Month two sends the relationship into murky waters as the connection fails

– LC

IF IT’S GOOD enough for planes, it’s good enough for cars. This must have been Infiniti’s thoughts when it rubberstamped Direct Adaptive Steering, the world’s first fly-by-wire system for a road car. After spending 10 years developing the tech, Infiniti spruiks it removes “unwanted” vibrations, ultimately quickens response times, and allows a wider scope of “feel” and weight. But are you suspicious a steering rack without a mechanical link might have a worse connection than a Vodafone cell network? We are too. Throttle pedals have never been the same since they went down the digital path. So when Infiniti says it improved the system for 2018 with more “feel and feedback” like a conventional steering system, we chose to investigate the claim on the Reefton Spur, a delicious piece of tarmac that connects the eastern Victorian towns of Warburton and Marysville. Viewed on a map, it looks like the tracings of a seismograph. A bunch of left and right turns rarely punctuated by a straight. The perfect car for a run at the Spur is something with agility, grip, feedback, and most of all, great steering. That’s because the road often hosts motorcyclists and there’s always a chance you might need to swerve at short notice. Low on fuel and with that 3.0- litre twin-turbo V6 able to chug juice faster than an Irish football team at a brewery, we tackled the pass in the Q50’s ‘personalised’ driving mode, which allows you to individually adjust the car’s powertrain, steering, adaptive dampers and autonomous tech. For our purposes, we wound back the powertrain’s response, jacked up the damping, and delved into the myriad steering combinations available only to discover that, in complete overkill, the steering’s sub-menu offers three modes for both the system’s weighting and rack speed. Things start off not-good in its Comfort weight setting, which frustratingly can only be partnered with a Comfort speed. It’s way too slow; so much so that if you come up on a decreasing-radius bend too quickly, the sudden input of so much lock can spook the car into roll oversteer. Even if less pitch doesn’t load the front axle as much, and robs the car of initial turn-in, the suspension’s sportier mode does a good job in dissolving body float and reveals a trustier balance of grip. Response improves slightly just off-centre in Sport and Sport Plus modes, but ultimately the steering actuator does a subpar job at simulating real feedback, failing to give you any idea of how much bite there is across the front axle. It doesn’t help, either, that the Dunlop Sportmaxx CTT run-flat tyres, at extremely low cornering speeds, squeal louder than pigs watching an abattoir documentary. You spend most of the time managing their purchase. What follows is a game of carrying the brakes to get the front-end to bite to avoid it washing wide, but not slowing too much to kill the car’s momentum. Ironically, the steering’s most trustworthy setup is found in the ESC’s off setting. You’ll need to tread lightly with the throttle (the rear-end has as little grip as the front) without the safety nets, but the rack is its fastest and lightest – a forbidden pairing in the personalised sub-menus. It’s a small consolation for a technology that answers a question no one really asked. Okay, cutting it some slack, it does get rid of rack rattle and it might have potential in autonomous safety applications where computers need greater steering control. But while we suspect the majority of Q50 buyers in China and North America won’t care if their steering rack is turned by a hamster wheel, they might care about the lower levels of response, feel, or feedback compared to a conventional steering rack when it’s needed. Such as in snowing, raining, or overtaking conditions. Even though the steering weight did feel o-k-a-y at times once the car was loaded, as the system varies the weight according to G-force, it was rare and no use when you don’t feel confident to place the car before a corner. Its weighting felt a touch more realistic around town while at low speeds. We’d look into using the system’s emergency back-up clutch on the column to engage and disengage on the fly, like when the front wheels hit a bump under lateral load with steering lock. Then again, there’s a reason why we’re only put in charge of keyboards. Ultimately, though, Infiniti’s goal to bring aviation-style technology to a sports sedan like the Q50 Red Sport seems like an idea that should have stayed high up in the clouds