to its roots, a rugged performance stalwart that comes with dollops of fun and compromise in equal measure.
Thanks to Subaru’s updates over the years, it’s fared better than some when it comes to technology and safety, but I’d still implore you to pick the manual to truly experience this car as nature intended.
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.
I think Subaru was gunning for subtlety with the non-STi WRX. For a performance car, the design is a little sedate, with the WRX looking perhaps a little conservative to really stand apart from its Impreza sedan sibling, despite diverging from it some years ago.
There’s no mistaking the rally profile of the full-fat STi, with its huge wing and even bigger wheels, but here in the WRX premium it’s all a little toned down. Still, fans will love the absurd bonnet scoop, angry-looking alloys and quad exhaust. It’s stanced out a little by some flared bodywork, but the tiny lip spoiler at the back robs it of a bit of street cred. Perhaps it's to encourage you into the significantly more expensive STi…
Despite its relative age, though, the WRX still fits into Subaru’s lineup nicely. It has all the hallmarks; the small grille, the angled LED headlights, and the signature tall profile. The chunkiness is all there, too, both on the outside, with its flared bodywork and exaggerated scoop, and on the inside, with thick leather clad seat trim, and a chunky, satisfying steering wheel.
The abundance of red lighting in the dash cluster is reminiscent of the heyday of Japanese performance cars of years past, and while it’s not as plush on the inside as Subaru’s newer products, it’s not disappointing either, with nice use of soft trims.
The plethora of screens feels unnecessary, and the 7.0-inch multimedia unit is feeling very small now, compared to most more recent cars. At least the software has been updated since 2018 to have the more recent system used in the Impreza, Forester, and Outback. It’s simple and easy to use.
Compared to those Subarus, though, the WRX’s interior is feeling a little tired. It’s a bit small, and things like the CD drive and nastier plastic trims smattered around remind of days past for Subaru. It's a good thing the new WRX is coming soon.
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.
Compared to the more forward-thinking designs in Subaru Global Platfrom vehicles, the WRX is feeling a little claustrophobic on the inside. Still, you could do much worse in a performance car.
Front passengers get nicely trimmed bucket-style seats with good side bolstering. Like a lot of Subarus, the seating position isn’t exactly sporty. You sit quite high, and for someone my 182cm height, it feels as though you’re peering down over the bonnet a little. Aside from that, height adjustability is pretty good from the electric seat, and there is a small bottle holder in the door, plus dual cupholders in the centre, a small centre-console box, and a small tray under the climate unit.
Overall, the dark trims in here conspire to make the WRX’s cabin feel a bit tight. This continues for rear passengers. The WRX really is a small sedan and room isn’t great for me behind my own driving position, with my knees touching the front seat. I have to duck a little to get under the sedan’s roofline to get in, and while the decent trim continues, the seat feels a little high and flat.
Rear passengers get pockets on the backs of the front seats, a drop-down armrest with two cupholders, and a decent bottle holder in the doors. There are no adjustable rear air vents or power outlets, however.
Being a sedan, the WRX has a rather deep boot, coming in at 450-litres (VDA). This rivals some mid-size SUVs, but it’s worth noting the space isn’t quite as usable, with a small loading aperture, and it’s a little tight when it comes to the available height. Still, it consumed our largest 124-litre CarsGuide suitcase with ample space to spare.
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
The WRX Premium auto tested for this review is a sort of mid-spec variant. Wearing an MSRP of $50,590, it sits above the standard WRX auto ($43,990), but below the more hard-core WRX STi ($52,940 – manual only).
When you look for rivals, it’s a harsh reminder of the distinct lack of small performance sedans in today’s market. You might consider Subaru’s hero against the front-drive Golf GTi (Auto -$47,190), Skoda Octavia RS (Sedan auto - $51,490), and Hyundai i30 N Performance (manual only - $42,910). There’s a more direct rival coming soon in the form of the i30 N Performance sedan, which will also be available with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, so look out for that in the near future, too.
While it's now the oldest Subaru on sale by quite a margin, the WRX has been augmented in recent times to offer more up-to-date features.
