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Infiniti's Q50 designed to court Gen X

| Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

For Infiniti, Q isn't just the 17th letter in the alphabet. It's a new direction for Nissan's Hong Kong-based subsidiary. It was selected not because Q connotes anything significant, but because it is one of the only letters that hasn't been claimed and commodified by a competitor.

For the foreseeable future, all Infiniti models will start with Q, including the first Q out of the gate: the 2014 Q50 midsize sport sedan, which went on sale in August with a starting price of $37,605, including destination and handling.

A more luxury-, performance- and technology-oriented version of Infiniti's best-selling G37, the Q50 is available in an astounding 10 versions. It can be had as rear- or all-wheel-drive and with an option of two powertrains — a perky 3.7-liter V-6 or an even perkier hybrid. The latter pairs a 3.5-liter V-6 with a 50-kilowatt electric motor to significantly improve the base model's combined fuel economy rating from 23 mpg to 31 mpg.

My test car was a quick sport model equipped with well-functioning paddle shifters for its otherwise automatically operated seven gears, and Infiniti's new Direct Adaptive Steering feature. The electronic system uses a sensor to read the angle of the steering wheel and quicken the tires' response for sportier handling. It also enables drivers to select from three steering settings — standard, soft or heavy — depending on personal preference and a predilection to flog or merely cruise.

Some of the most compelling features in the Q50 relate to safety, including a world-first technology called a predictive forward collision warning that bounces a radar signal under the car in front of it to “see” what's normally obscured for the driver two cars ahead, at which point it beeps to alert the driver to take action.

Like most of the evolved technologies in the Q50, the forward collision warning is easily turned off using a double-deck of screens — an 8-incher that works as a display, and a 7-inch touch screen below it that operates the functions with intuitively organized, swipe-able menus.

Despite its billing and true functionality as a luxury sport sedan, the Q50 is really a technologist's car, and not only with its behind-the-scenes handling and safety features. Its Infiniti Connection system features Facebook as an integrated app and allows news feeds to be read to drivers and “liked” while driving with the push of a button. Drivers can update their status or comment on posts when the car is parked.

Infiniti's connectivity focus is location-based and social. Working hand in hand with the car's navigation feature, “geofencing” lets owners set geographic parameters for their vehicles that, if violated by a babysitter or teen, automatically sends a text alert from car to owner, a la Big Brother.

With Q, Infiniti is the rare auto maker to make a car that specifically targets Gen X, and a nontraditional definition of luxury that enables personal expression, creativity and comfort.

Susan Carpenter writes for The Orange County Register.

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