The 2014 Infiniti Q50S is a premium luxury sedan that combines eye-catching styling and sophistication with electronics that point the way toward autonomous cars.
There’s a not-so-old joke in flying that goes like this:
Q: What’s the ideal cockpit crew for a bizjet?
A: A co-pilot and a dog. The co-pilot’s job is to watch the instruments. The dog’s job is to bite the co-pilot if he touches anything.
Driving seems to be headed the same way, at least if the car is an Infiniti Q50S 3.7; its Deluxe Touring and Technology packages—$3,100 and $3,200, respectively—can make the driver almost as much a babysitter as that co-pilot. No dog needed, though.
Initially, I thought the Direct Adaptive Steering was the most out-there option on board. It’s true steer-by-wire, with no mechanical connection between the wheel and the wheels. Instead, sensors measure speed and steering input and then servomotors direct the car accordingly. Because it’s electronic, the steering is variable from normal to stiff to spasmodic. But in fact almost everything on a well-dressed ($53,530) Q50S is electronic, adaptable or adjustable, through two touch screens. Which tempted me down the path to . . . well, first things first:
Right away I found the Intelligent Cruise Control, which let me crawl the stop-and-go traffic out of Denver on I-25 without touching the brake ever and the throttle only occasionally, to restart from a dead stop. (The interval to the vehicle ahead is adjustable too, although even the smallest gap won’t keep lane-jumpers out.) Without having to pay full attention, I could fiddle with more buttons, such as Drive Mode, which offers Eco, Standard, Sport or Personal steering, engine and transmission settings.
Next, out on the prairie and rocketing westward across the wide open spaces on I-80, I discovered a computer menu with just four lines on it: Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Active Lane Control and Active Lane Control Setting. In the spirit of investigative journalism, I switched the first three to ON and the last one to HIGH, then set the speed to . . . OK, let me just say that the legal limit there is 75 or 80 miles per hour and this adaptive cruise control tops out at 90.
I’d already entered our destination in Jackson Hole into the satnav. And then the car took over.
For miles at a stretch, I could relax in my form-fitting leather throne and look for antelope, tune the satellite radio or just chill. Much of the time my hands were in my lap, with one thumb resting on the bottom rim of the steering wheel. The sky was blue, the road was clean, dry and mostly straight, and the car kept itself between the lines and away from other vehicles with astonishing competence. When it needed help—if a bend was a bit tight, or the lane markings faded—a chime summoned me back to the helm. If traffic built up, I changed lanes manually. (Even crossing underpopulated Wyoming there are blockheads who won’t move over.)
As in any premium car, the Q50S’s cockpit and especially its capabilities require some familiarization. Note the two screens on the console, for input and for information; the smaller screen between the tach and speedometer shows the driver which electronic systems are in use, as well as range, heading and turn-by-turn directions.
After so much buzz about autonomous vehicles, the reality of a self-guided car, at least under such perfect conditions, turned out to be as big a wonderment as driving an electric car for the first time and truly understanding (duh!) that visits to the gas station could just end. It took about an hour to learn to trust the robo-pilot; after that, it was the next best thing to having a co-driver. Finally, from Rock Springs to Jackson, where the road gets curvy and interesting again, I clicked it off and happily went back to flying solo.
The front, rear and side guardians that make this possible can operate independently, so while no one should try to use auto-steering in, say, Yellowstone Park, the fast-reacting front and rear anti-collision systems help protect the Q50S from buffalo that amble along the roads as if they owned the place, and also from the RVs that stop suddenly to admire them. Not that I was distracted myself, of course.
Through plain luck, we’d found the ideal car for this sort of 500-mile day. Electronic assistance aside, the 328HP, seven-speed Q50S 3.7 is quiet, luxuriously comfortable and responsive, and our fuel efficiency—droning across the prairie, slaloming through the mountains, dawdling in the park—averaged 27-plus MPG. I love driving a fine car, but there are times when I appreciate a little help.
Image Source: Infiniti