Dan says: I don’t know about you, but I like an underdog. With the exception of professional hockey, where I support a certain team fervently, I seem to always cheer for the dark horse in sports where I don’t really belong to any single fanbase. I liked Cleveland in last year’s NBA finals. Wanted more than anything for New England to bow in the Super Bowl two years ago. Get me to a horse race, and I would likely never win a bet.
So it’s with that in mind that I consider the two cars you see here. Both Japanese sedans, both all-wheel drive, both of the luxury bent and both powered by V6 engines but oh-so-separate when it comes to their place on the automotive landscape. The IS series is Lexus’ second-biggest seller after the sales behemoth that is the RX, while the Q50 continues to struggle in gaining the sales traction set by its G35/G37 predecessors.
But hold on a second! Small as its sales figures are, the Q50 is second in line at Infiniti after (big surprise) the QX60 crossover when it comes to sales, even though the IS outsells it by an almost 3:1 margin. The real question, then, is can the addition of the hi-po Red Line model (Infiniti’s answer to Cadillac’s Vsport range, BMW’s M Sport range and, of course, Lexus’ F Sport range) convert Lexus diehards, who have being buying F Sport models for years?
Brendan says: After several years on the market, I think we can safely say that the Lexus spindle grille is beginning to look a little less crazy. No. Sorry. I mean the exact opposite of that.
What an angular bunch of lunacy we’ve got here, a fractal mass of triangles and lines that look like the car was shattered, then glued back together. Next to the Q50, the Lexus looks like a mesh rendering of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Well, if your reason to buy one of these machines over a BMW 3 Series is to stand out a little, there you go. I like the wheels though.
By contrast, the Q50 is a much smoother, curvier presence. It’s not exactly feminine, either, just more of a polished, cohesive shape. The little squiggle at the back of the greenhouse is a little too self-conscious, proclaiming, “We’re not BMW, and this isn’t a Hofmeister kink, no sir.”
Other than that, the Infiniti fades into the background on this rainy day, and the Lexus stands out. A luxury sedan is supposed to have presence, true, but I’d rather have a machine that wasn’t so shouty about its intent. The Infiniti speaks softly, but it carries a big stick – more on that in a bit.
Interior and comfort
Dan says: Big differences here. The IS is a much snugger fit overall, especially for drivers and rear passengers. For some, this is the right idea; a performance-lite sedan like this should have you feeling ensconced in its environs, and the IS 350 is most definitely that from the perspective of the driver. You sit cocooned in the high-quality leather seat, with the wheel falling nicely into your hands and the rest of the interior controls not much more than half a reach away.
I have to say, though, that the Q50’s cockpit feels the more upscale of the two. From the magnesium and leather boomerang-shaped paddle shifters, to the subtle blue halos around the turbine effect gauges, to how it all feels fastened together tight like a drum, it’s a great place to be. While the Lexus’ seats are a little plusher, certain aspects let it down: the sometimes cheap-feeling buttons, for example (especially those that complement the infotainment system’s main controller), or the heavy dose of plastic on the centre stack. It’s not quite on the same level as the Q50.
The Infiniti is also roomier inside and that’s especially felt by the rear seat passengers, who have an additional 74 mm of legroom and 95 mm of shoulder room, while both cars are pretty much bang-on in the rear headroom department.