Infiniti increases gas mileage, lowers price on Q50 premium sedan
As recently as five years ago, if you were buying a premium car you were almost certainly getting a six-cylinder engine. But pressures to improve gas mileage, along with improvements in turbocharger technology, have made turbo four-cylinders the norm even among luxury marques.
Infiniti, the premium brand of Nissan, was a late adopter. Its Q50 sedan, which replaced the G37 for 2014 as Infiniti’s entry-level car – came only with a V6. But for 2016, Nissan leveraged a partnership with Mercedes-Benz that brought a Mercedes turbo into the Q50 line: a 2.0-liter with 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
So equipped, Infiniti was able to boost the Q50’s gas mileage by up to 4 miles per gallon in EPA testing, to 26 mpg in mixed driving with rear-wheel-drive and 24 mpg with the optional all-wheel-drive. What’s more, during a weeklong test, the all-wheel-drive Q50 exceeded even its highway rating of 28 mpg, averaging nearly 31 mpg.
Another key advantage to the four-cylinder was a price drop. The Q50 now starts at $34,855, more than $3,000 less than the 2015 model. The engine and its seven-speed automatic transmission work splendidly together to deliver smooth, lively acceleration. If you still choose a six-cylinder engine, it’s now a 3.0-liter turbo with 300 or 400 horsepower, depending on the model; there’s also a V6 gas-electric hybrid model.
The Q50 also boasts a composed ride quality – firm but controlled – and respectable interior space and rear visibility for its class. Most interior finishes are respectable, and the car is quiet.
However, there are some drawbacks. The steering is unpleasantly heavy at low speeds and never terribly responsive and precise, reducing its driving enjoyment compared to a BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS or even Acura TLX. And some cheap bits in the interior affect the ambiance, and even at its best, the Q50 isn’t as outright lavish as a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Consider it as a relatively affordable, relatively spacious premium car if you aren’t seeking a sports-car driving experience or truly decadent luxury.
Subaru offers high ground clearance in small package
Nearly every Subaru comes standard with all-wheel-drive, giving these cars an edge for maintaining traction in rain, snow or mud. But amid the explosion of the crossover market, the Legacy midsize car and Impreza compact have often been overlooked even by buyers who favor those traits.
For the last two decades, Subaru has sold a taller version of the Legacy wagon as the Outback – bringing the ground clearance and extra stylistic flair of an SUV to the useful body style of a station wagon. But until recently, the automaker didn’t have much success with a comparable version of the Impreza, which had been called the Outback Sport.
Now wearing the Crosstrek badge, this lifted version of the Impreza five-door hatchback is at last resonating with customers who want to ride high without taking on the bulk of a bigger model like a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, or Subaru’s own Forester.
Like the regular Impreza, the Crosstrek has spacious, comfortable seating for four passengers (plus a fifth in a pinch). Another notable Crosstrek strong point is a smooth ride, which shrugs off big bumps with an aplomb that inspires confidence in the car’s sturdy construction. It also has excellent safety ratings and widely available advanced features such as automatic emergency braking.
Compared to the regular Impreza, though, the Crosstrek’s extra three inches of ground clearance take their toll on handling. The steering feels slow and disconnected, with lethargic responses for such a small vehicle. Meanwhile, gas mileage falls by two miles per gallon to an EPA-estimated 29 mpg; acceleration also loses some pep, and an overly-sensitive gas pedal is annoying in gentle conditions.
If the Crosstrek’s list of flaws sounds daunting, keep in mind that there’s no ideal car in the subcompact crossover class, which also includes such models as the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul and Jeep Renegade. Each available model demands some sacrifice or other – worse gas mileage, a less comfortable ride, less interior space, a lower ride height, a higher price, inferior safety ratings, a lack of all-wheel-drive, or more than one of the above. If having some extra ground clearance in a diminutive package is important, this Subaru should be on your list.
But you should also consider the ordinary Impreza, which offers many of the same benefits – and more – for about $2,800 less, a base price of $19,090. Note too that a fully redesigned Impreza sedan and five-door are about to hit the market with a more modern interior and other upgrades, whereas the Crosstrek will remain based on the old model for another year or so.