Standard are mean-looking 18-inch alloys clad in skinny Dunlop Sport rubber, full LED lighting, Subaru’s typical assault of screens, including a smallish looking 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (mercifully with updated software since I last drove this car), a 3.5-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster, and a 5.9-inch dash-top-mounted display screen, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a CD player (how quaint), leather-accented interior trim, eight-way adjustable power seat for the driver, heated seats for front passengers, dual-zone climate control, and privacy tint for the rear windows.
The continuously variable automatic makes up the majority of WRX sales, so I’m told, which is particularly disappointing to hear. Especially given it’s a $3200 jump over the manual, and tarnishes the drive experience. More on this in the Driving section.
The WRX also comes with a safety suite that is impressive for a car of its vintage, which we’ll look at in the Safety section. Getting on it may be, but the WRX is surprising in how well it holds its own on the value front.
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
The WRX’s engine is a tuned-up version of Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. In this case it’s a 2.0-litre turbo unit (FA20) producing 197kW/350Nm, ample for a little sedan like this.
Disappointingly for me, our particular WRX premium was an automatic, and it’s not a great one. While most performance cars will drop in a lightning fast dual-clutch, or at least have the decency to offer a classic torque converter with clearly defined ratios, Subaru falls back on its rubbery continuously variable automatic, as derided in the rest of its mainstream range by enthusiasts.
We’ll explore this more in the Driving section of this review. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but it still doesn’t belong in a car like this.
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.
Fuel consumption is likely to be at the bottom of your list of concerns when it comes to a small performance sedan, but on the official/combined testing cycle, this car will consume a claimed 8.6L/100km of mid-shelf 95RON unleaded.
Over our week of mostly urban testing, our car produced an unsurprising 11.2L/100km, which is actually under the official urban number of 11.8L/100km. Not bad for a performance car, really.
The WRX has a relatively large fuel tank for its size at 60-litres.
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.
It truly pains me that this car is an automatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with an automatic performance car. Dual-clutch iterations of cars like the Golf R are great, but the WRX automatic is a CVT.
This transmission isn’t great in the brand’s regular range, let alone in a performance application, where snappy response and a predictable, linear riding out of the rev-range are really necessary to extract maximum enjoyment.
I was surprised to find the CVT isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps through sheer torque, the WRX does hammer into its 2400rpm peak torque band rather quickly, for an immediately impressive 0-100km/h sprint of around six seconds, but it’s beyond this point where you’ll start to get dull, rubbery, and occasionally hesitant response from the accelerator. Not particularly appealing attributes when you’re carving up a few corners.
Handling-wise, the WRX is excellent with its robust all-wheel-drive system and firm-to-a-fault suspension. This makes it a true joy to fling around bends, with equally firm and rewarding steering giving you a truly organic and controlled handle on what’s going on at the wheels.
Subaru’s boxer engine gives the WRX a signature gruff sound under acceleration, with some turbo noise to boot, but with this particular transmission you won’t be getting the satisfying turbo blips you can extract with a swift kick of a clutch pedal in the manual.
Driving it around town every day is a little rough, with a brittle and busy ride, while the heavy steering will get on your nerves when you’re just trying to park the thing.
The firm ride, large wheels, and slim tyres makes the cabin noisy at all speeds, and occasionally sends shockwaves through the front of the car if you’re unfortunate enough to hit a pothole. It’s hardly the most pleasant companion to have on a freeway.
Honestly, if you’re after an automatic performance car, there are better options out there both in terms of response and everyday comfort, although none are quite like a WRX. I’d implore you to pick the manual if you can, it’s a better, more engaging experience in every way.
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.
In good news for the WRX, Subaru’s signature EyeSight suite is mostly present here, albeit a slightly older version than the one that appears in its newer products. Regardless, key active items include auto emergency braking (works to 85km/h with brake-light recognition), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
It misses out on reverse auto braking from more modern Subarus but features active torque vectoring to add to the standard suite of electronic aids like traction, brake, and stability controls.
The WRX has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, although it dates way back to 2014, well before active safety items were even considered.
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.
Annoyingly, the WRX requires six-monthly or 12,500km service intervals, a hold-over from Subarus past. It’s not cheap, either, with each six-monthly visit costing between $319.54 and $819.43 (ouch) for the first 10 visits covering five years of ownership. It averages out to $916.81 per year for the first five years. These are numbers which rival some premium European options.