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Comparison: 2014 Infiniti Q50S vs. Lexus IS350 F Sport

11:32PM - 08.09.'13

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Allow me to introduce the two latest contenders to the BMW 3 Series' throne. They are the all-new Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS350. In terms of this particular comparison test, we're actually talking about the Q50S and the IS350 F Sport, both heavily optioned and aimed squarely at the iconic 335i. Why the Bimmer? These two vehicles wouldn't exist if not for the success of the BMW 3 Series. Remember, for half of their history, both upstart Japanese luxury makes were perfectly content to sell tarted-up versions of lesser FWD sedans (ES350 in the case of Lexus, G20 and I30 in the case of Infiniti) instead of proper sporty four-doors. Very few enthusiasts were fooled. To combat that, Lexus rolled out the RWD IS300 in 2000, and Infiniti followed suit two years later with the G35. Both the IS and the G have been successful not only as volume sellers, but as occasional victors against the mighty Bavarian competition. But the BMW always seems to fight its way back to the top of any chart. Are either of these two brand-spanking-new Japanese sports sedans good enough to dethrone a king? One of them just might be.
The really big Infiniti news is under under the hood of the Q50S. Nope, not the engine, because that is a carryover piece of kit from the previous-generation G37 Sedan that still makes 328 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, but has been nicely refined in terms of NVH. So no, you must go deeper to discover the crazy part: There's no steering column! Well, OK, technically there is a steering column, but not when the Q50S is turned on. There's a clutch in the middle of a vestigial steering column that "energizes," or opens up, when the ignition is on. In the event of a dead battery (or whatever) the clutch is closed and the car can still be turned. But yes, friends, available as an option, the Q50S can be steer-by-wire. The first question is, why bother with a steer-by-wire system in the first place? Infiniti claims two things. One is that less NVH engineering (and weight) is required to damp down vibrations emanating from the steering column. The other is that steer-by-wire offers up an infinite number of ways to steer a car. Some of which, Infiniti claims, are better than anything you've ever experienced. Keep reading.
There isn't nearly as much big news for the Lexus. If I had to choose something to trend on Google, if would be that the new IS rides on a cut-down version of the GS platform, a car we here at Motor Trend like very much indeed. The GS F Sport managed to easily beat out the comparable Audi, BMW, and Infiniti (see "Mid-Life Medicine," June 2012) in our comparison test. The winning GS was not only the lightest car in that group (535i, A6, and M37) but it was without question the most fun to drive. As you might expect, an even smaller version of the GS F Sport feels quite nimble and tossable. In terms of the new IS350, the F Sport package consists of adaptive and variable suspension via electric dampers, variable rate steering, larger and higher performance brake pads and calipers, and larger 18-inch wheels with wider summer tires (225/40/18 front, 255/35/18 rear). Also of note is a new eight-speed automatic transmission for RWD IS350s -- the IS250s retain the six-speed auto, as do the IS350 AWD cars -- both regular strength and F Sport. The engine however (3.5-liter V-6, 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque) is totally carryover, and I think that's a mistake. The same is true for the Q50S, and I think it's an equally large mistake for Infiniti. Remember, this a massively competitive segment. Why launch an "all-new car" with a warmed-over engine? Especially since the German competition seems to add 10 horsepower every time white asparagus is in season.

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