2014 Infiniti Q50S Second Drive
First With Drive-By-Wire, Can Infiniti Improve It?
When you're the first to do something, you run the risk of negative comments unless what you have done is absolutely perfect. And that's what happened to Infiniti when it introduced its Direct Adaptive Steering (drive-by-wire) system on the 2014 Q50S. There has been a lot of criticism of the new system, almost all of it directed at the steering feel, or lack thereof. In response to that criticism, Infiniti made quick changes and invited us to Tennessee to sample its updated system.
Read our 2014 Infiniti Q50S First Drive here.
Read our 2014 Infiniti Q50S First Drive here.
This is the world's first production vehicle with a steer-by-wire system. So what exactly is the advantage of the DAS system over a mechanical steering system? Infiniti says a mechanical steering system has lag. Though minimal, there is a delay between your steering input and the resulting front-wheel movement. The Infiniti DAS system replaces the chain of mechanical movement with electronics, so the steering effect is more immediate, without the delay. Sounds perfect, right? Well, not quite.
The DAS system lets you tailor the steering of the Q50S to your preference. You might say, "That's not new; others have been doing that for years," which is true, but not like this. Other vehicles' steering adjustability usually consists of making the steering wheel feel heavier without changing the steering ratio, and just because the steering wheel feels harder to turn doesn't mean that you have steering feel. Some vehicles do have adaptive/adjustable ratio steering, but that's constantly changing depending on the driving situation. The Infiniti system fixes the ratio at what you've selected, so if you want relaxed, it's relaxed. If you want sport, it's sport, and it doesn't change until you select a different setting.
Infiniti's DAS system has three different modes: Casual, Normal, and Sport. The three modes adjust the steering weight and response. You can also adjust the throttle response and suspension in the same manner. Steering response is noticeably different in the three different modes: Casual is slow and light, and Normal is what you would expect and is just fine 99% of the time, but Sport actually makes you change your driving style. Turn-in is so quick in Sport that all your turn-in points are now too early, and you'll be clipping curbs (or cones) for a while before you get completely comfortable with the quicker response.
The complaints about Infiniti's initial DAS system focused on feel and that it took out all the feel people want during spirited driving. But with DAS you don't feel jarring potholes or road seams through the steering wheel. The exercises we went through demonstrated that to a T. With the current technology, I think this is a case of having to take the good with the bad. If you want to feel the "good" bumps, then you're going to have to feel the "bad" ones as well. The system as it works now takes out the good and the bad, giving no steering feel at all.
Infiniti brought four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, its director of performance, to talk about the changes, which he felt were necessary. I asked him about his initial complaints, and how he felt the new system addressed them. "Initially the car had some real issues. It was pulling to one side, the steering weight left to right was different, and it was not as direct as we were hoping for. It was feeling odd, not natural. Steering now is very direct, makes you have to steer the car very precisely where you want to go." He's absolutely correct, the steering is very direct but the changes made didn't add any feel to the system. It's very quick and you do need to be precise. Until we get the car back on our home turf for more road time, we can't determine if the fixes have resulted in substantial improvements.
Infiniti has taken a huge step with DAS. No other automaker has this kind of steering system, and with autonomous vehicles not that far away, these systems soon will be a necessity. Autonomous driving could eliminate traffic entirely. You'll set your destination, enter the freeway, and computer will take over, putting you where you need to be and exiting you when you need to exit. No more lane-jumpers or brake-checking. Autonomous driving would save millions of people thousands of hours in commuting time.
When throttle-by-wire came out there were tons of negative reviews, but over the years it has become not just accepted but common in many vehicles. Steer-by-wire is new, and there will be resistance to change and complaints about how the system works, but the only way it can get better is by getting it out to the masses. The more people Infiniti can get through the car, the more feedback it will get, and the more it can fine-tune the system.
|2014 Infiniti Q50 S|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$51,805|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.7L/328-hp/269-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3766 lb (56/44%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||189.1 x 71.8 x 56.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.8 sec @ 102.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||110 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.87 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.3 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||20/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||169/116 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.83 lb/mile|